Farmhouse Facelift: A Photo Tour of Our 110-Year-Old Home

We rented the house we live in without ever having stepped foot in the place. In fact, we rented an old farmhouse in the Pennsylvania countryside from the suburbs of Salt Lake City, Utah. A scary prospect, to be sure. But we were set on raising our kids in the country, in the midst of farms and crops and the Amish…  But in close proximity (3 1/2 hours) to New York City so we can get a dose of culture when our tanks are low.

Although renting from across the country was terrifying, the area we ended up moving to turned out to be a dream. We live about 15 minutes outside of State College, the home of Penn State, so diversity is never really in short supply. Our little village is full of families and a quaint bed & breakfast that’s one of the best in Central Pennsylvania Amish country. It was built in 1827 and operated as a hotel and stagecoach shop. Our village was officially established a few years later and the hotel flourished. Still does a booming business after all the years. I can’t tell you how nice it is to walk a couple doors down and have an excellent dinner, a couple beers and then stroll home. Equally as thrilling as having four amazing Thai restaurants a stone’s throw from our tiny Brooklyn apartment back in the day.

The house we live in was the parsonage for decades. In fact, folks around here still call it the “Parson’s House” or the “Parsonage.” It was  built in 1902 (I wonder how many people have died here?) and became the parsonage in 1917 when the church bought it for $2500.00. It was an active parsonage where the pastor lived up until 2001. The church decided it wasn’t worth the money for the upkeep because they rarely used the house and ultimately sold it to our landlord in 2008.  When we first got here the room that we now use as a playroom was set up as an office. In fact, I even found old business cards for the parson in the large, 1950s metal desk that dominated the room. Although he didn’t officially take confessions, I often wonder about the secrets that may have been confessed in the room where my children now chant along with Dora… Fascinating stuff and totally ironic that we left Utah, in part, to escape the dominant role religion plays in everyone’s lives there only to end up living in a parsonage.

Before we moved here our landlord tore up the carpet throughout the downstairs and refinished the hardwood. They also ended up replacing the kitchen counters which was nice even though I had forced myself to become accustomed to the Brady Bunch reddish orange cabinetry. After our house fire in January of 2012, the landlord had to replace a lot of stuff throughout the home and, because we’re planning on purchasing the house, graciously let me pick out wall colors and floor tiles.

We’ve been back in the house for about nine or ten months and it’s finally starting to feel like home. When the fire happened we’d only lived in the house for six months so I hadn’t exactly dialed in decorations and wall photos so it’s only been in the past several months that I’ve started doing that. Since so many of you have been along for the ride, from Brooklyn to Utah to Pennsylvania, I figured it might be fun to take a little tour of the downstairs, just to show you how it’s coming along. Please know that I don’t consider myself any kind of decorator or designer. We just kind of collect stuff we like and throw it in the mix. I like unique stuff, things that have a story behind them. Although we need to hang up some more things and throw up a couple shelves here and there, the downstairs is finally feeling good and not like we just pulled up with all the shitty furniture we’ve collected over the years and plopped it wherever it fits.

I can’t believe we had the amazing luck to stumble onto this place. It’s exactly what I imagined when envisioning raising my children in a quite, country village. I never, in a million years, would’ve dreamed that I’d go from renting a house without seeing it to making plans to buy it. Coming up, a tour of the upstairs and the property…  But, for now c’mon in and have a look around the main floor of the Parsonage.

  • image-12 1 of 29
  • Front door 2 of 29
    Front door
    Immediately upon entering the front door (which we rarely use) you're confronted with the front staircase. Which, god, it's so barren and empty. I keep meaning to do some sort of massive photo collage awesomeness but, well, it's so much easier to pin fancy photo collages on Pinterest than actually make one myself!
  • The Parson’s Office 3 of 29
    The Parson's Office
    Turn to your left and a 100-year-old door takes you into the parson's old office. As you can see, it is now a playroom.
  • Living room 4 of 29
    Living room
    Turn to your right and another ancient door leads you into the living room. Let's go that way, shall we?
  • Living room 5 of 29
    Living room
    I'm finally managing to hang photos even though the walls are horse hair plaster which, if you don't know, is a bummer to hang stuff on. It just crumbles and crumbles.
  • Wide angle 6 of 29
    Wide angle
    We hate that coffee table. But it'll do for now. That canvas over the couch is this famous photo from 1952 of men in a bar in Chicago watching the World Series that Serge has coveted for many years and I finally purchased for him. Here's what the living room looked like when the previous tenants lived here.
  • View into the dining room 7 of 29
    View into the dining room
    This is standing in the door looking into the dining room. I want to add more pops of yellow to the room... Orange pillows from this very excellent Etsy shop.
  • Second angle 8 of 29
    Second angle
    Another angle featuring Professor Maxwell doing his best Price Is Right model impersonation.
  • Front windows 9 of 29
    Front windows
    This is looking back at the door we just walked through and at the front windows. Cannot beat the price of that Martha Stewart convex starburst mirror from Home Depot. $35!
  • Photo collage 10 of 29
    Photo collage
    Some photos I've taken and framed, a letter to Serge from Stephen King and a card to Violet from Barack and Michelle Obama.
  • Dining room 11 of 29
    Dining room
    This is standing in the corner of the dining room looking back to the living room. Off to the right is the door leading into the kitchen. Directly behind you is the back staircase.
  • Back stairs 12 of 29
    Back stairs
    See? Told you so.
  • Second escape! 13 of 29
    Second escape!
    I love having a second set of stairs. Now, houses with only one escape from upstairs feel cramped. I could totally outwit home invaders! Two sets of stairs are also nice for hardcore games of indoor tag.
  • Okay, enough dining room 14 of 29
    Okay, enough dining room
    Yes, yes, you've seen the dining room. But we have to cross back through it to get to the kitchen.
  • Pocket doors 15 of 29
    Pocket doors
    Oh wait! I forgot to tell you, those are pocket doors there between the living room and dining room. You can close 'em up and have a candlelight dinner and feel fancy. Or you can shut them when the kids are coloring on the dining room table so you can hear people on House Hunters talk about the necessity of stainless steel appliances.
  • Kitchen 16 of 29
    The kitchen sustained a lot of water damage in the fire because it's directly below where the fire burned and all the hoses spraying water to put it out. Before we moved back in my friend (and landlord) Shawna and I painted all the old brown cabinets white, then stained them and added new silver hardware. The difference was astounding. Here's a photo of what the kitchen looked like just before I moved in. Sweet Brady Bunch counters, right? If I can make one suggestion toward giving your kitchen a complete overhaul on the cheap it would be to paint your cabinets and put on new hardware. After that, focus on a backsplash. Those can be installed easily by yourself and the tile will be a couple hundred at most. That's my next goal: backsplash.
  • Kitchen window 17 of 29
    Kitchen window
    I love that I can see my entire backyard from the kitchen window. The kids still haven't figured that out yet so when they're up to no good and mom's voice floats out of the house to "knock that off right now" they think I'm magic.
  • Fruits & veggies 18 of 29
    Fruits & veggies
    We always have a ton of fresh fruit and veggies on hand and hopefully, this year, they'll be from my own garden!
  • Islands in the sun 19 of 29
    Islands in the sun
    We bought this awesome Ikea island off Craiglist for super cheap. Alas, no stainless steel for us. And god I hate that fridge. Every ten times you open the door the condiment arm breaks off and sends ketchup and mustard and pickles rolling all over the floor.
  • Leaving 20 of 29
    This is the view of the kitchen from the second door that leads into the mud room, laundry room and downstairs bathroom.
  • Downstairs bathroom 21 of 29
    Downstairs bathroom
    Small, but it gets the job done... Or, rather, it allows you to get the job done.
  • Serge’s bar 22 of 29
    Serge's bar
    When we first moved here this room was an enigma. The previous tenants appeared to use it as a kind of catch-all; mud room, bikes, lawn chairs, unfolded laundry, whatever. It wasn't a mud room but it wasn't a porch and it wasn't really any place you'd want to hang out. But it's really big. As there is already a sort of mud room at the back of the house where the laundry and back bathroom are, we decided to turn this area into a bar. A place where we could entertain. I told Serge to have at it and do what he wanted to it and he certainly did.
  • Second angle 23 of 29
    Second angle
    Serge built that entire wall out of recycled barn wood and metal scraps.
  • Barrel bar 24 of 29
    Barrel bar
    We bought the actual bar off Craiglist from a sweet, old guy who'd had it in his basement "man room" for years.
  • Personal photo 25 of 29
    Personal photo
    That photo there is one I took of our village just after we moved here. I had it blown up on canvas and tinted it sepia.
  • Record shelf 26 of 29
    Record shelf
    We sit here with a beer or glass of wine and listen to records all the time. Serge built that record shelf himself out of old crates. I can't tell you what a difference having a room like this in our home has made. We have dance parties with the kids, grown-up parties, and you can close all the solid, old doors and not hear the music from the living room.
  • Easy kid wrangling 27 of 29
    Easy kid wrangling
    The fact that there's a glass door overlooking the playroom (the old parson's office) makes it nice when we want to keep an eye on kids but also entertain friends.
  • Playroom 28 of 29
    This room is a kind of work in progress. But it's come a long way. We want it to be crazy and fun, like a constant party, a rumpus room where anything goes, but we're lacking a bit on the organizational front. We need more shelves and clever organizing ideas for sure.
  • Second view of the playroom 29 of 29
    Second view of the playroom
    And now we've come full circle. If you turn back around you'll see you're standing at the front door again. Y'all come back now, ya hear?

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