Upon legalization of hemp farming in New Jersey in 2019, Skeuse returned to the family homestead – his parents had relocated to Houston. Skeuse’s firm, Headquarters Hill Hemp (HHH), has dedicated 14 acres to growing Berry Blossom Flower, an organically grown product containing less than .3 percent THC, as monitored by the state of New Jersey. (THC is the psychoactive component of cannabis, and hemp growers typically market their non-psychoactive product as CBD.) The self-described modern-day farmer, who earned a degree in business administration at Rider University, also raises corn, soy, rye, and apples.
Megan, who teaches at Princeton Montessori School, always loved animals. Her childhood pets included a pony, a horse, birds, guinea pigs, bunnies, turtles, and dogs and cats. Today, Sean, Megan, and two daughters keep goats, pigs, silky chickens, rabbits, and geese. The animal theme continues inside on the wallpaper.
The original stone farmhouse dates to the 1730s when the property was owned by John Opdycke, a farmer, miller, merchant, and justice of the peace. Skeuse’s parents had made significant changes to the house, adding on, as had prior residents, but Sean and Megan wanted to modernize the home, letting in more light, though staying true to its historic integrity. Also, the house had suffered from being vacant for five years.
In late summer 2019, the Skeuses brought in the design teams of Eastridge Design Home (interiors) and Lasley Brahaney Architecture + Construction. “The before looked really before,” said Eastridge, standing on the gleamingly refurbished pumpkin pine floor in the living room.
The bucolic surroundings include a meadow and a pond, where the Skeuse daughters enjoy playing outdoors, even in December. There are two other structures on the property: a barn, from where Sean manages the operations of HHH, and a cottage the family rents out — it was recently occupied by friends whose home had been damaged by a hurricane, and served as temporary quarters for the Skeuse family during renovations.
Over the meadow and through the woods, to grandmother’s house we go — those words might have been sung by Sean, as a young boy. The nearby house once occupied by his grandmother is now his uncle’s residence.
As with homes from such an era, the rooms felt constricted and needed to be opened up, bringing in light from all directions, according to Brahaney and Eastridge, who gave a tour around the house on a recent Saturday. Great attention was paid to maintaining original materials and the historic fabric of the house.
For example, there had been a mural on one wall of the living room, a landscape scene, painted by the occupants before Sean’s family. Sean’s mother had touched it up, but Megan and Sean were not interested in keeping the mural, which they felt had served its time. And yet the Skeuse siblings who’d grown up in the house felt sentimental about it. “There were many voices to listen to,” says Eastridge, good naturedly. The creative solution was to build a new wall over the mural. Someday, a future generation of homeowner may discover the hidden treasure.
The renovation includes a new kitchen added to the back of the house, so as not to obstruct the view of the pond. The family was entertaining friends at the kitchen island during the recent visit. The walnut cabinetry echoes the walnut flooring in the adjacent room.
Sean’s parents had put a large addition with a walnut floor a generation ago, but Megan and Sean wanted something more family friendly, and so the enclosed wraparound porch has become the new family room. It is a place for exercise, as well as family gatherings. Thanksgiving dinner was served on the large dining table in this space. Megan’s parents, who live nearby, were included in the gathering.
“We made small adjustments to have a large impact,” said Brahaney, such as changing smallish French doors to windows.
“After living through the pandemic, teaching from home with kids who were schooling from home, I hated the open floor plan. Everyone was hovering in the same spot, with no escape,” Megan said of the space they lived in in Carversville, Pennsylvania, before moving here. “And having a formal dining room seemed excessive.”
The enclosed porch floor is a black porcelain tile that looks like slate, but holds up better to the farming life, as well as three dogs and two cats. Many of the materials were chosen for their durability, such as the composite quartzite kitchen countertops.
Another accommodation made to the Skeuse parents was keeping certain family heirlooms, such as a large dining table with cabriole legs. But now that Megan and Sean and the two girls eat at the counters or the built-in banquette in the kitchen or on the porch, the heirloom table has become a games table, where a chess set is a permanent fixture.
The table on the porch is under an enormous abstract painting in saturated colors the couple found at an auction, but elsewhere are frame TV screens — a subscription allows them to change the art.
One of the fun things to do in this house is trace the stone walls to see where the original structure ended and what has been added on, except that it gets tricky. Sean’s parents had a mason build a stone wall to resemble the old stone walls, with a beehive oven design. That wall separates the new kitchen from the rest of the house.
In addition to the stone walls, wooden beams dating to the original retain some of the rustic farmhouse air.
The windowless area that had formerly been the kitchen is now a laundry room — with so many white cabinets and doors to keep things organized, it is an inviting retreat. “It makes you want to do laundry,” says Eastridge.
Other spaces with lots of wooden cabinetry include a butler’s pantry connecting the front of the house to the kitchen, and a mudroom with magnificent white cabinets that one hopes never gets muddy.
A first-floor bedroom was, at one time, a screened porch, and is where Sean’s parents stay when they visit. After moving a few walls, Sean’s childhood bedroom combined with the former laundry room on the second floor is now the master bedroom, with a view of the stone spring house and bluestone patio built by Sean’s family. Here, too, is an heirloom — the patio furniture has been redone by Eastridge.
White Vermont Danby marble (the kind used in the Lincoln Memorial and the White House), white cabinets, and white tile floors make the bathrooms ethereal retreats. Brass faucets with a living finish and knurled handles fulfill the industrial chic style Megan sought.
Eastridge describes the work done for the girls’ bedrooms as “value engineering” — “do the least amount of work to make them comfortable and livable. They got tune-ups.” Such “tune-ups” include custom built-ins in the closets.
After the workers left and the sawdust and construction debris were swept away, Megan knew they had done the right thing. She awoke one morning and from the balcony could see her older daughter outside taking care of the animals. “I enjoy watching the kids enjoy the land.”
“In every room,” says Sean, “I have new memories mingling with old memories.”