A mansion in Kingston that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places has recently undergone renovations by Lasley Brahaney Architecture + Construction. The Princeton firm designed renovations to the kitchen and powder room of Heathcote Farm, an area fixture since the 1850s.
During its 170-year history, the building was first an elegant country house, and later a four-family residence before sitting vacant for several years. The current owners saw through the neglect and purchased the home, with plans to bring it back to its original architectural splendor.
“Heathcote Farm has a rich history and beautiful architectural detailing,” wrote one of the owners, who preferred not to be named, in an email. “The yeoman’s work for the house’s restoration to a single-family residence began with the prior owners, David and Paula Sculley, who repurchased the four condominiums in the late 1990s. Further, because of the condominium renovation from the 1980s, many traditional old house plumbing and electrical concerns had been largely resolved.”
The house had been listed for sale for nearly eight years when the current owners visited in 2015. They were overwhelmed at first.
“But as we walked through, we were struck by the truly unique architectural features: the stained-glass windows, historic mantels, plaster crown moldings, and the parquet floors,” the owner said. “Such features are exceedingly challenging to authentically incorporate into new constructions. Additionally, the house provided all the charm of a historic residence, but offered high ceilings and well-proportioned rooms. It was clearly a beautiful space worth fully restoring and a unique opportunity to be the home’s next caretaker.”
Preserving the architectural significance while building a new, modern kitchen was the challenge for Joe Gallagher of Lasley Brahaney. “It was a pretty neat project because the house is an old mansion with really high ceilings,” he said. “The moldings were really large — the crown molding had three or four pieces to it. The baseboards are probably 10 inches tall.”
Since the house had been divided into condominiums in the 1970s, the room that is now the kitchen might have functioned as a bedroom. The thick walls reminded Gallagher of another house the firm renovated on Stockton Street.
“Homes of that era had very thick exterior walls,” he said. “It’s kind of neat, because you can create deep windowsills, panels on the side jambs — those kinds of things you just don’t see in a regular home.”
Original crown moldings in the house were made from plaster, and were recreated using wood. Hardware in the kitchen “is very high quality,” Gallagher said. “The cabinets by Christopher Peacock are pretty impressive, too.”
The owner praised the team of Lasley Brahaney and Peacock. “Kitchens can be challenging in that they are modern spaces which we needed to accommodate our young family,” she said. “Yet we wanted a timeless and classic design appropriate for a 170-year-old house. Since we had the benefit of living in the space for several years, it helped us communicate certain design priorities.”
Heathcote Farm was built on a site where the State of New Jersey had begun to develop a juvenile penal institution in 1850. When the project was abandoned two years later, it became the country estate of Isaac Chandler Withington, the original owner [who had sold it to the state and bought it back]. Withington hired New York architects Gamaliel King and John Kellum to design the two-and-a-half story brownstone building.
“The head of Kingston’s most prominent family in the mid-19th century, Isaac would soon reacquire the farm and turn the state’s ambitious but ill-fated plans to his own use,” reads an article in The Princeton Recollector from September 1982.
Withington died in 1914, and his heirs sold the property to Joseph Garneau of New York City. Garneau had the house renovated to reflect Colonial Revival instead of Victorian architecture styles, and added wings to both sides. The Cook family purchased the homestead in 1926, and donated what is now known as the Cook Natural Area in the 1970s. Among the features of the site that captivated the current owners is an Adirondack-style gazebo, which has survived since the property’s early days.
In an excerpt from the National Register of Historic Places 1984 nomination form for Heathcote Farm, the property’s “structural and landscape architectural quality is considerable, and its early history as the proposed site of a juvenile penal institution, and later conversion to a private residence/farmstead, bears a definite element of uniqueness,” it reads.
For the current owners, living in a home that has open space and architectural significance is important. “We value being a steward for the house and teaching our children not only the importance of historical preservation, but environmental preservation as well,” the owner said. “Hopefully, we will leave Heathcote Farm better than we found it.”