The Lady of Chetstone Manor
For several years when I was growing up we lived in the old rickety house that my great grandparents bought when they first arrived from Lebanon in the early 1900's. The house was big, rambling and full of dark wood and chandeliers. I'm fairly certain that aesthetic imprinted itself on me because now all I want is a creepy old house with dark wood and a chandelier in every room. These days I spend an inordinate amount of time looking at houses both in real life and online. I can't turn down an open house sign and I've probably bookmarked hundreds of victorians, gothic revivals, and italianate houses for you know...one day. Here are a few beauties:
One of my favorite websites to browse old houses, many of which are for sale, is Old House Dreams. You can search by state, style, price range and whether or not they're for sale. Most of the affordable ones are in rural places, small towns, places off the grid. You can search castles, barns, and firehouses. There's a category for anything old and creepy.
Old House Dreams led me to Chetstone Manor in New Haven, Connecticut, otherwise known as my dream house or ...one of them. Chetstone was built in 1875 by New Haven's first lady physician, Dr. Mary Blair Moody. The second owner, Albert Haasis, a chemist and executive of the Dixon Pencil Company, was an art and gardening enthusiast. He kept lavish gardens filled with peacocks. He also painted Alice in Wonderland type bunnies on the walls of the attic. He was my kind of guy.
The current owner, Ian Christmann, is a photographer and New Haven native and honestly, the nicest guy ever. I had the privilege of touring the house and I can assure you, the bunny paintings are magnificently macabre. The attic and tower are also astounding. I can imagine spending my days writing up in the tower room as the wind whips through the bell tower. Just me and the ghost of Albert Haasis hanging out, talking peacocks. There's also a fully operational rope elevator which I didn't get in but it did fill my head with horror movie scenes (and I mean that in the most complimentary way). The basement is massive and appropriately terrifying. I am in love. I haven't found too many houses as well preserved as this one.
The crazy thing about Chetstone is that it's around the corner from an adorable carriage house that Tim and I looked at maybe 8 years ago. We didn't end up buying the carriage house, but as fate would have it, the carriage house is the original one to the Chetstone property! There's even a path with a gate from the main house to the carriage house where they used to drive the carriages. I tell you we are meant to own Chetstone one day. Here's a picture of the carriage house from google maps:
Chetstone is a passion project for Ian and his wife. They've meticulously restored the house and made period authentic upgrades. He also created a photography and art collective there. The photos you see of Chetstone were taken by Ian. I love you, Chetstone. One day we'll be together...one day.
I also found this beauty on Old House Dreams. It's maaaassssive and one of the first poured concrete houses in the country.
Here's the description from the site, "'Boulderberg Manor,' outstanding c.1858 Hudson River Gothic Revival overlooking the river and features beautifully restored period details including exuberant decorations on many of the ceilings. This 8,500 sq.ft. home was built by industrialist Calvin Tomkins and has the distinction of being the largest poured concrete structure in New York State at the time with 2 ft. thick exterior walls. Its slate roof was recently fully restored. Boulderberg Manor is a fine example of 19th century romanticism as a fortress perched on 4.5 acres with gazebo and cottage. Architectural distinctions include high pitched gable roofs with multiple dormers, cupola, oriel windows, fountain, 10 marble fireplaces, ornate moldings/doors, mahogany staircases and more. The 4.5 acres is inclusive of three lots, one with house and two building lots. The property is located 30 miles from New York City and 6 miles from the Bear Mountain Bridge. About a 50 minute drive from Manhattan. Extraordinary." I'll say it is. Who wants to buy it with me? Kickstarter?
If you are truly interested in owning a historic home, you can also check out the National Trust for Historic Preservation. They post houses that are for sale and in danger of being destroyed. Be warned though, owning a home that's registered as historic can often present problems. Renovations need to be historically accurate and sometimes even approved by a committee. Make sure you do your research.
Another great resource is Circa especially if you are lucky enough to own an old home already. They're not only a website and portal for real estate, they're also a magazine and should be your go to for all your historic house questions. I can spend hours on Circa looking up the meaning of this or that architectural feature or before and after photos of historic preservations. Started by Elizabeth Finkelstein, an historic preservationist and self proclaimed old house junkie, the site is a more holistic look at historical homes and the characters who love them. Circa proudly proclaims they're "Not Your Grandmother's Old House" and I think that's why I love them. They clearly understand that you can renovate an old house to meet your modern needs and still preserve the integrity of the structure and its history at the same time. Hey Circa, let's have tea sometime.
Tim and I will continue to discuss the pitfalls and merits of owning an old house like the ones I've showcased here (Chetstone, Tim. CHETSTONE!). Until the day comes when I am the lady of Chetstone Manor, I will have to content myself with going to the Heritage Square Museum here in Los Angeles. The city moved a few Victorian homes to the location to preserve them and you can wander around and look at the houses. Check out their site for upcoming events, you can take a gardening class, have tea, or go to one of their movie nights. I attended a seance there a year back and while I didn't succumb to possession, the buildings are beautiful as you can see from the photo below. I'll definitely be attending the Halloween/mourning tours and horror movie series. I also won't be missing their historical fashion show and tea this April. Maybe I'll see you there.