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Romancing the Colonial

When Jim and Laura Smiros bought their Oyster Bay home four years ago, they did so with the intention of giving it a makeover. Set on two wooded acres, it had the land and the basic form they wanted, but the details fell short - way short.

They felt the architectural style, as with many homes built after the 1950s, had been muddied to the point of being unrecognizable. Built in 1984, the house was clearly a Colonial: It had symmetrically balanced double-hung windows, a center door and hence the prerequisite center hall, and a two-story portico with colossal columns. The two-story columns are reminiscent of the neoclassical style, "but it didn't quite get there," says Jim Smiros.

The couple, partners in the Glen Cove firm Smiros & Smiros Architects, renovated and expanded their new home inside and out for eight months before moving in. To give the home a true period feel, they honed details to conform closely with Colonial Revival style, a design that consists of simple forms and elaborate trims.

To accentuate symmetrical rows of windows against a wide, sage green shiplap (wood siding) exterior, they added black shutters trimmed with crisp white crown moldings and muntins, or window grilles. But the focal point is the stunning two-story entrance. The entry's sidelight windows and fluted pilasters are crowned by an upper-level Palladian window with curved muntins, and flanked by smaller-scale sidelights and fluted pilasters. Cresting the entry is a triangular pediment that extends above the second floor roofline and is adorned with an elliptical window. The overall look exudes the Colonial architecture of the nation's founding.

The Colonial Revival style, popular from 1880 to 1955, continues to be sought after. The Smiroses say they and several of their clients took advantage of good buys in the contemporary housing market and renovated them to reflect new style trends.

Potential buyers will pay a premium for Colonials, says Larry Theodore of Weichert Realtors, the Dallow Agency, Farmingdale . "People love the Old World charm and the quaint feeling of houses built especially in the early 1900s," he says, "the high ceilings, old-fashioned moldings and good construction. Purchasers do pay 5 percent to 10 percent more for a Colonial."

The style ranges widely but is defined as having nine principal subsets, according to the 1984 book "A Field Guide to American Houses" (Knopf, $40) by Virginia and Lee McAlaster. Among these subsets are Dutch Colonials, brick and stone homes with gambrel roofs (a barnlike, two-pitched roof with a steeper pitch on the lower slope) originally built from 1625 to the mid-1800s and concentrated in New York's Hudson River Valley; Georgians, stately rectangular brick structures modeled after elaborate British homes popular in the 1700s, during the reigns of monarchs George I and George III; and Federal and Adam-style Colonials built from 1780 to 1840 and evolved from Georgians into a more ornamented form.

The past reinterpreted

Sparked by the American Centennial in 1876, Colonial Revival style reflected American patriotism and a return to simplicity and was a reaction against the ornate Victorian Queen Anne style. Revivals typically don't emulate their predecessors exactly, but often romanticize and reinterpret the past. "Revivals of revivals of revivals" often bring together an eclectic mix of styles that "summons up the good parts," says T.J. Costello, principal of Hierarchy Ltd., an architectural firm in Manhasset specializing in additions and renovations to homes built from the 1920s to the '50s. Much of his work is in nearby Munsey Park, where Colonial Revival-style homes are predominant.

Costello recently completed a renovation of a 1920s brick Georgian in Munsey Park. He raised a one-story wing on one side of the house to match the two-story wing on the other. Rather than using brick, he covered them in contrasting shingles so that they still look like wings, a signature element of Colonial Revivals. To conform with that look and overcome the sometimes overwhelming bulk of homes today, "I just make a wing look like a wing," he explains.

Charm also abounds in the many details of a 1940 Colonial Revival-style home in the Old Lenox Hills section of Farmingdale , which is on the market for $559,990 with Weichert Realtors, the Dallow Agency.

The fieldstone and cedar-shingle home has a one-story, three-season enclosed porch on one wing, with walls of windows that face a wooded area and a stone wall. Because of its two wings, the 2,500-square-foot house doesn't have an overwhelming appearance, yet offers plenty of privacy, says owner Maria Suydam, 45, a registered nurse who lives there with her three daughters, ages 17, 19 and 21. A 1970s extension above the two-car garage, with a cathedral ceiling covered in cedar, makes a spacious master bedroom. A granny attic on the third floor, accessible by a regular staircase, runs the width and length of the main part of the house. With skylights and air- conditioning, it's large enough to hold a queen-size bed and a couch and offers privacy to Suydam's 21-year-old. A stone portico extends outward from the house, providing an inviting vestibule with table and lamp. In the dining room, two glass-and-oak corner display pieces add charm and will stay with the house.

True Colonial Revivals are never short on detail. When Robin Gordon and her husband, Edward, both 39, purchased their Dutch Colonial in Huntington's Halesite section about 10 years ago, she was attracted to the lines and curves of the roof, with its four gabled windows and small Palladian in the back.

Unlike its early Dutch predecessors, this Revival has a gambrel roof that faces to the front of the house (the early versions faced the side). On the second floor, under the flared roof, are numerous nooks and crannies with built-in chests of drawers.

The house, listed by Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty for $679,000, is chock-full of charm. Archways connect rooms graced with wide baseboards and ornate crown moldings. Robin Gordon, a marketing director for a fabric company, has added period wallpaper, custom window treatments and silk draperies (all staying).

When renovating and expanding an upstairs bathroom, the couple left an arched wall and subway wall tiles original to the house and replicated a basket-weave pattern on the floor with a retro black-and-white octagonal tile. Most of the 20 windows in the house have original wavy glass and operate on internal ropes or chains.

Warmth of yesteryear

New Dutch Colonial-style homes continue to be built on Long Island - but with a twist. Though the houses are very big, they are quaint, says Fred Throo, principal of the firm Architecture One in Bohemia , who does most of his work on the East End. These are Hamptons-style homes with gambrel-style roofs blended with Gothic-style gables. Though they are bigger than earlier Dutch Colonials, they are not taller.

Adaptation is, in part, due to restrictions in local building codes, notes Throo. Because roofs spring from the top wall of the first floor, the roofs are lower so that large homes take on a human scale. Yet, the gambrel pulls the Colonial style through, and this barn-style roof also fits in with the East End's agricultural setting.

Architects say a Colonial Revival-style house designed with the right touches brings back the warm feel of yesteryear. The Smiros home in Oyster Bay , for example, has a three-car garage concealed on the side, but one bay always remains empty, Laura says with a laugh, because she parks out front, so she can enjoy walking through the home's attractive front entrance. "It's comfortable," she says. "Colonials are very simple forms; it's how you dress them up that gives them their warmth."

The home's historical thread to the past is what appeals to her husband. "I like that it continues in the way it's been done for 200 years. It's a part of history in some way."

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