You can’t miss Lorene Solomon’s historic house in Greenport: It’s the brightest on her block.
The three-story Queen Anne Victorian, built in 1870, is a stately Colonial yellow, with a periwinkle upper section and avocado green shutters. The house sits on Bay Avenue, a stretch that features several homes from the mid- to late 1800s.
"I love to see something that really stands out from all the rest," Solomon said about what drew her to the house when she and her husband bought it in 2001, "especially if it’s a vintage home."
The home, with a back-door view of Greenport Harbor, was built by George H. Corwin, a well-to-do druggist with a shop at the time in Greenport Village. The original property stretched to the end of the street and sported a carriage house and boathouse.
Preserving the look and appeal of ornate and colorful historic homes like the Solomons’ takes research and expense. They can be a challenge to restore and maintain, confirms Alexandra Wolfe, executive director of Preservation Long Island, an organization that believes history lives and breathes in the environment around us, both natural and man-made.
"With paint colors, in particular," she noted, "many original selections were vibrant and deep in the late nineteenth century when paint became widely available in stores. To a large degree, that’s because fewer pigments were available then, and for interior paint jobs, the gas lighting was much different than today’s electric lights."
For Solomon, an interior decorator and landscape designer, choosing the exterior colors was relatively easy. "My husband, Michael, liked yellow, and I added periwinkle to complement that base color," she laughed. "Our home remains fairly true to the architectural design, but the exterior color choices are more modern. I think they add some fun to our quiet little street."
It took some serious effort to reach the "fun" part.
On the outside, their contractor had to remove the exterior paint, replace any rotting wood, and change out the second-floor windows. "The bones were there, but the house was falling apart when we bought it," Solomon said. "The paint alone probably ran six figures. Still, I could close my eyes and picture this home in all its former glory with people wearing top hats and tails."
The Solomons are selling the house for $2,495,000, with Douglas Cabral, of Excelsior Luxury Realty Group, as the listing agent.
"It’s killing us to put this beautiful home on the market, but we’re only here during the summer at this point," Solomon said. "We live mostly in the Florida Keys and Tennessee, and all five of our kids have grown up and moved out of state. We love it here, but it’s time to move on."
Finding the original paint
Catherine and Paul Herkovic researched the colors of their Queen AnneVictorian in Northport, called the Stanley H. Lowndes House, which they bought in 2012.
"We wanted to keep to traditional style and color choices for the exterior, and to build on work already started," Catherine Herkovic said. "The house had long ago been painted white, so we had to scrape it down in a few spots to find the original colors — which proved remarkably close to the period themes we were exploring."
They finally settled on three colors from the Benjamin Moore historic collection — Tate Olive as their exterior base color, Providence Olive for the trim and Classic Burgundy for window sashes and the porch floor.
"We were lucky the previous owner’s son was trained in historic restoration, making him a logical choice to take on much of the heavy-lifting with this project," Herkovic said.
The home, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1895 by Lowndes, then one of the wealthiest oyster barrens in the country, who had moved from Connecticut after the Town of Huntington decreed only town residents could hold title to local oyster grounds.
"I’m a Victorian fanatic, and this was our third restoration project, so we knew exactly what we were getting into," explained Herkovic, a managing director at a media analytics company. Perched on a half-acre site, the house overlooks Northport Harbor, where Lowndes’ crews once harvested oysters.
"It’s tough to tease out how much it cost to paint this place," smiles Herkovic, "but the total restoration has easily surpassed $100,000. I absolutely love it here, but I would rather forget how much we spent on keeping true to the past and simply enjoy the present."
‘Old-house lover’s dream’
For Maureen Schellhorn, and her late husband, William, the home they found on South Carll Avenue in Babylon was "perfect … an old-house lover’s dream," but it would take a real labor of love and many man hours to turn it into the beautiful, colorful dwelling it is today.
"It would have been the fourth house in a row painted white on our side of the block if we restored the original colors," said Schellhorn, "so we chose something different."
That summer they had taken the kids to Disney World where they saw a similar Queen Anne style house on Main Street. "We loved its palette, so we went home and matched up our new house using Benjamin Moore paints. My husband was a teacher who painted houses as a side-job, so he knew what he was doing. He took the exterior down to bare wood and spent most of his free time scraping and painting until it was done. It probably took a year-and-a-half to complete, but it was beautiful when he finally finished."
Built circa 1882, at the corner of Deer Park Avenue and George Street, this house featured six bedrooms and first served as a summer retreat for NYC physician Dr. John H. Hinton. It was moved to its current location in 1907, a journey that took more than three weeks. It was gray with a red roof when the Schellhorns purchased it but was originally white with a red roof."
Schellhorn’s Queen Anne-style home now sports a Pacific Rim (blueish-green) exterior base coat with cream trim around the windows and Burgundy highlights.
"We now have the most colorful home on the street," said Schellhorn, proudly.
The Schellhorns are downsizing and have put their home up for sale, for $899,999, with Susan Lombardi, of Douglas Elliman Real Estate, as the listing agent. It is the first time it has been on the market in over 40 years.
Choosing the right colors
People don’t often think of Tudor style homes as colorful, points out children’s book author and illustrator, Laura Seeger. Still, when you look closely, they often have rich shades of reds, greens and blues with beautiful stained-glass windows.
She and her husband, Chris, found the home of their dreams in Rockville Centre back in 1991, and are now putting it on the market for $949,000, with Gloria Romanowski, of Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty, as the listing agent. "We moved to Long Island to raise our family, now we’re empty-nesters and we’d like to go back to [New York] ...city again," Laura Seeger said. "Still, I love this house so much. It’s going to be hard to leave."
Designed by Alfred Levitt, of Levitt and Sons, Inc., the novel real estate company that built the North Strathmore Community in Manhasset during the 1930s and Levittown in the 1940s, the house has had only three owners, including the Seegers, in its 90-year history.
"We wanted an English Tudor with modern appliances, and an updated kitchen and bathrooms, that still boasted that relaxed, solidly built feeling for which this home style is known," Laura Seeger said.
The exterior of the home was white stucco with dark timber and a gray, Pennsylvania slate roof when the couple moved in. She decided to change that and had the painters put on a coat of yellow — and found it looking "like a big yellow school bus" when she returned home. Neighbors across the street were staring at it. "I instantly knew I had made a mistake," she said.
The couple eventually settled on a warm beige for the exterior, a color that picks up hints of similar shades within the stonework, cobblestone driveway, patio and new Vermont slate roof with shades of red, green, blue, gray and beige they installed. It also seemed to bring out more character in the wooden beams. That, she allows, worked out especially well.
"Chalk it up to experience," said Seeger humbly. "It’s tough to choose the right colors unless you put some serious thought into it."
Painting the exterior
With over four decades experience restoring everything from privately owned homes to publicly maintained landmark sites on Long Island’s East End, Environment East Inc. owner Peter Stoutenburgh, who did most of the work on the Solomons' home in Greenport, has seen it all when it comes to restorations. Here are some of his tips for exterior painting success:
- Repair all underlying water and moisture damage before undertaking any paint job.
- To help choose colors, or shades of colors, paint several swaths on each exterior wall. View them in the morning, midday and afternoon light to see which you like best.
- Most modern paint stores can perform a computer match for any paint chip you bring in. The chip should be flat and larger than a quarter to ensure an accurate reading.
- Scrape down through all the layers of paint and sample different spots around the house because paints fade at different rates based on the amount of ultraviolet light received.
- Some paint companies have historic lines worthy of consideration. Benjamin Moore Paints’ Historical Colors Collection features 191 interior and exterior colors. Sherwin-Williams also has a historic collection with interior and exterior palettes.
- A lighter coat of paint is better than using too much paint. Heavy coatings are less flexible and crack over time; thinner coatings seal nicely, hold up better, and can save money on a big project.
- Expect the original paint on historic homes to be “earthy” as there were no hot pink, chartreuse or neon colors 100 years ago. Many homeowners, upon seeing the original exterior shade, decide to go a shade or two brighter.
- For large jobs, it really helps to hire a professional. With vintage homes, make sure the team you choose has experience working on historic sites.