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Howard Hall Farm Restoration Group Projects

From updating mechanicals to returning an entire home to its historically accurate roots, Howard Hall Farm Restoration Group loves being able to honor and preserve the many beautiful historic homes throughout the Hudson Valley and New York City. Below you can browse a sampling of the many projects we have worked on over the past several years, and please take a look at our services page for a comprehensive list of the services that we offer.

Howard Hall Farm Restoration Group Brooklyn and New York City Projects


The Howard Hall Farm group of craftspeople works out of Brooklyn as well as upstate NY. Our city projects are mostly brownstone restorations that require structural repairs, masonry restoration, and fireplace work, all the way to finishes. Most of our projects are architect-driven, and we have built up relationships with various architects that we often work with.

Our clients are home owners that value the historic fabric of the building that they are stewarding through to the next phase of contemporary life. Engineering mechanicals and working with alternative energies is something that we do on almost all projects. Greening the buildings and making them efficient is the responsible thing to do, and we have enjoyed many an adventure in assessing the range of new technologies that are relevant to a city house.

Our decorative team and the conservators that we work with have a wide range of knowledge and skill. Matching mortars, evaluating historic fabric and uncovering buried history are all part of what makes our work fulfilling and interesting. Reviving the old and bringing in the new is part of what makes a city job both challenging and satisfying. Visit our past work to get an idea of what we are about, the pictures tell a thousand words.

Howard Hall Farm Restoration Group Hudson Valley Restoration Projects


Working on major historic houses up and down the Hudson Valley is what we've built our business on. We have extensive experience with early Federal, Greek Revival, as well as Victorians, which are extremely common in upstate New York. Our starting point in these renovations is often the technology: the insulating, window restoration and sealing issues that need to be addressed to make the house work as a modern home. We have done many geothermal systems and have used cogeneration technology as well. We have our own window restoration shop and do much of the door and window work ourselves at the Farm. We try to use salvage material on as many projects as possible and work with pickers all over the East Coast to replace historic fabric that has been lost, or incorporate new aspects that are designed into the project to expand on the original intention. Many of our projects require us to incorporate design work that reflects a particular period as well as bring in modern conveniences that allow a house to still be livable for modern people.

Our intention is to always honor the house's past, and not destroy its original fabric. This work is always challenging and exciting as taking a historic house into the 21st century is tricky to do well. The architects that we often work with choose to work with us for the expertise that we bring to the table in regard to the artistic as well as the technical aspects of preservation and restoration.

Howard Hall Farm Restoration Group Staircase Restorations

Staircase Restoration & Repair

It seems that almost every house we work on, be it a city or country dwelling, requires major staircase repairs. In city houses, the issues are often the same: the mortise and tenon joints where the beams and headers connect, which holds up the stair ring and the structure of the middle of the house, were not designed to last after over a century and a half of use. That's a lot of action! The method for correcting the failure is often complex. In some cases there is very ornate plaster work that we would prefer not to disturb, in other cases the wood is so fragile that major replacements need to be done. Each situation requires a slightly different approach, but the issues remain the same in almost every city house we have worked on.

Country dwellings, which are often older Federal houses, or later Victorian houses, provide a larger range of issues. Federal houses have very delicate stairs and railings that have already undoubtedly failed in the past, leading to several generations of restoration work being done before we have even been called. This sometimes complicates the restoration and makes the job more difficult. A common example of this past repair work that we encounter is a sagging staircase whose spindles have been cut to compensate for the sag. In this case we have to lengthen each spindle, which is delicate, time consuming work. The beauty of these early stairs is worth every hour and bit of effort because when they have been properly supported and leveled, with detail intact and restored, there is nothing more beautiful and representative of that early craftsmanship than the swoop of the stair and its railing.

Victorian stairs often have more in common with city stairs when it comes to the issues we see. Many Victorian homes we have worked on have at some point in their small town lives become rental units. These buildings often see much abuse and neglect. Much of the stair work required in these houses is more decorative in nature: replacing parts, restoring finishes, removing linoleum from every tread and riser, etc. The same thing is true of most of the Brooklyn houses we do. The 1960s and '70s saw the decline of the city which took its toll on the architecture of these brownstones-turned-rentals.

Howard Hall Farm Fireplace Restoration

Fireplace Restoration

Fireplaces are one of our favorite parts of a project, from the restoration of the chimneys to the firebox and smoke chamber, and ending with true decorative aspects of the mantles, hearths and surrounds. The variety of fireplaces and their issues provides a great look into the variations of period and design. The structure of headers and floor systems has often failed, no matter the period of the house. If one stands in front of a fireplace and jumps slightly, creating a bounce, the floor will often wave and quiver quite a bit. One can almost guarantee that there is a broken tenon, or a split beam where the mortise is located. These repairs have to be done on almost all the projects we have worked on. Rebuilding original chimneys is another regular event, and we repair them using lime mortar which will last another 100 years, as the lime mortar allows the chimney to expand and contract in reaction to the extreme temperature changes that are inherent in chimneys.

Reuse of old mantles, recreating hearths that have been long gone, finding old stones, or making new ones in some cases, are all part of the decorative aspect of fireplace design. The bricks that are used, the mortar holding it all together, the size of the joint, and all the other characteristics that the layperson doesn't realize they are observing all add to the correct and proper restoration of a period fireplace. We have had fun doing some new ones as well.

Howard Hall Farm Window Restoration

Window Restoration

The window restoration argument continues! Just the other day I saw a house in Brooklyn having replacement windows installed. I went over to look at the glass in the old sash being carried out, which was beautiful old, wavy glass. The owners may or may not have known their options, but what a crime it is to the visual fabric of our cities that all the historic windows are being ripped out. We can all appreciate the wind not blowing across our beds as we sleep on a long February night, but evaluating windows with an eye toward possibly preserving them is not crazy. We often incorporate interior storms into old fashioned wooden exterior storms by routing out the sash and adding a second pane. This makes the old sash double glazed and saves the wavy original glass, all for a lot less than new replacement windows. I attend preservation shows often and always have the same conversation with the window reps: couldn't they at least try to replicate the proportions of the muntins, mullions, and sash frames? The wide, fat muntin and the vertically placed pane of modern windows are two things that drive historic window lovers off the deep end!

We always try to lovingly restore old windows as best we can while still retaining their original look and charm. The windows of our own house are about 40% original cylinder glass, rare even in the Hudson Valley. I often muse over what would have happened to these wonderful windows had someone else bought the house. I'm sure they would be at the Catskill dump by now!

Howard Hall Farm Structural Repair & Restoration

Structural Restoration & Repair

Over the past year, we have been working on a house in Fort Greene that has some fascinating issues. The house was built with an extra deep basement and first floor. This has made for a dramatic house in terms of its beauty, with three major rooms on each of the lower floors. The upper floors, which were apartments, remained the same as a regular brownstone, two rooms in depth. When building this house, the builder placed the brick wall of the upper floors on top of a wooden truss system, which resulted in amazing and beautiful craftsmanship, but it couldn't stand the test of time. When our client bought the building, straightening the rear walls and opening the rooms were on the list. When we gutted the first floor area around this truss to see what was going on, we found that the structure had actually sheared off the supporting beam that the trusses held up. We wound up taking down the entire wall, replacing the structure with steel, and building a new brick wall using brownstone sill and lintels from England. The brownstone now has more longevity and it didn't cost much more than the local Connecticut product that was used initially (and had failed). Native Connecticut brownstone is soft and sugars after time and exposure to the elements, which is why there is so much brownstone resurfacing going on everywhere in the New York area.

The artisan skills of plasterwork, millwork, and all related trades, are often astounding. Those items have lasted a century or two and are still extant for our regular viewing today. However, as evidenced in the above discussion of stair structure and fireplaces, we find that the level of engineering in many of the houses we work on, both in the city and upstate, is not high enough to withstand the test of time. Failing beams, joists, connections, foundations, and walls are present in many of the building we have worked on. Some of this is due to water infiltration (water is the enemy of architecture!), lack of breathable materials, and sloppy work that was done previously and hidden well by all of the beautiful surfaces and details. While all of these issues compound the proglems of restoring a building, we look upon them as a challenge and a learning experience. It is always very satisfying to complete a project knowing we have solved the structural problems while keeping the integrity of the house intact; restoring it to its original beauty while upgrading it to today's greenest standards.

Howard Hall Farm Lime Plaster & Mortar Restoration & Repair

Lime Plaster & Mortar Restoration & Repair

Plaster, mortar and the world of lime technology are things that we have specialized in for almost a decade. Until the industrial revolution when things were started to be machine made, lime workers were the "it" guys of the trades, with skills passed down through many generations. I once was given a letter in a training seminar that was a copy of a letter Caesar (yes, that Caesar) had given his architect that referenced the type and aggregate size of the mortar to be used in the construction of a building that they were working on. Aggregate size and mortar type are still issues that lime masons are concerned with today.

The art of mortar has been largely lost with the invention of packaged concrete and plasters. Much of the work we do requires the repair of plaster and walls, making new moldings to match, or creating an owner's vision of what may have been chosen when the house was originally built. The itinerant plasterers that traveled around working on houses in the 18th and 19th centuries often worked in the same way we do today. We look at other examples from the same time period, match certain details, and create something that works size-wise and is element appropriate with whatever else we see is going on in the space.

The use of restoration materials and conservation methods is not always called for, but certainly is great when it is on the agenda. Time and financial constraints call for different solutions on each job. Being able to use old lime mortars and plasters with no VOC's that still breathe and function the way old buildings should is a great pleasure. We match mortars by analyzing the historic fabric that is often hidden under other layers. We like to work with lime washes, which we make ourselves, and let the walls breathe. Pigmenting with natural and organic substances is also something that we love to do. We have samples of mineral pigments as well and spice and vegetation pigments that seem to get around these days. No waiting for off-gassing. Pretty easy to use once you have it down, and easy to maintain.

Howard Hall Farm Green Technology

Green Technology

Incorporating geo-thermal, co-gen, solar energy, and other high efficiency technologies in more conventional applications is something we do regularly on our projects. For over a decade now our customers have been showing a preference for foam insulation, and we have used it in the frame upstate. There are benefits and drawbacks to all technologies, and variations that may or may not make sense. Bad insulation leads to many a sagging roof, so understanding vapor barriers, breathing, proper installation and many other technical issues are imperative to making the decision to go green. Change is happening so fast that no matter what we do, we know that in ten years it will be better, and there seems to be an exponential growth in new product information. We will post about our discoveries of new technology and our experiences using them, and give reviews so that you can be better informed when making decisions about greening your home.

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