Original pine floors, graceful front columns, and an expansive porch originally drew Andrew Gardner and Alex Batkin to their circa-1860 Victorian home in Germantown, New York, in 2017. They found these period details in a dilapidated setting: When they saw the house for the first time, it had sat vacant for five years and was in foreclosure. But the location was close to Batkin’s family, by a train line, and had not been the subject of any unfortunate renovations, leaving a blank slate for their own vision.
“It was full of the kind of character that we were seeking, and so quintessentially Hudson Valley,” says Gardner, who is a curatorial assistant in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
They appreciated the house’s location near the vibrant center of town, close enough for them to walk in to pick up groceries or see friends.
The asking price was too good to pass up, so after some deliberation, they decided to go for it—and leapt directly into a massive remodeling project that was, as Gardner puts it, “an extremely costly endeavor.” He urges first-time homebuyers not to be starry-eyed. If it’s cheap on paper, he warns, that’s likely because it will be expensive to bring it into a state of habitability.
For Gardner and Batkin—whose goal was not just habitability but a warm renovation that reflected the home’s history—that meant “everything from stripping out asbestos, shoring up the foundation, putting in better insulation, and restoring the house to its original character,” Gardner explains.
The couple retained almost everything about the facade of the home, but they had to rebuild the front porch and remove excessive tiles, which revealed original clapboard siding. While some of the pine flooring was already exposed, other portions had to be stripped of overlayed carpet. And when they discovered that the house wasn’t insulated, they needed to replace all the windows and take the exterior interior walls down to the studs. The heating system was no longer functioning, which prompted them to invest in a new HVAC system.
That was all before they got to the back of the house, where a 1930s extension held the kitchen.
“What we came to discover was that the extension was not preservable in its current condition,” Gardner explains. “We had to pour a new foundation and rebuild in essentially the same exact footprint that was what was already there.” They were able to reorient the space, though, for better lighting and ceiling height.
In what Gardner says was an effort toward simplicity after all of the structural work, they decided to paint the entire house, inside and out, in Benjamin Moore Simply White, and contrast it with trim and doors in Benjamin Moore Black. The only spot of color is the front door, a glossy, Yves Klein blue inspired by a famous bakery the couple visited in Portugal.
“We like colors, but don’t want to overload ourselves with it because we also want to feel like we can be at peace and calm in our house,” Gardner says, noting that their apartment in New York City has brighter colors and more objects scattered throughout. “We’re hoping that, in creating our home, there’s a sense of calm and minimalism.”
As collectors and self-proclaimed “auction hounds,” Gardner said that he and Batkin have let their eclectic furnishings and objects lead the character of the home. They wanted to create a space “that is modern in character, that was reflective of the place that it inhabits.” The style contrasts with the home’s exterior, which Gardner says was intentional.
“I have this particular relationship with Victorian-style structures,” he says. “I’m not big on the gingerbread icing details, [but] I didn’t want to strip the house of that character. All those architectural elements are present, but they’re not so in your face, which allowed us to do more modern interventions.”
Batkin and Gardner collected the items in their home over the course of years, and each has a story, from a La Chamba clay pot from Colombia and a Oaxacan rug made by Isaac Vasquez to living room furniture from the annual Hammertown Barn Sale and a solid wood dining table found at an estate sale on Long Island. The table, which Gardner posits was probably used outside and has a bow in the center, is particularly dear to him.
“It’s this great centerpiece of our home where we spend a lot of time with friends and family,” he says. “It’s what we like to call at MoMA a ‘humble masterpiece.’ Solid wood frame, and very clean lines. Very sort of unassuming in its character.”
The upstairs bathroom is the only room that inverts the color scheme, with black walls and white tile, of which Gardner says they wanted a pop of black for sophistication. Playful powder blue Anglepoise sconces offset the seriousness of the color, and are a subtle nod to Gardner’s grandmother, for whom it was a favorite color.
“The reason that we spend so much time up here is because we like the quiet of nature,” Gardner says. “Alex, for a number of years, was a beekeeper and I worked in ceramics, so we’re both very interested in tactile engagement and with materials that are very much of the earth. I also think that’s resonant, generationally speaking, with people who feel like they’re seeking something that is an alternative to our technological world.”
As newcomers in a changing Hudson Valley, Gardner and Batkin have also made it a point to become involved in local politics, and have worked to create lasting relationships with neighbors and other townspeople who have lived there for years before them. The sense of camaraderie they feel with others in Germantown has been rewarding.
“Owning a home is a big responsibility,” Gardner says. “Being a member of a community is also a really important responsibility. We’ve made a lot of great friends in the process of spending a lot of time up here.”
Gardner sees the house as a process of collaboration with Batkin, and central to that is creating space for others—during their lifetimes, and in the future.
“I hope that I’m doing justice for a place that has belonged to a number of other families before me and will hopefully belong to a number of other families after me,” he says, “and that it’s paying homage to the architectural and community traditions that are inherent in the place we call home.”