Chappaqua Resident Brenda Kelly Kramer's Project of Moving Her Historic Colonial Cottage Three Miles to her Dutch Colonial Home
How to move a piece of history in six not-so-easy steps
Photo by Michael Polito
Interior Designer Brenda Kelly Kramer moved and merged an historic cottage into her Chappaqua home.
Location, location, location. In real estate, it’s all about location—whether you’re moving to a property or moving the property to you.
When Brenda Kelly Kramer (www.brendakellykramer.com), a Chappaqua resi-dent and interior designer, decided to embark on her ambitious project of moving a historic two-story, three-bedroom Colonial cottage three miles to her 1931 Dutch Colonial home, she got far more than she’d bargained for: the yearlong project turned out to be larger, more complex, more costly, and more time-consuming than she had expected. But the support she received from both neighbors and contractors also exceeded her expectations. In the end, there was nothing more unexpected or gratifying than the final result, which was, in Kramer’s words, “beyond my wildest dreams.”
How she did it is nothing short of amazing, but taking the project one step at a time made the impossible possible.
Step 1: Believe in your idea—and yourself.
Most people, when finding themselves captivated by a lovely, century-old cottage, might fantasize about moving it and somehow attaching the cottage to their existing home, but the story would end there. For Kramer, that thought was only the beginning.
It all started when Kramer learned that the darling little cottage on Taylor Road (originally home to the coachman for Moses Taylor on his 600-acre Annandale Farms estate) was slated for demolition, no longer wanted by the purchasers of the new spec house that now overshadowed it. That’s when Kramer’s passionate drive to preserve and protect kicked in. “It was a sweet little cottage—a little jewel among huge homes,” Kramer recalls.
Then there was the sentimental connection. “I remember passing it many times when I was a little girl going to visit my grandfather, who was the manager of the Mount Kisco Country Club.”
What gave Kramer the confidence to take that idea and run with it? “I knew it would work,” she says. “I’m very optimistic—a glass-half-full kind of person. I could visualize the cottage all decorated in Christmas lights. It was just a matter of getting it done.”
Workers prepare the century-old Chappaqua cottage (shown left with its top floor removed for transporting in sections) for a precarious three-mile journey to its new location—alongside Brenda Kelly Kramer’s home.
Above photos by Carter Kelly Kramer
Instinctively, Kramer slipped her business card into the cottage’s mailbox with the handwritten plea, “Please don’t knock down this house.” She didn’t have to find support—overwhelming support found her. As luck would have it, Kramer discovered that she and the cottage’s previous owner, Michael Silver, shared the same Irvington roots and had attended the same elementary school—a coincidence (or not) that was one of many helpful connections she needed to see the project through.
Step 2: Get plenty of support.
Before long, Kramer had the backing not only of contractors and experts, but an entire community who rallied behind her. Even the few naysayers couldn’t put a dent in her determination. “People were all so nice to me,” she says. “Everyone got into the spirit of things. The town, the transportation people, even ConEd, Cablevision, and Verizon agreed to raise the wires so the house wouldn’t have to be cut to make the move. They were willing to hand-walk the wires across to the other side of the street at no charge.”
But a large maple tree stood firmly in the way. Moving the house in one piece was no longer an option without cutting down the tree. Kramer opted for the painstaking step of cutting the house. “In retrospect, moving the house in one piece would have been a much bigger project,” Kramer notes.
Step 3: Surround yourself with experts.
Moving a cottage takes a village. Kramer’s team of experts included: Steven J. Tavolacci of Tavo Development, the developer of the spec house now on the property who found her note and, relieved that the cottage might be saved, offered her the cottage if she would finance its move; John DeNicholas, owner of Nicholas Bros. Inc., which was responsible for orchestrating the physical separation and actual move of the cottage piecemeal; contractor Michael Velardo, of Luciano Velardo, Inc., who not only constructed the new foundation and helped make the cottage whole again but volunteered countless suggestions and connections to other specialists, including ZB Enterprises for the cottage’s reassembly; and Gray Williams, New Castle town historian and chair of the New Castle Landmark Advisory Committee, who helped expedite approvals for the historic move and recommended a landmark status in its new location.
Kramer’s interior-design background, including restoration projects in her own home (which garnered a House Beautiful feature), didn’t hurt—it gave her added credibility and boosted her fearless can-do attitude.
Step 4: Expect (and prepare for) the unexpected.
There were more than a few surprises along the road to success. The cottage’s roof didn’t survive and had to be discarded, as did both of the original fireplaces. Once moved, the cottage had to be brought up to code with updated insulation, plumbing, and electrical wiring. Kramer also added an energy-efficient heating and cooling system.
Step 5: Have fun and acknowledge milestones along the way.
Milestone signs of success along the way helped make the grueling process more bearable and a happy ending within reach. “Putting up the sheetrock was a major milestone,” Kramer recalls. “That’s when it began to look like a house again.” Finally, her dream was taking shape.
In the meantime, Kramer had begun having a little fun—collecting furniture and accent pieces for the cottage as she discovered them, never imagining the extended time she would need to store them in her main house. She snagged the perfect George Smith couch when it was on sale and purchased the metal sign and wooden British crown (a nod to Kramer’s British father) that had hung outside the iconic Crown House Antiques. Scouring websites and flea markets became her new focus for finding all things Bermuda (her favorite destination for family vacations) to fit her decorating theme for the new upstairs office, main-floor playroom, and wet bar she envisioned for her repurposed cottage. And completely committed to reclaimed materials, Kramer patiently tracked down everything from marble to wood flooring to Bermuda limestone and even sand.
Step 6: Throw a party to celebrate your success.
There’s nothing like a party to share the joy of success. “I had a Christmas party to thank the neighbors for going through the mess and everyone who helped me,” Kramer says. “Everyone just loved it. One neighbor brought a gift of decorative soaps and said, ‘Thanks for beautifying our neighborhood.’ Some neighbors wanted to take a tour.”
Would she do it again knowing what she knows now? “It reminds me of having a baby. Like a labor that’s horrible, you say you’ll never do it again. But the results change your mind.” As the mother of six, Kramer knows the feeling well. But how she managed this labor-intensive project while parenting six boys—ranging in age from 16 months (twins) to 15 years—is a separate story.
“I have a real sense of accomplishment,” she says. “It’s the first time this was ever done in Chappaqua. Moving the cottage gave me the extra space I needed, plus it was a good life lesson for my kids. I hope others are inspired to preserve a piece of history.”
Having focused on real estate features for several years, White Plains-based writer Karen Odom applauds all attempts to preserve history and loves telling the fascinating stories behind those extraordinary efforts.