Interior Design

Century House Reno: Amanda & Timmie Roll Up Their Sleeves

A before-and-after of how they brought a 124-year-old family home into the 21st century—original charm intact.

January 30, 2021

Welcome to Real-Life Renos, where we’re pulling back the curtains to the home renos we just can’t get enough of. Tag along as our favorite designers, chefs, and cookbook authors welcome us inside their spaces and share the behind-the-scenes stories behind their transformations. We’ll explore their takes on sustainable living, how they express their identities through design, how they create beautiful spaces that center around accessibility—and so much more.


The beach house was built just before the turn of the 20th century, back when the Hamptons were mostly potato fields and pitch pines. William Dwight Whitney, a Sanskrit scholar and linguist, constructed the house with proceeds from his 10-volume Century Dictionary, published in 1889. For this reason, it became known as “Century House” generations ago—and we call it that to this day.

My husband Tad’s family, and an evolving generational tidal flow, have owned the house since 1915, but even as bankers have built gilded fortresses all around it, the Friends have staunchly resisted the temptation to sell. Instead, they’ve doubled down on keeping the house intact.

Well, sort of.

Photo by Amanda Hesser
Photo by Amanda Hesser

Until recently, the structure was held together with Band-Aids and kite string. The kitchen, which had remained mostly untouched for more than 50 years, was long on quirkiness and short on convenience. The refrigerator was in a hallway far away; the microwave sat on a rickety oil-cloth covered table; and there was a breakfast table smack in the middle of the work area. To open the oven, you needed to ask your father-in-law to move his chair. But it did have lots of Le Creuset and Julia Child-style pegboards for hanging cookware!

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“It's going to be fun and easy to work in this new kitchen and layout of the house. Congrats!”
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This past year, Tad, his two siblings, and their spouses decided it was time to bring the kitchen into the 21st century—without erasing its original charms. While we were at it, we’d open up the layout, add heat and A/C to the house, a couple of new bathrooms, and fix up a termite-riddled cottage on the property (more on that next year, when we’re actually finished!).

The three families pooled their money. We all live far apart, and none of us is within two hours of the house. There was also a tight deadline of eight months because we rent the house in the summer. Are you nervous yet?

An early sketch of what the new kitchen would look like. Photo by Amanda Hesser
Fabric sample selection via iPhone arrows, aka, how to make a bicoastal project work. Photo by Timmie Friend Haskins

To streamline matters (aka, opinions and financial decisions), we designated two project managers: my sister-in-law, Timmie Friend Haskins, who has a design firm in San Francisco, T. Friend Interiors, and me.

To get the bulk of the planning done, Timmie and I spent the better part of our Christmas holiday running in and out of paint stores, and sitting in Timmie’s living room for massive brainstorming and sourcing sessions with tiles and spreadsheets. After one particularly long stretch of internet sourcing, I got so dizzy, I had to take a nap right there on the sofa.

This initial burst of work was worth it: Timmie and I were organized and ready, and we got on great. But no one told us that our foreman would go on vacation for six weeks, or that a pandemic would throw the project into disarray for months, or that we’d have permitting issues that would halt work for an additional month. In 2020, how could we have expected less?!

But we did get it done. And I’d love to give you a tour of the before and after, and all the little details that Timmie and I added. Scroll through.


In the Beginning...

The kitchen table—right in the middle of the kitchen! The dark pantry is in the back left corner. The exit hallway—which my brother-in-law had to duck to walk through—took you to a room containing the fridge, freezer, and wine fridge. I've cursed my way through this hallway many times when I've forgotten an ingredient in the fridge! Photo by Amanda Hesser
The old kitchen was long on quirkiness, short on convenience. Photo by Amanda Hesser
Like I said: lots of Le Creuset and Julia Child-style pegboards. Photo by Amanda Hesser
The dining room with its long mahogany table and many broken chairs! On the other side of the far wall was the kitchen. Photo by Amanda Hesser
To get to the kitchen from the dining room, you had to walk through this "butlers pantry," which had some nice old cabinets and a sink. Photo by Amanda Hesser
The kids' bathroom on the third floor, aka, "The Crows Nest." Photo by Amanda Hesser
The old guest bathroom, with wallpaper featuring clippings from The New York Observer. Photo by Amanda Hesser

The (Messy) Middle

Post demolition: You can see just how old the house is here. The old doors to the living room were reused for the guest bathroom and drinks pantry. Photo by Amanda Hesser
The cabinets that we'd planned to reuse were gnawed by squirrels in the garage! We removed the front framing so we could make a copy out of new fir. Photo by Amanda Hesser
With the island in, the kitchen began to take shape. Photo by Amanda Hesser
The perimeter cabinets had to be repainted (because the original color was bumming me out), so we found two new colors and tested them against the existing tile, countertop, and island colors. Photo by Amanda Hesser
The top and bottom panels are the original paint (Farrow & Ball Borrowed Light). We went with Farrow & Ball Purbeck Stone (second panel from the top, on the right). The island cabinet color is Farrow & Ball Oval Room Blue. Photo by Amanda Hesser
Paint samples for the cabinets and guest bath. Photo by Amanda Hesser
Testing the bathroom paint sample against the tile. I photographed it on every wall so Timmie could see it in every light variance. Photo by Amanda Hesser
The glamorous work of getting the toilet paper holder in just the right spot. Photo by Amanda Hesser
Frank Visconti, our heroic foreman. Photo by Amanda Hesser
Before the house and laundry room were joined. Photo by Amanda Hesser
The two structures, now united by a hallway, new side entrance, and reshaped roofline. Photo by Amanda Hesser
Move-in day is never pretty. This is my husband, Timmie's brother Tad, helping unpack. Photo by Amanda Hesser

The After (Hello, 21st century!)

The countertops are porcelain by Fondovalle: they're nonporous and less expensive than stone. The Arc pendants over the island are from Allied Maker. The Le Creuset collection has been around for decades. The grey nesting bowls are by Rosti Mepal and are available in the Food52 Shop. Photo by James Ransom
In the old dining room, we used the sideboard for serving dinner buffet-style. Now we can use the end of the island and have all the plates close at hand. Photo by James Ransom
Open shelving makes some people uneasy, but it gives us a chance to see so many of the old pitchers and glassware that have been in the house for so long. Rather than three long shelves, which would have been heavy-handed, Timmie had the idea to shorten the top shelf and use it to display some of the oldest pitchers. The shelves are stained fir and the brackets are from Rejuvenation. Photo by James Ransom
Timmie picked this Kelly cement tile by Popham Design for its Matisse-like shapes and bold color. The six-burner range is by Blue Star. The crocks are Five Two. Photo by James Ransom
The pantry: just outside the kitchen and tucked beneath the stairs. Instead of doing one set of deep shelves on the back wall, we made the back walls shelves standard-depth and kicked out shelving on the side walls. This allows you to see way more ingredients. Photo by James Ransom
A new, second pantry for supplies, wine, dog bowls, a freezer, and a collection of old vases. Photo by James Ransom
We had to preserve some pegboard! And we wanted to create a cozy corner so people could still hang around a table in the kitchen—one that's a little less cramped. Timmie and I both love banquette seating, so we had this made locally. Timmie designed the table. The Shadow pendant is from Ylighting. Photo by Amanda Hesser
The drinks and breakfast nook, with a drinks fridge and ice maker beneath the counter, and glassware above. The black shelf brackets are from Rejuvenation. The shelves are stained fir. The Tesla of toasters is by Breville. Photo by Amanda Hesser
The new dining room! The built-ins in the corners are original and packed with old, pretty, and frighteningly fragile china, so we kept it in there. The oak extending table is from Oka: it gets tons of use and we swap in (and out) leaves as often as our kids change their socks. The Evan chairs are from Room & Board. There's a long tradition of painters in the family; these citrus paintings are by Letty Pierson, a great-aunt who, along with her husband, was the second owner of the house. We're now the fourth generation to own it. Pendant is from Ikea. Votives are from Etsy. Rug by Annie Selke. Photo by James Ransom
Timmie unearthed this great painting by great-aunt Letty in the attic, where we also found toilet paper from the 1930s. Photo by Amanda Hesser
More art! Tomatoes, also by great-aunt Letty. Photo by Amanda Hesser
Timmie's mother's still lifes painted during summers spent at the house. Photo by Amanda Hesser
The living room is no longer shut off from the kitchen! And now there's a TV in there. 21st century, here we come! Photo by Amanda Hesser
The new guest bathroom is painted with Farrow & Ball Inchyra. Sconces are from Rejuvenation. Mirror from CB2. Pedestal sink by Kohler. Tile is Diamond Blanco by Ann Sacks. Photo by James Ransom
The kids' bathroom, aka, the "Crows Nest," finally taking shape. Photo by Amanda Hesser

What was your favorite part of this renovation? What would you have done differently? Tell us!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Amanda Hesser

Written by: Amanda Hesser

Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.

84 Comments

Nrkauss April 15, 2021
I love so much about this - especially the fixtures! Where did you get the fir shelves from?
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. April 15, 2021
Thanks so much for your note -- our contractor cut and stained the fir shelves.
 
Terry J. March 31, 2021
What a beautiful renovation and thank you so much for sharing and for taking the time to respond to individual comments. We did a reno on our kitchen 16 years ago and our Grohe faucet has finally bit the dust. I love the kitchen faucets you chose. Could you share the brand and style?
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. April 15, 2021
Hi Terry -- sorry for the delay, just saw your comment. Here are the faucets we have: https://www.build.com/brizo-63020lf/s282437?uid=1710796#reviews
 
Josephine C. February 8, 2021
House looks great! I was wondering if you could share the contractor you used for the work ? We own a home in that area and we’re looking to renovate bathrooms and at some point my kitchen. Thanks so much! Enjoy your beautiful house.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Thanks so much! We worked with Ronald Webb Builder.
 
Lola February 7, 2021
Living in that house + location = Dream Come True. Nicely done. Can you tell me if the Oka table is walnut or the weathered oak..hard to tell in the photo, but the perfect table for our house! Thanks for including all the brand names.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Thank you so much — and the tabled is weathered oak.
 
Jdj February 4, 2021
Love love love the design of your kitchen. You thought of EVERYTHING! I’m saving this video to show to my daughter-in-law who is doing her kitchen soon.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
So glad you like it!
 
AntoniaJames February 4, 2021
A glorious transformation. Nicely done. ;o)
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Thanks AJ!
 
Kelly M. February 3, 2021
So, did you manage to fit a fridge in the kitchen?!
 
Kelly M. February 5, 2021
Oh, wait, I see the video shows it! Love love love!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
We’re going to replace the fridge this summer. Couldn’t do everything in one fell swoop!
 
Alex S. February 3, 2021
Love the paint colours on the island and kitchen cabinets please can you share the colours? Are they Farrow and Ball??
 
Kelly M. February 5, 2021
Farrow & Ball Purbeck Stone for cabinets, Farrow & Ball Oval Room Blue for island
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Thank you for replying!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Kelly shared all the right paints. The wall color in the bathroom is Farrow & Ball Inchyra — which may be my favorite!
 
Mabel L. February 3, 2021
Amazing job! This renovation required so much thought and talent. Congratulations on a job well done. I love it, including all the quirkiness that makes it "your" family getaway.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Thanks Mabel — really glad to hear the quirkiness came through!
 
sonia February 2, 2021
What a great reno. Love the way you blended the old and the new and retained so much of what has been in the cottage. Nice that there is nothing big box, it looks well thought out and loved, filled with personality. Among my favorites are the light fixtures, they are terrific; the paintings, of course, the color of the island, and the custom style of the of the plate cabinet under the counter. The airy dinning room is cool. That is just to name a few. I am intrigued by the ceramic counter. Beautiful design, I hope your families will enjoy it well into the 22d century.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Thank you, Sonia! Feels good to read your comment — Timmie and I lost sleep over lots of these decisions!
 
Merrill S. February 2, 2021
This is so much fun to see after all the hard work you and Timmie put in! I love every little detail -- especially the tile and the end of the kitchen island where you keep your dishes. Congrats!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Thanks so much, Merrill! Thought you might like those dish cabinets -- they seem very Stubbsian!
 
Sandy S. February 2, 2021
Love, love, love Great Aunt Letty's artwork and that you were able to use it!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Thank you -- and me, too. I love the eggs!
 
Ticketytwo February 2, 2021
Nice. I’m in the middle of renovating a 130 year old beach house in the Carribean that’s been in my family for 50 years. It’s directly on the beach. Hurricane Irma walloped it in 2017. I had to gut renovate the original 4 rooms of the house. The additional rooms in the back fared a bit better. The downstairs was buried. I started last year with the outside replacing the sea walls and the floor of the backyard. I’m close to finishing the upstairs. I shipped in the tiles.surprisingly overstock has a great selection. The trick is buying all you need because they may not have them again. Way fair also great for tiles. I wish I had your kind of space. You have the kitchen I want but I will make do. I also retired from 110v to 220v. While I have found nice lighting, the selection of 110v is so much better. That’s where the electrician comes in. The irony is I live in a very nice apt in Brooklyn and I inherited this beach house. I never really wanted to own a house even if it’s one I love. The work has been mind boggling and the pandemic has enabled me to wfh in another country which is a weird silver lining. You did a great job. I know how much work it took.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Wow -- so intrigued by your house project. Sounds challenging but I hope the finished product is rewarding! And I like that you found the silver lining.
 
Amy February 2, 2021
Lovely! Thank you for sharing. The pantry is most satisfying :) !
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Thanks, Amy!
 
sassygirl711 February 2, 2021
it is a wonderful renovation!!
so very warm and welcoming.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Thank you -- and thanks for reading about it!
 
Pat C. February 2, 2021
Love this Reno! I live in a 167 yr old home that we renovated about 15 years ago...tricky because it is a duplex and we had limited space to utilize. We removed an old porch and added 110 sq feet and a full bath (shower). Opened an archway into the dining room so it similarly is an extension of the kitchen. We were on a tight budget and found after pulling everything apart that a bearing wall was missing - oops! There went my new cabinets /counters for another beam to keep the ceiling up. Not nearly as lovely as yours, but has the good bones for a future owner to work with when I'm ready to sell. Had the same color fears but used a deep coral for an accent color in kitchen and dining room walls. Realy enjoy Food52. Cheers!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Thanks Pat and I loved hearing about your renovation, too! We had a few of those unpleasant discoveries as well; ours involved termites, ugh!
 
Marla K. February 2, 2021
Lovely job, lovely home.

What I like most about it is how organic it is. It looks like it's always been like this, not all new and shiny. Even though it is all new and updated and ready for a family to settle in and use.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
We were hoping that would be the feeling -- so glad you think so!
 
Arthur J. February 2, 2021
Delightful. To be a child in this environment must be absolute magic. Let us all be children with their innocence. Wear it in good health! Enjoy. Many good meals to come.
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Thank you! We're looking forward to spending lots of time there!
 
TraceyT February 2, 2021
Beautiful!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Thank you!
 
AMM February 2, 2021
What a beautiful renovation! I am in the midst of gently (and sometimes not so gently) reworking a 110-year-old house in Bronxville, so I appreciate your pandemic challenges. The nod to Julia Child and the kitchen's history with the pegboard made me smile. Great Aunt Lettie's paintings are delicious, and I wish she were still painting today. And, finally, including an IKEA light (because it was just right) is a great acknowledgement that good design doesn't have to be expensive; it is worth saving those dollars for the Miele dishwashers. Brava to both of you!
 
Author Comment
Amanda H. February 13, 2021
Thanks so much, AMM -- and hope your renovation goes well!