In 2016, renovations had stopped on the historic shingle house at 302 Elm Street, which had suffered from weather and water damage. The place needed new owners to save and restore the colonial revival of 1901.
“We looked at the house seven times before making an offer,” said Jen Adams, who bought the house with her husband, Jeff Sternal.
“We had been looking for 5 years,” said Sternal, a software developer. “This house had been on the market for a few years and three transactions failed,” Adams added.
The condition of the house may have played a role. Severe water damage had destroyed the entire right side of the house. “‘Not for the faint-hearted’ was in the description of the property,” said Adams, an English professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
New to renovating historic homes, they consulted an architect friend, decided it was worth it, and made their offer.
Two years and a remarkable transformation later, the couple have won the revered Historic Preservation Award from the Northampton Historic Commission.
Their home will be featured along with five other award-winning Northampton historic homes on the first home visit of this year co-sponsored by the Friends of Cooley Dickinson and the Northampton Historic Commission on Saturday June 29.
The project began in April 2018 and was completed in September 2018 while the family was in Oxford, England for Adams’ work. Their supporting trio – architect Jody Barker, contractor John Sackrey of Sackrey Construction and real estate agent Kate Carney Iles of Maple and Main ably handled the process.
“Our contractors did an amazing job,” Sternal said, “We delegated a lot because we were there and trusted them. We were on the same page about almost everything. Our great agent Kate Carney Iles of Maple and Main also helped a lot.”
A photo wall near the kitchen helps show what they were up against. “A lot of it was just exposed walls,” Sternal said, many of which were gutted down to the slats.
The kitchen was the most difficult because they wanted to build enough cabinets and counter space while maintaining openness. Barker drew at least eight drawings of it. Today, abundant sunlight streams through the room, where pendant lights hang above a peninsula breakfast bar.
An original carved acorn finial anchors the curved wooden staircase in the entry, and the dining room is covered in antique wallpaper depicting expansive landscapes.
Preserving these features when updating the house required true professional ingenuity. Pointing to a charming, narrow closet in the entryway, Sternal said: ‘That closet wasn’t there. They just built it with some wood they salvaged and the door they found. They’ve also hidden a nifty powder room under the front staircase, a feature “our architect dubbed the pot Harry Potter,” Sternal said.
Next to Harry Potter is a narrow, almost secret back staircase. “We both love the back staircase, especially the comedy that ensues when two people try to find each other but use different stairs,” Sternal said.
Upstairs, they modernized water-damaged spaces and transformed an old art studio into a master suite and laundry room. The master bedroom, painted white and dove gray with a deep burgundy wall, retains its original sconces.
Walking on the second-story deck, Sternal pointed to its extensive restoration. “The railings were miserable. They were eaten, some looked like corn cobs. The worst part was that the poles had rotted and were a hazard. Refurbished with adjusted bars and collars, they have been restored to their former glory.
And would they do it again, knowing what they know now?
“Yeah, I think so,” Sternal said. “It’s doable, and you can walk through it without losing your mind.”
“We really love our home,” Adams added.
In addition to 302 Elm Street, there are 5 other historic homes on the Home Tour: 41 Lyman Road, 30 Munroe Street, 78 North Elm Street, 62 Chestnut Street and 123 Meadow Street. Tickets are $25 and are available at the Cooley Dickinson Hospital (CDH) Gift Shop, Cooper’s Corner, State Street Fruit Store, Essentials, and The Baker’s Pin. On the day of the event, June 29, tickets will be available at the CDH Gift Shop. Proceeds will go to Friends of Cooley Dickinson.