The Hudson Valley gave birth to the nation’s first school of landscape painting and the first school of landscape architecture. It was Andrew Downing and his protégé, Englishman Calvert Vaux, who launched the picturesque, Romantic style of domestic architecture and landscape. But when interior designers and architects talk about authentic Hudson Valley style, particularly on the west side of the Hudson River, they are usually referring to the region’s Dutch heritage.
The Dutch colony was short-lived — it was taken over by the British in 1664 — but its cultural traditions persisted well into the 19th century, when a few traditional houses still retained their Dutch-style groote kamer, or great room, fitted out with exposed beams and a large hearth. Some of the 17th-and-18th-century stone houses in Kingston, Hurley, Stone Ridge and New Paltz have retained their original Dutch doors and beehive ovens to this day.
The authentic Hudson Valley style, very much alive, got a boost starting in the Colonial Revival period of the 1920s. Many a Kingston stone house has been “Tellerized” — updated with small windows, cabinets and other build-ins designed by local architect Myron Teller to harmonize with Dutch style. Antiques dealer Fred Johnston, whose elegant Federal house in Uptown Kingston is now owned by Friends of Historic Kingston, also played a role, selling many Hudson Valley objects to Henry du Pont, founder of the Winterterthur Museum, where they reside still. Johnston’s house, which remains furnished as it was when he died, showcases how one could create an elegant, livable design using antiques from the region.
Today, antique dealers on both sides of the river stock period items from the region, making it possible for owners of traditional homes to preserve their colonial ambience. Sanford Levy, owner of Jenkinstown Antiques and consultant for Historic Huguenot Street and other historic sites — Levy bought his first antique when he was still a teenager and purchased his stone house shortly after graduating from SUNY New Paltz 30 years ago — is one of the purists. His stone house in New Paltz creates an almost palpable atmosphere of the past. His rural property, adorned with gardens, boosts a rare summer kitchen, a shed-sized frame building with a capacious brick hearth, as well as a charming, tiny clapboard house, built by Quakers and moved to the site from Orange County, that houses his antiques shop.
Part of the fun of decorating a traditional house is mixing and matching. Levy noted that the Dutch period was culturally heterogeneous, as evidenced by the surviving houses of the French Huguenots in New Paltz. The typical household of the 18th and early 19th centuries was furnished with both locally made handmade items and exports from overseas. The one item that perhaps best epitomizes Hudson Valley Dutch style is the kas, a massive paneled cabinet with large bun feet and a heavy cornice, sometimes fitted with a bottom drawer. Levy owns several, including a handsome specimen in his shop crafted of native gum, a tree that no longer grows in the area.
Of course, one’s pocketbook determines to what degree one can emulate the traditional Dutch style, and whether one adopts the formal style or a less expensive country look. The good news is that the timing right now is propitious. The current craze for mid-century modern has caused a decline in prices, and many traditional items cost far less than they would a decade ago (though Levy noted top-quality antiques never lose their value). Still, a formal kas could set you back at least $18,000.
A less expensive option would be to obtain a country version, which has curved feet cut out of a board to resemble the bun feet. Iris Oseas, who has lived in an 18th-century house in Hurley with her husband, Jonathan, for 42 years and runs Van Deusen House Antiques, has a formal kas in her center hall (it’s from the stone house next door and has been in Hurley for the last 250 years) and a charming, roughly crafted folk version in her upstairs hall.
Particularly valued are furniture, including the kas and a turned-leg table produced by the Beekman Elting Workshop, and Kingston-based William Roe silver. Levy holds a ladle with the signature “bright-cut” coffin end.