Cottage living...

House Tour: From Schoolhouse to Charming Cottage


This week, High Point Market kicks off, and the Madcaps are busy, busy, busy! Be sure to follow our Madcap adventures on Instagram at @madcapcottage.

With that said, John and I thought it would be fun to kick back for a minute and take you on a tour of the former Madcap Cottage, an 1840s-era schoolhouse in New York’s stunning Catskill Mountains that we “rescued” and transformed into a charming, vest pocket-sized escape.

We found the home online in 2001 (I have always been a die-hard real estate junkie) and piled into the car from the Upper West Side of Manhattan where we had a one-bedroom apartment. Remember that this was LONG before Facebook and Instagram and websites such as Circa Old Houses and such… Even finding homes on the internet at the time was sort of a new thing–hard to imagine in this age of Zillow and Trulia. John and I were seeking to spread out a bit, cultivate a garden, and get out of the urban jungle on the weekends. The home was priced at $30k, so it was an absolute steal. And we are absolutely mad for homes with history.

Still, when we walked in, we were a bit gobsmacked. The house was an absolute wreck.

“What a dump,” I seem to recall saying.

Walls were crumbling, ceilings were drooping, and the one bathroom looked like it had been struck by a hurricane.

Still, John and I had a vision, and we decided to “save” the house. We promptly met with a mortgage broker to seal the deal. And this in the days when self-employed people could still get a mortgage.

Fast forward: We closed on the house and set about developing a plan of attack. Sadly, the cottage’s pipes froze during the long, long winter, but the silver lining was that insurance sent us a big check to cover the repairs so the overall cost of the house plummeted way below the $30k purchase price.

Come Spring of the following year, we started work. My dad (who is super handy!) drove up from Florida with his Volvo station wagon full of tools, and John, my dad, and I started demolition work. By the following Fall, the house was ready to move into…

So here are a few overall photographs of the original Madcap Cottage in its final incarnation–the house changed so many times during the fifteen years we owned it, we love a home that constantly evolves. We ended up selling the home last year to a woman who had fallen in love with it… We discovered that we were no longer using the home once we had decamped to North Carolina. Happily, the original Madcap Cottage is now in great hands.

P.S. Be sure to turn to the Madcap Cottage Instagram Stories to see what the house looked like “before” and “during” the renovation.

Welcome to madcap cottage

Cottage dreaming...

Welcome to Madcap Cottage, a historic, 1840s-era former schoolhouse smack in the center of New York’s charming, bucolic Catskill Mountains. Situated in the sleepy hamlet of Hobart, known as the “Book Village of the Catskills” thanks to its many second-hand bookshops, Madcap Cottage became the perfect escape for me and John–and, eventually, the pups who loved the place. Note the yellow-painted front door, the Chinoiserie-inspired railing, the green-and-white-striped awnings, the picket fence, and the heaps of boxwood.

The Foyer

Make an entrance...

John and I moved the main entrance to the side of the house and crafted a small foyer. We wanted a real sense of impact so we added molding with simple 2″x4″s that we painted in fun colors such as pink and teal. The Dutch door came from a big-box store, and we painted it a bold yellow hue.

Designer Tip: Patterned wallpaper makes a room seem that much larger because it “breaks” the architecture of a space. Here, the Chinoiserie paper made the foyer seem much larger than its true footprint.

The living room

Room for living...

In the living room John and I added faux beams on the ceiling to trick the eye into thinking the room was much taller than it actually is. We then painted the beams a high-shine teal hue to lend even further pop. A wall-to-wall natural-fiber rug anchors the room. All fabrics are from the Madcap Cottage for Robert Allen collection. And the coffee table came from the estate of legendary comedian Joan Rivers and now sits in the House of Bedlam’s master bedroom.

Designer Tip: hang window treatments as close to the ceiling as possible in a low-slung space to trick the eye into thinking a room is than much higher.

SHelf Life

Shelf life...

John and I love books and displaying gorgeous objects that we have collected upon our travels, and this whimsical bookshelf from Stanley Furniture perfectly fit the bill. Plus, the shelf is very high and helps make the room seem more spacious than it truly is. BTW: You might have spotted this bookshelf on Wayfair’s ads on TV as the piece makes a true star turn.

P.S. The antique faux-bamboo armchair is currently for sale on the Madcap Cottage Chairish sale.

the kitchen

Kitchen confidential...

The cottage’s kitchen had a very low ceiling when we purchased the place and the refrigerator and stove were awkwardly positioned. John and I added the round window–a Madcap Cottage signature in kitchens–and moved the appliances to the back and side walls by creating a “U.” We installed a farm sink and antiqued black cabinetry, raised the ceiling to its actual pitch, and layered-in a polished-cement console table from Currey & Co. as an island.

the bedroom

Round we go...

The bedroom was truly a mess when we purchased the home. We took the ceiling down to studs and installed a bead board-like finish. We crafted built-ins that delivered storage and a place for books and added yet another round window. The room was super inviting and cozy.

The Den

Den of earthly delights...

A very tiny room next to the bedroom on the second floor became the den. We painted the room a chocolate-brown hue and found low-slung furniture. And we draped the space with curtain panels crafted of Madcap Cottage fabrics–and finished with exuberant trim.

The master bathroom

Rub a dub...

The master bathroom–sandwiched between the master bedroom and den–was an absolute train wreck when John and I purchased the home. There was a toilet, sink, AND shower in this space. We moved the tub/shower to a bathroom that we added on the ground floor and refitted this space to only hold a sink and toilet.

The Stairs

Stairway to heaven...

Custom fretwork railings painted a pale green lent an unexpected twist to the cottage’s narrow ascent. The gold dragon atop the railing hails from a Chinese restaurant in Greensboro, North Carolina that closed. Sadly, Mr. Chow stayed with the house when we sold it. And we added yet another round window at the top of the stairs!

The Garden

John and I are passionate gardeners, and we created gardens at the cottage that included everything from apple trees to cutting beds. Here, a cozy spot in which to rest and reflect.

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