When Teresa Halpert Deschanes and David Halpert bought the 1880s Queen Anne on Ithaca’s West State Street in 2017, it was in sad shape. Years of neglect and a leaky roof had damaged floors and plaster. But the structure, designed by noted early Ithaca architect Alvah Bugbee Wood, was sound. The couple embarked on a two-year restoration and building project that brought the National Register of Historic Places-listed Tibbetts-Rumsey House back to life. Both the home and a new structure at the rear of the property follow a cooperative living plan. Residents occupy private bedrooms but share the kitchen, laundry, and other common living spaces.
The restoration was an arduous process but ultimately fulfilling because it saved the historic home. Teresa, who loves old buildings and has restored several around Ithaca, supervised all aspects of the project and drew on the expertise and resources of Historic Ithaca and Significant Elements. “Working with old houses is hard, but it’s good to have moral support,” Teresa explains. Teresa used Historic Ithaca’s research on the local Downtown West Historic District to apply for National Historic Register status, which qualifies the property for federal, state, and local tax credits. “Without that research, I wouldn’t have been able to do it by myself,” notes Teresa.
A frequent Significant Elements shopper, Teresa clearly enjoys hunting for vintage finds there. “It’s a really stress-free place to hang out. I go there when I have a bad day, and [the staff] talk back to me,” she wryly notes. “I like that there’s always something different and you don’t know what you’ll find,” Teresa says, complimenting the design and cleanliness of the store displays.
She sourced many of the Tibbetts-Rumsey House elements at the store. Elegant period light fixtures from Significant Elements illuminate the kitchen, laundry room, the downstairs bath, and other spaces. The home’s double front door was another store find. Teresa also scored a matching pink sink and toilet for an upstairs bathroom, along with knobs for bedroom doors. A painted wooden cabinet from Significant Elements hangs above a sink in the “unfitted,” Victorian-style kitchen.
When Teresa couldn’t find a vintage piece, Significant Elements Manager Sara Johnson helped her track down durable, high-quality reproductions. Six reproduction hinges, which would have been exorbitantly expensive in vintage form and difficult to find, support the home’s antique front doors. Significant Elements staff offered their expertise on other projects. Lighting expert Nick DiGiacinto rewired lights. Work Preserve and Traditional Skills Trainer Peter Walz showed Teresa how to build a base to support a heavy sink rescued from the basement and reused in the first-floor laundry room.
In turn, Teresa was a resource for Historic Ithaca and Significant Elements. She provided referrals to contractors that deal sensitively with historic properties. When Teresa had leftover materials, including glass wall sconces and tiles, she donated those items to Significant Elements for resale. “I like to be able to give them old stuff because it won’t end up in the landfill,” she explains.
As developers, the Halperts combine an ethos of sustainability with their love for historic buildings. Bugbee’s Place, as the house has been renamed, is newly insulated and powered by fossil-free fuels, with an air-source heat pump system. Solar panels completely power the modularly constructed new building at the back of the property that occupies the site of a historic carriage house that had been demolished by a previous owner.
The cooperative housing model works well with a historic home, Teresa finds, because it preserves the integrity of a grand old structure. “I like to reclaim old houses as single family houses, but there aren’t families of six to eight people,” she explains. Instead, creating living spaces for multiple people with one shared kitchen and common rooms makes the project more economical and thus affordable for a wider range of incomes.
Teresa sees Historic Ithaca as a needed voice for historic preservation in the community. “Everyone at Historic Ithaca recognizes that communities grow but that it should be done in a thoughtful way,” she notes. “I like that people show up at meetings at City Hall and give this valuable historic preservation perspective so we won’t destroy our historic structures without thought.”
She’s also a fan of Historic Ithaca’s Work Preserve job-training program as a community resource. “Work Preserve is pretty genius because it’s a very labor-intensive proposition with a side benefit of getting preservation done,” she observes. In addition, she adds, Work Preserve participants “get exposure to old things, which is an incredible thing to cultivate. If you can have any kind of education program for young people, get them to think about that you don’t have to gut every building and put in it the landfill.” While the program helps these young folks become self sufficient, it also helps build “a society that’s appreciative of things that shouldn’t be thrown away,” concludes Teresa.
Historic Ithaca recognizes Teresa and David as Preservation Heroes who have made a sizable investment in and commitment to the Ithaca community. Their innovative approach to historic preservation should serve as a model as we work to build a culturally rich and sustainable future.