It can safely be said that there are, by and large, two kinds of people – old house people and new house people. However, David Wyncoop and Rebecca Reeder, the duo behind Muddykill Ventures, are thoughtfully challenging the divide, saving one old house at a time and giving each home the love and care it might need to survive in the 21st century.
Both Wyncoop and Reeder are longtime residents of this area. Wyncoop grew up on Schoonmaker Lane, Stone Ridge, and attended Rondout Valley schools. Shortly after graduation he began his career as a builder – founding Still Meadow Habitat and Home nearly 30 years ago. Reeder arrived in the area in the mid-’90s and found her way into the film industry, specializing in special effects via an unusual route.
“About 20 years ago, I was on the Rondout Valley school board and I was volunteering for the production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’,” says Reeder. “We were figuring out how to build Audrey 2, and it turned out that and one of the kids’ dads, Peter Kunz, had a world-class special effects shop in High Falls ...” The students and Reeder headed to the studio and enlisted the pro crew’s help in constructing Audrey 2. Reeder enjoyed the process so much that she continued to work with Kunz. The shop, now run by Peter’s son, Johann, has since moved to Gardiner, and Reeder continues her work with Empire FX today.
Reeder’s and Wyncoop’s timelines meet in 2010. In addition to her work in special effects Reeder was doing some taping, painting and spackling on the side and worked on a few jobs with Wyncoop. Within a few years, the jobs became a joint venture.
Muddykill Ventures was essentially founded out of their shared love of old houses and desire to fortify and steward them into the future.
“We love all of the old, beautiful buildings in this area,” says Reeder. “What turns us on about each of our projects is not just not just the act of restoration – it’s the making old new things, bringing these houses back.”
The couple has completed six projects to date in the area, including an old pig farm, an 1830s summer home of the Livingston family on the Hudson, and a sweet little house on Mohonk Road in High Falls. When asked what makes them say yes to a project, Wyncoop laughs and responds, “… if everyone else is walking away.”
Each project presents unique challenges and possibilities. In addition to restoration and bringing everything up to code, a large part of the work includes a bit of a treasure hunt for material – one of Reeder’s favorite parts of the job. “We’re basically always looking for architectural salvage for our projects,” says Reeder. “We’re always working on some historic building that’s missing something, and we like to put things back where they belong. Basically, we’re regulars at Zaborski Emporium and Hudson Valley House Parts.”
In 2018, their quest for architectural salvage led the pair to Craigslist, where they happened upon an intriguing listing. A man named William Heinrich was selling an entire 1830s federal style house in Salem, up in Washington County, called the Finne House. However, there was a twist – the entire house had been taken apart, tagged, and painstakingly “palletized,” meaning the entire house was completely apart and stacked on pallets for transport. It was an opportunity the pair simply couldn’t pass up. As it turns out, the seller is a house nerd, very much like Wyncoop and Reeder, and had the intention to reconstruct the house. He had not only painstakingly labeled every single board, nail, banister and piece of molding with small metal tags, he had also created a handwritten guide explaining exactly how the house went back together. When Heinrich moved in a more modern direction he listed the house on Craigslist hoping to find the right buyer – and find the right buyers he did.
“I’d seen palletized barns, but I’d never seen anything like this,” says Wyncoop. Reeder notes, “Buying a house on a pallet, it’s a huge leap of faith that every piece of that house is on that pallet.” And every piece was in fact there – save for the front door, which had been stolen when the house was originally taken down. (Don’t worry – Reeder says they have since salvaged the same door for the project.)
The building itself is historically significant, and both Wyncoop and Reeder wanted to build the house somewhere where it would make sense. They purchased land on Old Kings Highway, which feels fitting, says Wyncoop. “We wanted to put the house somewhere that it felt like it belonged, and we’re excited that we were able to put the house up in the middle of the Rest Plaus Historic District on Old Kings Highway, which used to go from Albany to NYC and was the primary mail route.”
Guided by the incredibly comprehensive handwritten instructions that Heinrich created, Wyncoop says the process has been incredible. “Every day, I’m amazed that they did this in 1830,” says Wyncoop. “Things that I needed a crane for, they hand raised.”
The house is timber frame, and comes together with pegs – essentially, there are no nails, everything gets notched together, which was a fun challenge for Wyncoop. “When things are going up it gets a little scary, but then the notches meet and it’s pretty cool. Once the rafters were on, the house was totally stable – that was exciting. It really went back together amazingly well.”
The original house is 28 by 20 feet, on the smaller side, and after looking closely at the form of the structure, Reeder and Wyncoop felt that there was the intention of an addition. They approached adding the addition, which holds the kitchen and the master suite, by imagining the shape the building would have taken over the years.
“The prevailing thought of preservationists today is that a building evolves through the years,” says Wynoop. “We chose the ’20s as the approximate period when the house might have had some updating – an addition, new windows, etc. We also chose a different building style to set it off from the original.”
The Finne House will be complete this spring, and Reeder and Wyncoop are at the point of the process where they can really start to feel the house. “We’re at that moment when you walk in the door, everything is stabilized, and you know the house has been saved,” says Reeder. “There is a true feeling of the house when you are in it, you can feel the history.”
To keep up with this and other projects, follow @muddykillventures on Instagram.
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