Posted by: philipfontana | March 7, 2013

Old House

Our 1885 Dutch Colonial


Hemorrhoids On A Foundation


This “tongue-in-cheek” diatribe about our house is dedicated to the people who live at the sea shore in New Jersey & New York. Their loss of life & their entire homes or damage to their homes & property due to storm Sandy make us grateful that we have a house to call home, a place in which to live & cherish memories.


     The house as it looked when we purchased it back in 1975 with the beautiful side porch & white columns.

     Excuse us for living, but we’ve been doing so, living, in our modest 1885 Dutch Colonial in northern New Jersey for 38 years now. You might think the experience has been like the decades old TV program on PBS, “This Old House,” originally starring Bob Vila and crew beginning in 1979. Or maybe what comes to mind is the movie, “The Money Pit,” 1986, starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long. But I don’t really identify with a lot of renovating since it was a nice old house way back in 1975 when we moved in, not a fixer-upper, but already modernized and upgraded for the most part. And while there was plenty of decorating to do, painting and wallpapering (plus new kitchen floor tiles, restaining and varnishing the beautiful oak flooring, and new carpeting), it was not a bottomless pit paying contractors.

It’s been more like what an old friend of mine once said as an old house owner himself. He has since moved on to a newer contemporary home. He said, “It’s amazing. I no longer have to get up every Saturday morning and go to Home Depot (or Lowe’s or your favorite Anchor Hardware Store…back then it was Channel or Rickel’s) for supplies to repair something.” Now that’s closer to what it’s been like for me. – – Maybe not every Saturday, but always “the list” of things I want to fix! “Rube Goldberg” has become my patron saint of makeshift repairs and I get better at it with each passing year. Wife Geri has taken to encouraging my collection of junk, “stuff,” I put in a shoe box, old parts from things on the way to the garbage, to be used in repairs around the house. – – So much so, I affectionately dubbed her “Ruby Goldberg.”

Another friend who used to own an old house too (He gave up too and now lives in a beautiful ranch style home) summed it up best of all when he said, “People used to visit and say, ‘Oh, how warm and charming the old house is,’ which were code words for old and a lot of work.” One thing is “a given” with an old house no matter how much fixing and fussing you do: never try or think you are going to make your old house into a new or newer house. Forget it! Buy a new or newer house! Move!

So why are we still here after so many years? First of all, we love the old house, obviously, and living in it. We consider it a privilege to be the stewards of a little piece of history dating back to 1885. – – At this date we can now say it dates back two centuries ago! Oh, we can list the things that are wrong with it. The front of the house is just eleven feet from the road (a narrow county and State route), the way they used to build the old farm houses way back when. And the driveway and property slope down off the road, even though the house is level with the roadway. The grounds are terraced downward four times until you reach the old Morris Canal, dating back from 1831 to 1924. And a present-day house inspector would have a field day of a checklist if we were to sell it!

     But we love the nine foot ceilings, the broad, large trim or woodwork, the built-in corner hutches in both kitchen and dining rooms, and more. I could go on. We liked the house so much that we took the advice of my dear old principal from my first “good” teaching position. He was part of the crew of teachers that helped us move in with a rented truck. He and his wife brought over a complete turkey dinner to feed the guys! That evening, when everyone else had gone, he said to me, “Now don’t move!” just as he and his wife never moved from their first house. So, we took his advice seriously and never did move. When the family started to grow, we enclosed the side porch (as beautiful as it was with five white columns) and made it into a family room and half-bath. It’s still called “the porch.” That was 32 years ago.


     The house with the porch enclosed, done way back in 1981. Hard to believe we did that so long ago!


     The rear view of the house with vinyl siding, done in 1992. We hated to cover the cedar shakes. But painting the cedar shakes twice over the years cured us of that!

Do we ever consider selling the old house and moving on? Let me put it this way. We paint/decorate one room each January-February now that we are both retired. This past year while we were “engaged in paint,” I said to Geri, “New rule: whenever we are painting no one may bring up the discussion of should we sell!” It becomes a matter of how long can we keep up the old place ourselves or be satisfied with the job done by hired contractors to paint and do the landscaping. Right now the housing market has made it a non-decision to “stay put.” We can imagine living somewhere else as hard as it would be to move on from the old place. But we can’t imagine packing up 38 years of contents and selling/discarding the rest.

In the meantime, I am never at a loss in retirement for something to do. – – Just go to Home Depot or the hardware store and always have white latex semi-gloss paint on hand to paint a “chippo” in the woodwork and some mortar mix to patch the same old cracks in the foundation or the retaining wall on one of the sloped terraces. And between home repairs and now writing “Excuse Us…,” we find time to vacation at the same favorite shore point each year and take those long awaited trips abroad away from the old house.


     Photo taken in the famous Keukenhof Gardens on our 2011 river boat tour of the Netherlands & Belgium.


We travel to our favorite “state-side” places

To get some rest from those routine paces.

Then off to countries like Holland’s flowers,

Only to return to that place called “ours.”

For it’s not so much the places we roam,

As the simple place we return to called “home.”

                                       Philip Fontana, Jan. 31, 2009


Comments: Please!



  1. Phil & Geri, I love your house and always wonder who lived there. I also own a home that is about 102 years old. I think the charm of older home is the wonderful construction and attention to unique details. They don’t build homes like this anymore, labor costs make it prohibitive, which actually says much about the newer homes.

  2. Trusch, Yep, that’s us, the house that the drunks smash into the fieldstone & fence on Rt 202/Main Road!!! Yes, we have been to your house to sign a candidates petition…so nice a home! Love the old homes & construction. However, people scare me lately with all the ghost stories of house inspectors upon sale & all the things they say must be corrected to sell. Most of the things, in my opinion, are buyer driven & not required by code/ordinance due to grandfathering. –Just find another buyer!!! Many thanks! Phil

  3. Phil I agree, with all the work which seems endless, there’s no place like home! Roe :-)ro

    • Roe, So nice to hear from you & thanks for your comment. Geri is thrilled that you replied & says “Hi”!!! You’re right…endless work, but no place like home. I need to hear it from someone like you in order to really hear the essence of what I wrote. Thanks for that! You put it in a nut shell as they say! Phil

  4. well Phil-
    you peaked my interest when I saw the word-Hemorrhoids-….lol….
    What a wonderful description you painted of you old homestead…But…..
    if I were you, just go thru each room(1 a week) and clean out that room. If you haven’t used something in a year-recycle…or donate. I try and do this once every year or two….keeps me sane…lol…

  5. Marg, I knew Hemorrhoids would peek the interest as gosh as use of the word was!!! It was fun to write. So true about “stuff” Geri & I call it. Irony of ironies…we have spend the last 10+ years finally adding the paintings & knick knacks & now we see it’s time to divest!!! We will start with the basement junk!!! Thanks for the room by room, one week at a time, plan of attack when we are ready for that stage!!! –Really overdue! Phil

  6. Your house left a lasting impression on me — not only for its colonial charm, but also for the inevitable adrenaline rush associated with exiting your driveway! There were times I’d be almost disappointed, when Peter would suggest I drop him off at Asa instead pulling in for another attempt. 🙂

  7. Andy!!!! So nice of you to say so!! You had me laughing….this driveway & you guys backing out!!! Imagine …three sons learning how to drive after backing out of here! I knew they would be good drivers from the get-go!!!
    Thanks so much for following & reading this! Phil

  8. “Over the River and Through the Woods!”. What a Great song that is. The old house with all its charm and character. Beautiful home. Yes, you are on the right track. Purging some “stuff”. We had some what similar experiences early on in life. Goldberg, AAHHH!, brings back memories of working with Pop. We would try doing many projects with what we had around old P.P.NJ. Now repairs to old #79, 36 years after my love affair with a Gambrel style roof.. Electrical upgrade and backup power transfer switch went well. Love the comments about Six Flags adventure driveway. A.T.P., good boys. Chips off the old block.

  9. “Over the River…..” the charm, the character, The Hemorrhoids! Thanks, John. We DO love the old place. Purging “stuff,” “Rube Goldberg” projects, roofing, all part of our socio-economic life style, right???!!! And now we enter the new age of global warming becoming a reality sooner than we thought & issues of electric power & generators. And it ain’t over yet!!! What adventures does life still hold for us? Pray they are not our health & may we find a gentle exit when life’s battles are over for us. All part of the circle of life. But first we shall toast some cheer this Friday!!! Phil

  10. Lovely story about your home, Phil. I can tell how much you guys love it. It’s special when you’ve found a place that makes you feel like that and where you’ve planted your roots for the long haul.

    • Pat, Thanks for the Like & the comment here too!!! What a wonderful comment, Pat!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And you are spot on right!!!!!! We did everything in our home for keeps like we were never leaving & gave every small detail the love & care we could without being overly perfectionist. There is such a thing as too much quality & missing life go by! You read us correctly! And I did it with words & not bragging photos of our interior of the house! Thanks again! Phil

  11. Finally i quit my day job, now i earn a lot of money online you should try
    too, just search in google – slabs roulette system

    • Leanne, I’m retired so I don’t have to “quit”! So I should google “slabs roulette system”? Hm. Think about that! Thanks! Phil

  12. Beautiful house Phil! I love the architecture that give it character 🙂 Truly adorable!
    Oh Keukenhof 😀 I love flowers but I have this silly spring allergy – only found out when I start live in the Netherlands 😀

    • Indah, Thanks, Indah! Old house charm but lots of work. Allergies!!! As long as you visited Keukenhof once then view the photos!!! Like you last post featuring a guest photographer every Friday! I finally wrote a new post….But with 8 inches of snow this morning, posting if delayed. Always so much to do. I spend less time online to recapture my life & to be able to write. Take care of Old Rotterdam of me!!! Phil

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