When Fine Cooking contributing editor Maryellen Driscoll and her farmer husband Ken Fruehstorfer bought a dilapidated 160-year-old farmhouse in rural upstate New York 15 years ago, they knew they were in for an adventure. The house was mostly gutted and entirely uninsulated, but they moved in during the dead of winter anyway. The plan was to restore the house themselves using mostly salvaged materials while simultaneously creating an organic vegetable and chicken farm on the 134 acres of fertile land that spilled out behind the house.
“People thought we were crazy,” Maryellen recalls. “But we’ve come a long way: We’re no longer wearing snowsuits inside the house come winter, and there’s an ever-growing demand for local organic food.”
The business part of the plan came to life as Free Bird Farm, and the house renovation progressed during the off season, a room or two every year. By the time Ken got around to the kitchen, Maryellen knew exactly what she wanted: a warm, welcoming space that reflected the historic nature of the house, conformed to their strict budgetary restraints, and met her exacting standards for form and function. It took a few years, one broken shoulder, and more sweat equity than they originally bargained for, but it all paid off in a stunning new kitchen that still feels like an original.
When Maryellen and Ken moved in, the kitchen was in an awkward location that didn’t connect logically to the rest of the house. “Young and idealistic, we decided to move the kitchen to an old post-and-beam add-on, tearing out what was not structurally sound,” Maryellen says. They quickly realized that the only things left with any integrity were the roof and a few posts. Undeterred, Ken jacked up the remaining structure and rebuilt the foundation (fracturing his shoulder along the way when a second-floor beam collapsed under him).
To keep the new room looking as original as possible, Maryellen had a woodworker friend custom-build some cabinets with slide-out shelves for easy access. A massive island with a salvaged 5-inch-thick butcher-block top serves as Maryellen’s main prep area and the centerpiece of the kitchen.