Estate manager, show chicken breeder, and architectural historian Robert Sweeney used to pass by what is today known as the Benjamin Ten Broek house, dated from 1751, when he was a schoolboy in Kingston. At the time, the property, on a flat plain on the east side of the river road in an area known as Flatbush, was somewhat dilapidated; it had also been altered to fit the needs of a modern middle-class family. Eventually Sweeney graduated from Bard College, made his way in the world, met his partner Eddie Cattuzzo, a California native who's a genius at home organization and decoration, and they became a couple in search of a real estate fixer-upper. "Eddie and I are always happiest when we have a project," says Sweeney.
About 11 years ago, as Sweeney drove along Route 32 just east of the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge, he noticed a drift of unplowed snow in the driveway of the old stone house he had so long admired. He made a few inquiries, then an unsolicited offer, and eventually bought it from an estate for about $200,000. Since then, Cattuzzo and Sweeney have invested "countless hours" plus another $150,000 in the property. They've restored and renewed the historic home with meticulous care, transforming the drafty and somewhat hodgepodge old pile into a welcoming showplace of colonial architecture and living social history.
"There was plywood and carpet everywhere," sighs Cattuzo. "An entrance had been bricked up. We wanted to get rid of all of that, but also to make it livable for us, without having anything look terribly anachronistic, at least not downstairs."
So there's no television in the main living area, the oldest part of the house. A small refrigerator in the kitchen is faced with cabinetry; there's a larger one hidden away in the basement. Cattuzzo has meticulously organized the downstairs into an amazing storage space, necessary for the amount of entertaining and seasonal decorating the couple does, but also a reflection on the classic problem associated with living in antique houses. None were built originally with closets.
Cattuzzo and Sweeney also added a couple of period-looking outbuildings, one of which is used as a chicken coop for their prize flock of about 50 Nankin Bantam chickens. The Nankin Bantam is a friendly, solid-colored bird weighing about 23 ounces when mature; they live for about 10 years. Thought to be one of the oldest true bantam (meaning diminutive) breeds—a 17th-century European import from the Chinese city of Nanjing—Nankin Bantams are classified as critically endangered by the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy. Ever the protector of the attractively ancient, Sweeney's active with the US breed club, established in 2006. "They're good mothers, often go broody, and the eggs are very small and creamy white," says Sweeney. "We don't eat the birds, but we certainly enjoy the eggs."
The Holland Society and Airbnb
Sweeney and Cattuzzo's other outbuilding serves as the office for the Society for the Preservation of Hudson Valley Vernacular Architecture, a nonprofit with a mandate to document and preserve the Hudson Valley's regional architectural heritage. Sweeney's the president.
Buying the Benjamin Ten Broek House came with an opportunity—or perhaps a pleasant obligation—to network with New York's oldest families and camp followers. A rare survivor of the 1777 burning of Kingston, it's a cousin of Kingston's Senate House, which was built for the patriarch of the Ten Broek clan.