Photography by Ngoc Minh Ngo

Published on December 30, 2020

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For the last year and change, Hara and James Perkins have pored over decades-old blueprints, ripped out built-ins with their own hands, and tackled finicky original wiring plans on a singular mission: to bring their newfound summer home on Fire Island, a short ferry ride from mainland New York, back to its innovative beginnings. “I’m a Porsche guy, and the house is tantamount to that,” says James, a sculpture artist, of the ’70s architectural treasure built by Horace Gifford, a prolific architect on the island. “It’s this solid thing that was beautifully done the first time. You just need to change the oil and get some new tires.” What stays and what goes? Here, James and Hara, a partner at commercial real-estate law firm Goulston & Storrs, share their advice for fellow novice home restorers.

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Prioritize, Then Set Your Budget

It’s not just about your financial budget, but also your mental and emotional budget. We are working from home and homeschooling our son, and jumping from crisis to crisis in the news. Do and spend what works for your family—there will always be another thing to fix or upgrade. 

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Make One Thing Wholly Yours

We painted James’s art studio white to better see the colors of his work. As the only painted space in the home, it sets it apart. It has an energizing feeling when you enter.

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It’s Okay to Modernize

Value the original, then test it. Ask yourself: Does this feature still make sense for us now? Trust your eye. A home is not a time capsule. It’s not so much that there’s a right answer, more that it should feel right on many levels.

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Include the Kids

It’s been a real team effort—our son, Judd, has been sweeping, painting, sanding, and telling us what he sees. We believe it’s important that kids value the design and thought behind someone having made something special for you to enjoy.

See the rest of the Perkins family’s architectural treasure in our Winter Renovation issue, available now.

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