Bringing in the outdoors

The first thing you notice when you walk inside Alice Corcoran’s home is everything outside. A multi

The first thing you notice when you walk inside Alice Corcoran’s home is everything outside. A multitude of windows, unhindered by curtains, invite in the old apple tree, the gnarled lilac bushes, the frozen field and the forest beyond.

Where there are no windows, Corcoran’s artwork provides a portal to the beauty that surrounds her old, white farmhouse. On one wall is a watercolor of sheep grazing in the field. On another, a portrait of her ancient apple tree, stark, graceful, blanketed in snow.

“This was when the constellation Orion came down near the barn. I was so tickled because I never saw it so low that you could really see it up close,” she says, pointing to a picture of a large pine tree and her red barn, stars suspended brightly between them.

“A lot of times I see a deer with two young ones in the spring, wandering around back there. This is when the deer were in the backyard,” she explains, her eyes on a nearby painting. “I paint everything out the window.”

Four porches, two of them glassed-in, offer views from every side of the home; they are perfect spots to sit and admire the great outdoors.

Mostly unchanged

Corcoran has happily called this place home for 40 of her 90 years. Things haven’t changed much since she moved here from California, she says. She’s added some replacement windows, a new front door, some fresh paint, but that’s about it. “We’ve only tried to improve. We haven’t changed the format of anything,” she explains.

It’s easy to assume that Corcoran, herself, hasn’t changed much over the years either. Tall, sure-footed and quick to laugh, her clear, bright eyes reveal her lively, young spirit. She still tends her gardens, is part of a hiking group, and every now and again picks up a paintbrush and creates something new for her walls. “I’m lucky I can do things,” she says simply.

Her property’s history has been traced to 1819, when Stephen Van Rensselaer owned a 91.5-acre plot that included her 2.4-acre parcel. Over the years, the land changed hands several times. It was subdivided in the 1930s and at that time a portion of it was used to build the Guilderland Town Hall.

Corcoran isn’t sure when her three-bedroom house was built. “I’d say it’s plus-150 years old,” she estimates. One thing’s for sure — it has aged gracefully. Sturdy and well-tended, the clapboard exterior looks recently painted. Small, rectangular eyebrow windows wink from the second story. Inside, the floors are void of the slants and creaks that characterize many old homes. “It has the low ceilings of the old days, because they didn’t want to heat the high ones,” she notes.

Homey furnishings, fresh flowers and Corcoran’s artwork do their part to warm the space as well.

Appeal of open space

Corcoran was drawn to this spot back in 1969 by the open space around it, and by the natural elements incorporated indoors. “I just liked the feel of it, the wood and the stairs and everything,” she says.

Old, square nails indicate that the pine floor in the entryway is original to the home. “I had a floor man here once and he said the different floors are all different woods,” she recounts. There’s an oak floor in the living room, maple in the dining room and the upstairs floors are fir.

The kitchen and dining room were added on at some point, she believes. Those rooms are one step lower than the rest of the house and only have a crawl space beneath them, while the remainder of the structure has a full basement.

An old stovepipe in the kitchen, now capped with a decorative metal cover, indicates where a woodstove once stood. Kitchen counter space is sparse, but the room is bright, spacious and inviting.

A working stone fireplace dominates one wall in the larger of the two living rooms. Around it gather comfortable looking couches, along with a wing back chair and a three-legged table made from a portion of a tree trunk. “My son made that table,” Corcoran says. “I can never remember whether it’s maple or pine. The tree out there was struck by lightning before we came, and he had a piece cut in this shape so he could make a table out of it.”

An elementary school is partially visible from the back windows. Periodically she invites classes to walk over for a visit. “I might read them a story or I might give them a poem or show them a little artwork or something,” she says. “The best part is playing in the yard. If it’s nice weather, they can just be outside.”

She relishes the time spent with the schoolchildren, but Corcoran never taught professionally. “Actually, I went to college for it, but I never did it,” she shares.

War effort

“During the war, they needed people to do mathematical calculations — like for guns, trajectories, how the bullets went. A whole bunch of us math majors did that. Now the computers do it all,” she says. In later years, she worked for the state.

Corcoran grew up on a farm in central New York. Her Guilderland home was also farm before she moved there, but she never ran it as such. “The people who lived here before had horses and a neighbor had sheep and they kept them back here,” she says, pointing to her field. “We used to, with my neighbor, do a lot of gardening. Now I do basically flowers.”

Corcoran’s field is now home to tired yellow grass and crusty snow patches. But there were more than 200 robins in it the other day, she notes. “I was so excited! I got my binoculars out and watched them,” she says, “I’ve never seen so many like that before.”

Last year, Corcoran put up bluebird houses and is anxiously waiting for winged tenants to move in. No doubt a painting of her field, brightened by bluebirds, will be up on her wall soon.

Categories: Life and Arts

Leave a Reply