The Capital Region will be in the national spotlight on Monday with the premiere of “Cheap Old Houses” on HGTV.
Hosted by Ethan and Elizabeth Finkelstein (the latter a Queensbury native), the show will feature the histories and unique architectural pieces of homes that are under $150,000. It’s named after the couple’s popular Instagram account of the same name, which has garnered more than 1.6 million followers. Using Elizabeth’s background as a historic preservationist, along with the help of 3D graphic renderings, they’ll help viewers imagine what some of the homes might look like once restored.
The couple has a passion for saving and preserving historic homes.
“We started Cheap Old Houses on Instagram and it ignited a movement,” said Ethan. “Our site features the best historic properties on the market right now and that means we have to go find the best places to post.”
“We always say no sleep until every house is saved,” said Elizabeth.
In the first episode, which airs at 9 p.m. on Monday, they explore the Capital Region, venturing out to Amsterdam, to tour a large 20th century Victorian home with a sweeping detached carriage house. Then, they’ll journey to Fort Plain, visiting an 1850s-era Italianate home that has an impeccable 1950s, retro aesthetic, complete with a pink bathroom.
Finally, they pay a visit to Gramp’s Old School in Greenwich, which has been carefully restored by father-daughter team Jill and Richard Tefft.
Located on Ryan Road in Washington County, the schoolhouse dates back to 1850. The Teffts bought it in 2017 when it was covered in vegetation and in rough shape, with a hole in the roof and floor.
The Teffts have strong family ties to the schoolhouse; Richard’s father attended school there in the 1940s and in 1915, their ancestor Martha Dewey Tefft attended school there. Despite the daunting amount of work the restoration required, those family ties made the project well worth it. Over the last few years, they’ve completely restored the building, installing plumbing and electrical; adding in modern conveniences yet maintaining the schoolhouse aesthetic.
Last year, the schoolhouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and the Teffts won a preservation award from the Adirondack Architectural Heritage. Since March of 2020, shortly after they finished the restoration, they’ve been renting the schoolhouse out on Airbnb
Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, they had to close for two months before reopening in June of 2020. Despite the lack of tourism in the Capital Region last year, the schoolhouse was booked nearly every weekend.
“We’ve been booked every weekend since we’ve been open, which has been good and we’re still very careful we have a great cleaning team and we have a cleaning and sanitation protocol that we follow very strictly,” Tefft said.
Late last fall, the Teffts got an email from HGTV asking if they’d be interested in being on “Cheap Old Houses.” Jill, who has been a longtime follower of Cheap Old Houses on Instagram, was then interviewed by a producer of the show.
“I never really thought that I would hear anything again because it seems like a one in a million chance and that a lot of things would have to line up and be just right for it to all workout,” Jill said.
Yet, things fell into place and just a few weeks later the Finkelsteins and a film crew came up to visit the schoolhouse.
“We just hit it off right away [with] Ethan and Elizabeth,” Richard said. “They’re super great people, very passionate obviously about historic buildings and the whole process. It was just really great to meet them in person.”
They took the Finkelsteins on a tour of the schoolhouse and showed them photographs of what the building looked like throughout the restoration process. They also share some of the drawings, doodles and other artifacts that they’ve found, including one from Richard Tefft Sr.
“We still can’t quite get over that we’re actually going to be on HGTV,” Richard said.
While the major restoration projects are done, they hope to make landscaping improvements and work on other smaller-scale projects throughout the year.
“. . . With any old building, your work is never done. There’s always stuff to do to make an improvement, maintenance, those kinds of things. But it’s something that I really like to do. You stay connected to it that way,” Richard said.
Like the Finkelsteins, the Teffts have a passion for breathing life back into historic properties.
“We’re, I think, always casually searching for our next potential project,” Tefft said.
“If the right property gets on our radar we definitely would do another project, especially a historic project. It was very rewarding,” Richard said.
“Cheap Old Houses” premieres at 9 p.m. Monday on HGTV.
For more information on the show visit HGTV.com. For more on Gramp’s Old Schoolhouse visit grampsoldschool.com.