Some people have a gift for turning a house into a home. Diane and David Howell are two such people.
From the hand-stenciled floors painted by David, to furniture made by ancestors and still in use today, to Diane’s great-grandmother’s white cotton nightgown displayed as art in the master bedroom, this is a well-loved house full of delightful memories of friends and family.
For more than 47 years, the Howells have lived on Almeria Road in Niskayuna. At various times, they added on a room, expanded the kitchen and reconfigured an upstairs bedroom. Each time, the remodeling was done in such a way that added more than just space.
For example, in the family room addition, the exposed ceiling beams were salvaged from a family member’s Catskill Mountain barn, hand-hammered hardware from a 100-something smokehouse was reused on a door, and there are dozens of other masterful little touches with big impact that can be seen everywhere.
David said it’s his wife’s doing. She says the craftsmanship is all his. An engineer by profession, David has an eye for detail.
“I get the ideas,” the grandmother of 11 said. “And David can do them. We will be out and I’ll say ‘I like that’ and he makes it for me,” she said.
The house looks like it belongs in a magazine. Diane said she took classes while in college on design, but primarily her inspirations come from country decorating magazines. The style suits her.
“I like things cozy,” she said. It shows.
There are layers of pillows on the sofas, colorful hooked rugs on the floors and lots of old-fashioned knickknacks scattered throughout.
Diane loves to decorate inside and out for the holidays, all of them. The exterior of her home features witches and pumpkins for Halloween, an Uncle Sam motif around the Fourth of July, and — before it decayed — a Santa’s sleigh full of wrapped presents graced the front lawn each Christmas. Diane even celebrates Groundhog Day by hosting a party where the menu features ground pork. “After all, it’s ground hog,” she said as if nothing else would be quite as appropriate.
A gracious hostess who continuously changes the decor, Diane said she likes “to display the things that mean something to me. I like to be surrounded by the things I love.”
There are examples of this everywhere. A letter written by her nephew is framed and displayed on the wall. An antique linen child’s dress with lovely stitching she found in her mother’s trunk hangs in an upstairs bedroom and another old trunk used by a friend of her mother’s to travel through Europe a 100 years ago is a functional part of her son’s old room. More homey touches are found in the dozens of family photographs displayed — from one of her mother as a stylish bride wearing a wide-brimmed hat to those of her grandbabies that line the hallway.
The Howells’ ties to the area go way back. David’s mother’s uncle was Herman Ammenheuser, who created pottery on Osborn Street in Albany in the late 1800s. Among the items he created were flower pots. At their home, David has a miniature model of the machine used to create these clay pots.
“Family means everything to me,” Diane said while sitting on a canopy bed in the room used by her grandchildren when they visit. A child-size table set for tea with linens and fancy cups awaits the next tea party. Stuffed animals welcome visitors and a sleigh full of dolls are ready to be played with.
The Howells raised four children. Three married their high school sweethearts and one a college love.
“Everyone knows one another. There are 20 of us now and we see each other all the time,” she said.
“We really enjoy our home. And the kids keep coming back — not just our own kids either. Their friends still come back to visit,” David said.
The house reflects this. Outside, a large raised deck accommodates the expanding family and overlooks the in-ground pool. David built an outdoor kitchen with sink and a refrigerator for poolside entertaining.
It was David’s father who taught him woodworking skills. The son of a construction superintendent who worked on the grand estates of Long Island, David would visit the projects and “stay for the afternoon.” He remembers many details of the fabulous structures and believes the beauty of these homes stayed with him over the years.
Now retired, the 78-year-old David was a mechanical and electrical engineer with his own firm in East Greenbush. “We did integrated building systems,” he said, adding that there is hardly a school district from Buffalo to Long Island that he hasn’t worked on. The business is now run by his son-in-law.
The Howells have been married for 54 years. They met over dinner at her parents’ house and knew they were meant to be together. Diane said that early on in the relationship, they were watching a Jane Wyman movie during which an old mill was turned into a home. “He leaned over to me and said, ‘We’re going to do that.’ ”
While their home isn’t a former mill, there is hardly a space in the house that doesn’t reflect its owners and the life they have built together.
“We’ve been working on this a long time,” she said. David nodded.
“I’ve had a lot of fun doing these things,” David said. He even made a handsome quarterboard sign that hangs over the garage and reads “Tidy Peg.” Where does that name come from? “It’s a combination of letters from the names of my children: Tim, Cindy, Pam and Meg,” Diane said.
The inclusive nature of the name suits the residence completely. Diane said a minister friend walked in the front door and said “you can feel the love in this house.” He’s right.