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Open and airy — At home in an 1889 foursquare in Schenectady's Stockade neighborhood

Fall Home 2018

Open and airy — At home in an 1889 foursquare in Schenectady's Stockade neighborhood

The house was built in 1889 by the Vrooman family
Open and airy — At home in an 1889 foursquare in Schenectady's Stockade neighborhood
The home of Frank Gilmore and Mary D'Alessandro-Gilmore located at 7 Washington Ave. in Schenectady.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

A word rarely uttered by Frank Gilmore is “house.”

It’s an unusual observation about him, considering his work as an architect. Gilmore is a partner at SRG Architects, in Schenectady, where his projects have included Albany International Airport, Amtrak’s Rensselaer train station and Key Hall at Proctor’s in Schenectady. Perhaps it is a quirk of the profession: A house could refer to anything from a two-room shack on a dirt road without modern convenience, or a smart home run on wifi and solar power, clad in glistening aluminum and steel. In his architectural lexicon, specificity is key.

When Gilmore described the house he owns on Washington Avenue in Schenectady’s Stockade District with his wife, Mary D’Alessandro-Gilmore, he uses the term “residence” in the most exacting way.

According to the Merriam-Webster definition, “residence” is “the place where one actually lives as distinguished from one’s domicile or place of temporary sojurn;” “the act or fact of dwelling in a place for some time.”

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After 15 years in the house, the Gilmores have truly settled and made their house a reflection of the life they’ve created together.

The house was built in 1889 by the Vrooman family, who owned the house next door and constructed the house on a garden plot as a wedding present to a child. (“This is new construction in this neighborhood,” jokes Gilmore.)

Read more stories from Fall Home 2018.The house is a wood-framed American foursquare, a style of house popular from the 1890s to the 1930s as an austere reaction to the intricate and resplendent Victorian, Queen Anne and other baroque styles that boomed in America after the Civil War. The house gets its name from its boxy layout, characterized by clean lines, four central living areas on the first floor with corresponding bedrooms upstairs, a hipped roof with a central dormer perched like a tiara, and a large front porch with wide, inviting stairs. This architectural style is a precursor to the American prairie and craftsman styles and was popularized with the revolution of catalog sales in the U.S. that allowed for mass dissemination of the blueprints to be built from America’s first historic district in the Stockade to the western shores of California.

The Gilmores bought the three bedroom, one-and-a-half bath house fully renovated, with its dark moldings painted a neutral white and an extensive refinishing of near-black fir floors to a new cherrywood-tinted sheen. The colors on the house were kept, as well.

The wood clapboard is striking in a blue-green shade of robin’s egg, accented with trim in a soft off-white beige and teal louvered shutters. The front porch was rebuilt after the Gilmores took ownership but it was repainted in the muted blue of the original porch, a color that reflects the water shade of the nearby Mohawk River. The house is fully detached, something Gilmore called rare in neighborhoods like the Stockade, surrounded by a wall making property, “sacred and endeared,” he said. 

“This house was Mary’s choice," Gilmore said. "I had been working on the farmhouse [in Glen, Montgomery County, where the couple owns a second home] for some time. She wanted to leave Slingerlands and I was trying to convince her to fall in love with Schenectady.”

D’Alessandro-Gilmore was quick to defend her reluctance. “Because there was nothing here 15 years ago!” she said.

The playful banter between the couple translates to their decor choices. “Frank is a collector of antiques and rugs. I am a minimalist,” said D’Alessandro-Gilmore.

“Mary is a bully,” said Gilmore.

Perhaps “keen editor” is a better term, as D’Alessandro-Gilmore’s career in real estate marketing and brokerage (she is currently a broker with Berkshire Hathaway locally, president of Better Neighborhoods, Inc, and past president of the Stockade Association) has allowed her to combine her clean aesthetic with Gilmore’s love of layered oriental rugs and rich, ornate woodtones.

Most interior walls are white, which allow attention to focus on the pen and ink and lively watercolors by Gilmore. Natural light from original beveled-glass window that D’Alessandro-Gilmore called “the jewels of the residence.”

The bedrooms are similarly white, with downy neutral bedding. The guest bedroom overlooks the back courtyard-style garden and small pond, formerly a barren patch of grass, and is shaded by a weeping cherry tree planted by the couple.

“I told him what I wanted for the garden and he drew it," D’Alessandro-Gilmore said. "That’s the great thing about having an architect for a husband.”

The garden is edged in boxwood with red, purple and pink pops of color from phlox and canna lilies. The master bedroom is similarly peaceful and offers glimpses of the Mohawk. The pop of color comes from the green bow nestled into the thick fir of the couple’s personable and loving double-coated Golden Retriever, Elyse, who likes to claim the bed as her own.

The charcoal-colored dining room is a livable gallery for Gilmore’s collection of antique furniture, including an 1850 English fumed oak sideboard with medieval details and a Hepplewhite gateleg dining table.

The kitchen is D’Alessandro-Gilmore’s domain, where the solid cherry cabinets and subtle artwork (like a Hirschfeld caricature of Luciano Pavarotti tucked into a kitchen rack) are the backdrop to her inventive riffs on classic French recipes.

Being industry pros gives the Gilmores an advantage in designing their home, but above all the house is a reflection of the trust the couple has in each other. “The style of our residences need to have a certain particularity and serenity. The style is elegant with big proportions. It is simple,” said Gilmore. He continued, “I think you have to live with the functionality and generosity [of the house] to appreciate the quality of spaces you find in these environments.” He credited his wife’s spacial sensibilities for keeping the house open and airy.

The white curtains that diffuse light on the front porch gently billow as breeze rolls off the river. They lend a sense of privacy to the porch but also serve as a harbinger that this entrypoint is an extended living space, a welcoming outpost for the community. The Gilmores are stakeholders in the continued legacy of the Stockade, and when they speak of home, they include the neighborhood.

As D’Alessandro-Gilmore said, “when you find home, like what I have found here, you never want to leave.”

Deanna Fox is a freelance journalist. Find her on Twitter at @DeannaNFox or www.foxonfood.com.

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