Blending Old & New

By Karen Cino


Behind the main house on Rocky and Ellen Cummings’ Mequon property is a barn with a secret: it isn’t a barn at all; it’s a recreation center.

The kitchen is Ellen Cummings’ favorite room in this renewed circa 1890s Mequon farmhouse.

Proof comes in the form of a two story, half-court basketball area that occupies half of the barn. “The previous owners had four boys and they were all very involved in basketball,” explains Ellen. On the other side is a game area with air hockey, ping-pong and a workout space. Above the game area is a loft complete with built-in bar and lounge with a game table for cards.

Last fall, Rocky and Ellen got the opportunity to share barn fun with their extended family and friends as they were married on the front porch of their 100 plus year old home on Port Washington Rd. The reception, held in the barn, saw caterers setting up tables on the basketball court for dinner and an Elvis impersonator as the D.J. But the fun didn’t stop there.

“The basketballs came out around 11:00,” said Ellen. “And the guys started to play.” And play they did. The newlyweds went to sleep around 2:30 in the morning. The guests continued to celebrate until 5:30 a.m.

Since then, the barn has become a popular gathering place for friends and family. Much of Ellen’s family lives close by. “My brother and sister’s families love to come over and play,” said Ellen.

The barn also allows the Cummings an outlet for one of their passions: antiquing.

“The barn allows us to buy things we like but wouldn’t know what to do with,” laughed Ellen as she pointed out the old skis, saws and advertising art adorning the walls. “It’s been a lot of fun.”

The master suite is part of a new addition. French doors lead to a second story wraparound porch that runs along two sides of the house.

The Cummings, formerly of Madison, moved back to Northshore after deciding to give up the daily three-hour commute from Connecticut into New York City. At the time, Rocky was chief tax accountant for NBC and Ellen was with Grant Thorton, a public accounting firm. (These days, Rocky is with Deloitte & Touche and Ellen works for Mequon’s M. W. Kasch Company in Human Resources).

Some people seem destined to capture the past and restore it to its former glory. The Cummings’ first home together was a 1770’s farmhouse in Connecticut. Their Mequon farmhouse, circa 1890, has all the charm of a bygone era cleverly mixed with modern amenities.

Although the original front door remains, the entrance to the house is no longer in the front. An addition to one side of the house has created a foyer and expanded the kitchen and family room, allowing the addition of a master suite upstairs. The addition blends beautifully into the original by creating a wraparound porch, which connects the two entrances.

The paneled ceiling and large pillars in the foyer echo the craftsmanship of an earlier time. The front door is original; it was simply re-hung in its new position. The foyer gives way to the family room on one side and a generous kitchen on the other.

In the family room, wood paneled walls and natural fireplace combined with the Cummings’ choice in furniture create a cozy, old world feeling.

The spaciousness of the home lends itself to one of the Cummings’ passions: antiquing.

“We spend a lot of time in here,” said Ellen. “I love the openness between the family room and the kitchen.” The kitchen is her favorite room in the house. The large center island—a modern addition to the room—features mock drawer fronts, hinting at an earlier era. A patterned tile border of fruit surrounding the surface of the island brightens the look. The pullout drawers are one of Ellen’s favorite features. However, her favorite spot in the room is the generous brick cooking center. A large custom pantry has swing out racks for organizing and storage.

Next to the pantry is a pocket door, which opens to reveal a small powder room. An old claw-foot tub stands as a monument to days gone by. A small tile topped cabinet is built into the corner.

The other side of the cooking area leads to the living and dining room. “We use the dining room as a library reading room,” said Ellen. Books and comfortable chairs finish the room. Around the corner, next to the living room fireplace is Ellen’s grandmother’s desk. Another family heirloom, a marble top cocktail table, belonged to Ellen’s great-grandparents. “We were lucky to get these things,” explained Ellen. “My mom was downsizing while we were upsizing. We got a lot of furniture and art from her.”

On the second floor three bedrooms, used as guest rooms and an office, share space with the master suite. Hardwood floors and closet space abound. A full walk-up attic can be accessed at the top of the stairs. “Someday we would like to panel it and make an office up there,” explained Ellen.

The three bedrooms share one very small bath, only about 4 x 6 feet, including the shower. “It’s the smallest bath I’ve ever seen,” joked Ellen. “It’s definitely only one person at a time.” They plan to enlarge the bath by joining it to the large closet in one of the guest rooms.

Green and white marble decorates the master bath. The leaded glass shower door and detailing around the mirrors complements the windows in the bedroom. Above the tub is a painting commissioned for Ellen’s grandfather, Andre of Andre Furs.

The master suite, part of the new addition, is bathed in light. Incorporated into the original attic to create a vaulted ceiling, French doors lead out to a wraparound porch that runs along two sides of the house, mimicking the main porch below. A gas fireplace in the corner of the room operates by remote control. “It’s awesome when you’re already in bed,” enthused Ellen. Decorative leaded-glass windows frame the French doors and help tie the new addition to the home’s historical roots. An antique desk that used to belong to Ellen’s father and contemporary watercolors repeat the ongoing theme of blending the old with the new. “(The watercolors) were Rocky’s,” said Ellen. “When we joined households they still fit in.”

Karen Cino is a freelance writer living in Delafield with her husband and their cat. She is currently working on her first novel.