More than 50 members of the Lambertville Historical Society were treated to a tour of the Richard Holcombe Farmstead Sept. 14. The farmstead is now known as Gaia’s Way Farm and it is under an extensive historic and sustainable renovation.
Located just north of Lambertville on Route 29, the picturesque stone house dates back to 1744. It was built by Richard Holcombe, the third son of Lambertville co-founder, John Holcombe. The nearby Holcombe-Jimison Farmstead Museum and the Headquarters House were also built by the Holcombes, a prominent local Quaker family.
LHS members explored the interior and exterior of the farmhouse, guided by owners Lia Nielsen and Jason Kliwinski, who, along with Mary Jane Augustine, purchased the property in an online auction from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in 2017.
Empty for over a decade, the house required extensive repairs and updates, including a new roof, all new electric and plumbing, and new bathrooms and kitchen from scratch. “It’s a major undertaking, but we’re starting with good bones,” say Kliwinski, a licensed architect with specialties in preservation and green building.
Highlights of the tour included the 15-foot walk-in fireplace, complete with remnants of a beehive oven, a live-edge plank wall (slabs of trees, staggered and nailed to create a partition) which was discovered by chance, and a buckboard wagon that can be seen in a photo from 1911. The family presented a number of historic photos that show the house and property between 1911 and the 1930s. Significant changes are evident, such as the iconic wrap-around porch, which was added in the mid-1920s.
Nielsen and Kliwinski spoke of their plans to not only bring the house back to life using preservation guidelines, but also to incorporate many aspects of sustainability, healthy design, and permaculture.
“We want to show how these concepts complement each other and can be combined in a way that is both beautiful and honors the history of the house,” explains Nielsen.
This includes designing the property to operate entirely off-grid using a solar system that will be out of sight on one of the barns, and reducing the owners’ carbon footprint by walking to work down the canal. The family operates the Green Building Center located on Bridge Street in Lambertville, providing services related to sustainability in the built environment, from architecture to building materials.
Guests were particularly intrigued by the practice for zero waste on the project, which was explained by Michael Buono of Environmental Services Management Group. It involves recycling, reclaiming, or rehoming all waste created during demolition and construction.
Following the tour, LHS members enjoyed cider and donuts from Solebury Orchards and expressed their excitement at returning in the future to see the finished house.
For those not able to attend the tour, the family plans to offer others in the future, and interested parties can follow their blog and social media, where they document the joys and trials of a major renovation, at gaiaswayfarm.com.