This Old House Wins An Award

Contributed PhotoWhen a young couple bought a Quinnipiac Avenue house in 2010, they thought they’d found a bargain. Then they peeled off the vinyl siding and realized they also had a chance to bring a historic home back to life.

Thomas MacMillan PhotoFour years later, in City Hall on Tuesday, that young couple received an award from the New Haven Preservation Trust (NHPT) for their revitalization of the “Justin Kimberly House,” an 1828 Federal-style home at 624 Quinnipiac Ave.

Bridget Suma (pictured) and Sean Hundtofte, the young couple, received one of three awards bestowed Tuesday by the NHPT. The trust also gave plaques to the Yale Art and Architecture building and a building at 38 Crown St. (pictured below).

This is the first year in over a decade that the NHPT has given out the awards. Bruce Peabody, an NHPT board member, said the organization had simply fallen out of the habit of handing them out. The awards recognize that preservation of single buildings leads to neighborhood preservation and eventually citywide care of the buildings that make New Haven a unique community.

“The Trust reminds us that we have neither inherited this city from our predecessors nor are we simply caretakers for those to follow: We are both,” said Mayor Toni Harp (pictured with Peabody and NHPT’s Duo Dickinson, who oversaw the award committee).

After receiving her award, Suma, who’s 31, explained how she came to be the owner of an award-winning historic home.

Suma and Hundtofte moved to town in 2010 so that Hundtofte could get his Ph.D. in financial economics. The couple had moved around a lot. Arriving in New Haven was the first time they found it cheaper to buy than to rent. Hundtofte, who had worked in “distressed debt,” decided they should buy a house in a “short sale,” in which property is sold for less than the outstanding debt on the property.

When they bought 624 Quinnipiac Ave., the house had been converted into a two-family and chopped up into a variety of new rooms, “like a rabbit warren.” Suma and Hundtofte decided to convert it back into a single-family house.

They hired restoration contractor Chris Wuerth (pictured), who stripped off the vinyl siding to find asphalt shingles and, under those, the original pine clapboards. Wuerth took the building down to the original post-and-beam construction.

Wuerth discovered that the front door, then on one side of the house, had been moved from the center. Suma and Hundtofte moved it back, then built a new staircase in the center of the house, replacing a narrow ladder-like staircase on one side.

“We bought it for $189,000,” Suma said, “and put about that much into it.”

After nine months of renovation, Suma and Hundtofte moved in. They were married in 2011 in the backyard.

Suma said she’s not sure yet where she’ll put her new plaque; maybe on the right side of the house, where the old door used to be.

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posted by: Stylo on May 6, 2014  2:52pm

Great work. That area needs more quality resto’s like this.

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 6, 2014  3:14pm

Nice Job!

To encourage this type of historic renovation, the award should come with a tax abatement…...

posted by: robn on May 6, 2014  3:53pm

Wow! Great job. I’d like to know if post-and-beam was common in that part of town and for what reason. Colin? Anyone?

posted by: Walt on May 6, 2014  4:25pm

So, with $380,000 apparently invested in it, how much is this property with a small land area, located on Quinnipiac, not a deluxe area, now worth,  and now assessed?

Nice job!  Does look good certainly,  but is this an investment or a hobby for well financed   folk   who overpaid for a very run-down building in a not so hot location

posted by: Bill Saunders on May 6, 2014  4:43pm


Historic Restorations rarely fit into either category.
It has more to do with the vision/passion of the owner.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 6, 2014  5:14pm


I’m not sure I understand the question, but timber (post and beam) framing was the common method of construction for domestic, vernacular building in the early 19th century prior to the mechanization of milling that came with industrialization. With standardized production of lumber pieces, balloon frame construction became possible - later replaced with our modern day platform framing/stick construction technique.

So, the reason this type of construction was used is because in 1828 an alternative hadn’t been invented yet. Hopefully that answers your question.

Walt, don’t be such a Debbie downer.

posted by: s.palmer on May 6, 2014  7:07pm

Wow Walt,  ..way to be a buzz kill!!. why don’t you tell the owners how you really feel about the house renovation. Not as if you donated physical labor or money to the project,, sometimes its better to just keep quiet and enjoy the fact that they transformed a potential Bank owned eyesore into a fantastic property that adds vision, excitement, and value to the neighborhood. Well done also to Christopher Wuerth for his restoration skill, knowledge, and creativity which helped them to turn their vision into reality. Great job to all involved.

posted by: ChrisTheContractor on May 6, 2014  7:37pm

Great answer. Also later in the 19th century lumber was available from other parts of the country as the rail system advanced. Post and beam construction did not use nails for the structure and it was very strong.
Nice restoration job.

posted by: David S Baker on May 6, 2014  9:14pm

Walt, $380K means, in a worst case scenario, you have a young couple who are investing in YOUR community in a neighborhood that is gaining a reputation as “the overflow for East Rock” and aren’t planning to go anywhere for a while.  Which is good, because this town could use a couple hundred more folks who are good neighbors like Bridget and Sean.

You can launch a boat from their back yard and it’s a straight shot to the ocean.  In most towns thats work at least $500K.  And the Quinnipiac River community, for all the up and down swings is slowly trending that direction.  They aren’t the only ones investing this heavily in this corner of town. 

We have a wine and cheese shop, festivals, a bodega, marinas, restaurants, a yacht club, one of the best apizza joints in town, canoe launches, crazy front yard gardens, some of the best parks and playgrounds, a one mile walking loop between historic bridges, a ship building company, an oyster farm, an old restored brewery, a montessori school, farmers markets, hundreds of dogs are out getting walked, we have someone from every corner of the globe settled here, Union cemetery, a quarry, and a huge chunk of it is a state park.  But the BEST part is the folks here are just super nice.  It’s very chill.  You should visit some time.

posted by: Sagimore on May 7, 2014  9:24am

I have a smaller 1880s farm house with wood shingles.  Its painted and I want to out something up so I dont need to paint but dont want to lose the look…any suggestions?

posted by: robn on May 7, 2014  9:35am


I thought balloon framing came around the late 1700’s when mills first used circular saws??.

posted by: robn on May 7, 2014  9:48am


There is no solution to painting other aluminum or vinyl siding. Both of those look pretty bad and vinyl is poisonous at the point of production and turns into dioxin if it burns. Hardiplank is a cementitious siding that’s very durable and dimensionally stable but also needs paint.

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on May 7, 2014  12:21pm

As far as I know, the modern ballon frame was not developed until the 1830s when it superceded other mortise-and-tenon based methods of construction. The “box” method of construction can be seen as a development of the colonial timber frame and a predecessor to the balloon frame, but it still used mortisse-and-tenon joints in addition to nails and milled lumber pieces. Perhaps this house can more accurately be called a box frame rather than a timber frame - though I can’t tell from the pictures.

Besides lumber, the larger issue preventing the modern balloon frame from developing sooner was the difficulty of manufacturing nails. Also keep in mind that Fair Haven was a small oystering village at this time with no rail connections to New Haven or the larger world.

I agree with robn that hardiboard can be a good alternative to wood for new construction or renovation, but it does need to be painted. Despite what a contractor might tell you, there really isn’t a replacement product that replicates the look of wood without the need to paint, especially when it comes to details like flushboards, window/door frames, etc. It would be unfortunate to cover wood shingles that are in good condition with a synthetic siding material just to avoid routine maintenance like painting. Raking leaves can be a pain too, but is it worth it to cut the tree down just to avoid the annual choir? There are inexpensive paint services like College Pro Painters that may be worth looking into for repainting every few years if you are unable to do it yourself.

posted by: robn on May 7, 2014  1:46pm

Actually I stand corrected. Doh!
Cedar shingles!

posted by: Anstress Farwell on May 8, 2014  6:57pm

Wikipedia has good information and great illustrations on both post and beam and ballon frames: