When Charles Steadman gave rise to Princeton’s 1830s and ’40s residential building boom, he probably had little thought about making history.
But in 2001, when businessman Brandon Hull and his artist wife, Lynette, bought and restored a Steadman house at 19 Linden Lane, they were happily aware of its expansive past. Now the property is on the market, awaiting new owners with a similar awareness and enthusiasm.
“Steadman houses are very sought after by people who appreciate their history, the quality of them, the genius of them,” said Susan Gordon of Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage as she unlocked a door for a visiting journalist. “It’s the details. They don’t do it this way anymore.”
Steadman (1790-1868) was a skilled carpenter from Massachusetts who relocated to Princeton. Here he became a prosperous businessman and the town’s first true real estate developer. A self-taught builder-architect, he created designs that pleasingly melded the Federal and Greek Revival styles. And, as architectural historian Constance M. Greiff has noted, Steadman forever changed Princeton’s face from a brick-and-stone colonial village to a town of “placid streets lined with classically ordered white clapboard houses that has dominated the popular image of ‘old Princeton.’”
For Gordon, finding the right new owners for 19 Linden Lane genuinely seems like a mission and not just the matter of earning a commission. The home has a 180-year history of moves and additions, including a major restoration that came with the Hulls’ ownership. The esthetic integrity of the work accomplished by Brandon, Lynette, and a coterie of artisans is a major selling point.
“They connected and matched the tone and phases of the building’s history perfectly,” Gordon said.
In the 1830s — as Princeton grew outward from its college and stagecoach stop center — two identical homes were built by Steadman at what are now 294 and 298 Nassau Street for members of the Cumming family. (One tradition holds that these “sister buildings” were literally for two sisters.) A porch with Victorian flourishes was added to the 294 Nassau house in the 1860s or ’70s; a two-story side addition may have been created at this same time.
The property was sold in 1901 to make room for a large new all-Victorian dwelling. The Steadman-built house was moved around the corner the following year, as revealed via detailed building surveys created nationally by the Sanborn Map Company for fire insurance firms. The 1902 Sanborn for Princeton shows the house still on Nassau Street; but at what is now 19 Linden Lane is an outline marked “Foundn. For Fr. D.” (foundation for frame dwelling). The next Sanborn, published in 1906, shows the house in place, color-coded yellow as a wooden structure, and having a new two-story rear extension.
House moving was common in late-19th and early-20th-century Princeton, especially when larger buildings were planned for lots containing smaller but still desirable homes. Historically, Charles Steadman’s houses benefitted from this trend. They were comfortable and their Greek Revival classicism was still popular. Ingeniously constructed and solidly built, they easily tolerated moving. Steadman is believed to have created more than 70 buildings in Princeton, and about 40 still stand.
Fittingly, Susan Gordon sounded during the tour less like a real estate agent and more like the docent of a particularly beloved landmark. The home is anything but a museum, but it almost didn’t survive its later history — until Brandon and Lynette Hull entered the narrative.
The owner prior to the Hulls was Laurie Vance Johnson, widow of Princeton University English professor Edward Dudley Hume Johnson, who died in 1995. A well-regarded professional photographer, Johnson devoted much of her home to gallery space. A 1980 survey by the New Jersey Office of Historic Preservation found the house to be in “excellent” condition with “no threat[s]” to the site. But during her declining years, the house declined as well. Repairs went unmade. Feral cats and raccoons were frequent intruders. After her death in December, 2000, at age 84, her family devoted the better part of 2001 to cleaning out the building in preparation for sale.
This activity attracted the notice of a passerby who happened to be a neighbor of the Hulls, then living with their three children on Aiken Avenue. Alerted that the home was coming onto the market, they investigated. It turned out to be a fortuitous matching of an old house with new owners.
Brandon Hull, the son of a building contractor, grew up working on his father’s house renovations. After college he made a foray into the hospitality business that included supervising the renovation and re-opening of the Virginia Hotel in Cape May. But the world of finance beckoned. By 1991 he was directing healthcare investing for the Edison Venture Fund.
Lynette Hull grew up in Cherry Hill, daughter to Keith and Celeste Bashaw. Her parents were both in real estate, with her mother active in the Princeton market in the 1980s and 1990s. (Lynette’s two brothers have also gone into real estate, and her sister is an interior designer.)
In 1996 Brandon co-founded Cardinal Partners, a venture capital firm based at 230 Nassau Street exclusively making healthcare investments, particularly in new medical technologies and information systems. Focusing on early-stage financing, Cardinal Partners has invested in more than 100 companies and manages some $400 million in funds.
When 19 Linden Lane went up for sale, Brandon was growing his business and Lynette was homeschooling their three children. They were in fact contemplating a move, but out of Princeton to a farm near Ringoes.
How did a rundown albeit historic property in then-Princeton Borough displace the potential rural joys of Hunterdon County? Brandon emphasizes his and Lynette’s love of town living and their high esthetic standards.
“Early in our marriage we lived in city environments and loved the energy, accessibility, and community it affords,” he explained. “So when work brought me to Princeton in 1992, we were eager to live very close to the town center.”
Their first residence was on Jefferson Road. “Living in town, you tend to become the epicenter for your kids’ friends and their activities” — the Hulls have two daughters and a son — “so when they were pre-teens we started looking for a bigger property to contain all the energy.”
There were few, if any, competitors for 19 Linden Lane. Lynette explains that this was before the housing boom of the early 2000s and the property “was a disaster.” The Hulls offered a modest $750,000. It was accepted.
“We always loved the Steadman architecture, but this house was in an advanced state of decline,” said Brandon. “So I approached this project with full knowledge of what we were getting into and committed from the outset to the type of end-to-end, comprehensive restoration and rehabilitation that would both preserve what was important and beautiful about the old structure, but fully satisfy the requirements of contemporary life.”
The artistically talented Lynette (she is an acclaimed painter in the centuries-old religious icon genre) contributed a sharp but loving eye for colors, dimensions, spaces, and overall esthetic standards. The Hulls give fervent credit to the architects, builders, and craftspeople who collaborated on the project. Andrew Sheldon was hired as architect and Tom Pinneo as principal contractor. Everything behind the Steadman wing “was basically gutted,” Lynette said. “We replaced everything — A.C., heat, bathrooms — everything.”
They hewed to a faithful restoration of the Steadman, though there were modifications, such as enlarging the hallway sliding doors to its front room. The Victorian-era addition had rather thin floors that couldn’t be refinished. “The Victorian woodwork wasn’t very good anyway,” said Lynette. “We made [the refurbished addition] look like the Steadman.”
Sometime in the 1960s, the Johnsons had recreated the back extension in an Asian style. “We took that completely off,” Lynette said. In its place rose a new addition with modern bedrooms, baths and hallways yet consciously continuing the flow and esthetic of the earlier two sections.
“For both Brandon and me, it’s important to have integrity from the ground up,” Lynette said. For example, the new back addition needed a wooden stair railing. “Everyone was saying, ‘Oh, you can just go to Home Depot for that.” But the Hulls insisted on having a railing handmade to match the one in the Steadman wing. Materials were reused whenever possible, such as bluestone from Mrs. Johnson’s patio recycled for the flooring of the side entrance bathroom.
Inside, there is an openness in the new wing that transitions with surprising smoothness to the original Steadman section. “They blended it beautifully,” Gordon agreed, adding, “It’s very winsome. You don’t feel you’re in one of those McMansions that feel so sterile. There’s a warmth in every room.”
The modern addition has some true delights. In a second-floor bedroom, a secret closet door leads to a hidden room, originally designed for the Hulls’ son to hang his bows, arrows, swords, and dreams of adventure. Two other bedrooms, once used by the daughters, comfortably share a full bath. A small door from the second-floor hallway allows clothes, bed linens, and towels to be deposited into the laundry below with toss-it-in directness.
A modern butler’s pantry has vertically slatted, white-painted wood walls that impart a 19th-century feel. A formidable imported stove is the centerpiece of a kitchen clearly intended for both entertaining and daily family use. The dining room is highlighted with murals by Gennady Spirin, the popular Russian-born and Princeton-based artist.
In the side entry area (a.k.a. “the mudroom”) are cubbyhole lockers, perfect for children offloading their belongings after school. For future owners, the adjacent bathroom with full shower is elegant but potentially handicapped-accessible and dog-friendly.
During the journalist’s visit, the home was noticeably tidy, without stray clothing or belongings to be seen. Where, he wondered, did they stash all the everyday stuff?
“Storage, storage, storage,” Susan Gordon replied to the unspoken question. Hallways and bedrooms are filled with unobtrusive closets and deep drawers hiding in plain sight. This architectural strategy is realized to especially good effect in a side room of the late 19th-century addition that now opens directly from the Steadman’s second-floor master bedroom. “This became their closet, with as much storage room as you can imagine needing,” Gordon said.
The basement rec room has a small gym and widescreen TV facilities. Its poured concrete floors are heated. There is central HVAC and full modern power and communications wiring throughout the house. “Everything is up to date and energy efficient,” said Gordon. “They didn’t skimp on anything.” Plus, no head ducking down here: Even beneath the original Steadman, the basement is some eight feet high.
The historic 1830s wing preserves the characteristic Charles Steadman design integration of parlor-like front room, stairway, and upstairs bedroom into a compact but spacious-feeling dwelling. However, the true worth of a Steadman house is revealed in the attic and its exposed beams. At a time when old growth hardwood forests were still found in the Northeast, Steadman framed his creations with durable materials and a foursquare integrity that promises to survive into a third century of existence and beyond.
“You can’t build like this anymore,” said Gordon. “The woods today are harvested too early, and the wood is too young and soft.” Inside the doorway between the new extension and the historic home, the Hulls have left a section of the original wood-shingled roof and its later tin covering exposed for future generations. “I think [the entire house] reflects the history of Princeton, and we tried to preserve that,” said Lynette.
Outside, the gardens are also surprisingly spacious. The house now sits on an L-shaped 0.41 acre lot. Most other neighborhood homes occupy one quarter of that. (The Johnsons acquired bits and pieces of adjacent property, including much of the backyard of the Victorian home for which the Steadman was originally moved.)
Perennials and many native plants voluptuously color flower beds along the driveway. (Another valuable plus for the property is off-street parking.) Behind the house, a wisteria-entwined trellis is supported by eight antique cast-iron lamp posts from Philadelphia. “Something like this was resourced for the period and the style,” Gordon said, emphasizing the use of recycled appointments over modern imitations.
A separate three-bay garage, complete with hydraulic lifts and automotive servicing equipment, was erected for Brandon’s collection of classic cars. Its jewel is a 1923 Mercer Raceabout, an important early American sportscar built by the Roebling and Kuser families’ Mercer Motor Car Company of Trenton. Brandon’s Raceabout won an Antique Automobile Association national award last year. (The garage also has a half bath, lending it potential as a guest house.)
Meanwhile, the ground floor side of the 1880s addition was transformed into a new painting studio for Lynette. George Akers, an artisan-carpenter and co-partner in Material Design Build LLC, recycled two large doors into bookcases and also repurposed index card holders from the old Princeton Theological Seminary library for supply drawers.
But the original Steadman wing — the home’s face to its neighbors and Princeton at large — was not neglected. Its restoration was highlighted by the removal of asphalt siding, which returned the original 1830s clapboard to the light of day. The project was honored in 2003 with a Historical Society of Princeton preservation award.
Just last year, an assemblage of skilled welders, woodworkers, and masons converted cast iron saved from the largely demolished Admiral Christian Hotel in Cape May into new railings for the Hulls’ side porches and also repurposed its salvaged marble in floors and baseboards. There was a loving family significance to this: Lynette’s grandfather was a minister who had purchased the Admiral Christian in 1963 to hold bible conferences there. But it became run down and finally passed to one of Lynette’s brothers, who reinvented it in the 1990s as the Congress Hall Hotel and Resort.
Lynette exudes gratitude for the artisans who have worked at 19 Linden Lane: “They love this house! They’ve gotten a chance to express themselves with integrity, in the house, in the garden, everywhere, because it’s an expression of them, too.”
Given the Hulls’ devotion to the property — and their original intention to make it their permanent residence — friends and neighbors were shocked when it was put on the market. “Life has its seasons, “ Brandon explained, “and now that we are grandparents, we are drawn to the diaspora of our kids, who are scattered around the country. The travel schedule, ongoing career evolution, and evolving needs of family mean we are not around to enjoy the house the way it deserves.”
The asking price is $2.5 million. With a 20 percent down payment estimated monthly finance costs (based on a 30-year, fixed-rate, 3.880 percent mortgage) are $9,410 principal and interest, with $3,320 property taxes and $667 for homeowners’ insurance. The 6-bedroom, 5.5 bathroom house has 4,372 taxable square feet (with the unimproved section of the basement bringing the total to more than 5,000 square feet.)
“I’m excited for its next owner,” Brandon said. “Given its level of finish, large property size, and proximity to downtown Princeton, it’ll be fabulous for someone.” And, he added with hopeful enthusiasm, “it would be nice if they were old-car people!”
For more information visit www.19linden.com.