Bradley Hooper had low expectations and a budget to match when he started looking for a warm-weather getaway in the Finger Lakes region.
“Basically, I was looking for a dump that needed to be cleaned up,” Hopper, 37, said.
The real estate agents showed him that the dumpsters were intact, then suggested that he demolish one and build something new in its place.
But Hooper, who teaches elementary reading at East High School in the Rochester City School District, is a conservationist. As a middle-income person, “I couldn’t afford anything in the Finger Lakes, or the official Finger Lakes” — not even a landfill.
Then he remembered how as a child his parents would take him to the Silver Lake Twin Drive-in in Wyoming County during the summer, and that it was close to the actual Silver Lake. So, he decided to revisit the area about 48 miles southwest of Rochester, and that’s where he struck gold.
Hopper found his dumpster — a circa-1878 cabin that, thanks to its dilapidated condition, was priced at $47,000, but also located within the Silver Lake Institute Historic District, meaning it would qualify for federal and New York state tax credits. It will offset about half of the $45,000 rehabilitation cost.
In May 2022, he purchased a two-story, 938-square-foot home, and on Wednesday, September 20, millions of TV viewers will be able to see the renovation during an hour-long episode of “In With the Old,” airing at 8 p.m. on Magnolia Network and streaming on Discovery+ and Max (formerly HBO Max).
This isn’t Hopper’s first foray into DIY renovation, or appearance on national television.
In 2011, he bought an 864-square-foot bungalow in Irondequoit’s Winona Woods neighborhood and restored the 1930 home himself, guided only by tutorials on YouTube and Instagram.
His Instagram posts about the project caught the attention of HGTV’s “Cheap Old Houses,” and two years ago it featured the two-bedroom, one-bath home in an episode.
The Magnolia Network, run by home improvement gurus Chip and Joanna Gaines, also tracked down Hopper via Instagram about chronicling the Silver Lake cottage job.
Agreeing to participate in the program “In With the Old” meant that the speed of work was greatly increased.
“A fun hobby I can get away from when I’m tired” suddenly had to be completed by Memorial Day this year. “So, any free moment I had — every school holiday, every vacation — I would go there,” said Hopper, who was helped by his friend Daniel Kanter of Kingston, New York.
The three-season dwelling, originally part of a Methodist revival camp, did not have a furnace, but to meet the show’s tight production schedule, work had to continue through the winter, which meant putting heaters into service. However, it didn’t generate enough warmth to run water, “so there was nowhere to go to the bathroom,” Hooper said.
TV pressures aside, rehabilitation will never be a rural trek.
First, “there were a lot of animals living in the house,” Hopper said. “Bats – there was a whole incident with bats. We opened up a wall, and it was full of carpenter ants. There were squirrels in the attic. I think we got rid of them all.”
The building, which has three bedrooms and one bathroom, was built without a foundation. Like the necessary electrical rewiring, this work is handled by professionals.
However, Hopper and Canter completed all the other tasks: leveling the floors, assembling the kitchen cabinets, building a custom red oak deck, creating a fireplace mantle in the living room, refinishing the floors, painting inside and out, restoring the original windows, propping up the porch, making a railing. Outdoor, hang wallpaper and find every piece of furniture, every appliance, every fixture and every decor item that fills the space.
“The stuff literally came from the woods, from the sidewalk, from Facebook Marketplace,” Hopper said.
The end result is an eclectic, fun and elegant mix of eras.
“I like the community aspect.”
But there is more to love than property itself.
Silver Lake Institute owns the waterfront of Silver Lake, so everyone has access to the water, docks, etc.
The Silver Lake Institute is modeled after the Chautauqua Institute and its mix of arts and educational programs. “They have concerts every Friday night, lectures and workshops, all that kind of stuff. I like the community aspect,” he said.
Hopper has also joined the Institute’s Board of Directors and is involved in a number of committees, which means he has more than just a financial stake in the community, which is a big plus for him. “I loved being able to participate here,” he said.
However, in the end, the cabin is a refuge, and Hopper needs it: “Teaching is overwrought,” He said.
Reporter Marcia Greenwood covers general assignments. Send story tips to email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @MarciaGreenwood.