How a house conversion became a retail empire

Not everyone can turn their renovation blog into a mini-empire. But that’s exactly what the husband and wife team of creative director Susan Brinson and photographer William Brinson managed to do with House of Brinson.

What started as thoughts on their Manhattan lifestyle morphed into a detailed account of their hands-on renovation of Stony Ford, a historic and once-in-a-lifetime ramshackle Greek style mansion set in 17 acres between Goshen and Newburgh. Over time, the House of Brinson brand has expanded to include an Instagram page and an e-commerce site featuring Brinson-approved products. The couple’s commercial photography website reflects the Brinson branding.

But let’s go back to where it all began, in Waldorf, Maryland. Susan Orvis attended the public school in town, and one day a friend invited her to a sweet sixteen party for a private school kid named William. Susan and William have been a couple ever since and even attend college together at the Savannah College of Art and Design.


For the Brinsons, a DIY makeover is NBD. “Our whole house was built before there was electricity,” says Susan. What is the problem with a practical renovation? We have resources like Strom and YouTube.”


William and Susan Brinon/House of Brinson

For the Brinsons, a DIY makeover is NBD.

For the Brinsons, a DIY makeover is NBD. “Our whole house was built before there was electricity,” says Susan. What is the problem with a practical renovation? We have resources like Strom and YouTube.”


William and Susan Brinon/House of Brinson


Stony Ford is a bar renovation only, so they work at their own pace. “We’ve never taken out a loan to work on the house,” says William. (Photos: William and Susan Brinson/House of Brinson)

The Brinsons had started looking for a home in the country back in 2013, when their landlord sold their Manhattan building and asked them to vacate. Susan had been watching the price drop at Stony Ford for years, which had been on the market for seven years, when they decided to pounce. The Brinsons believe they are the seventh or eighth owner since the house was built in the 1850’s.

“We looked at other homes, but when we saw the front hallway of Stony Ford, we were like, ‘This is us,'” says Susan.

After more than a decade in advertising, Susan had joined Williams’ commercial photography business as creative director and photographer, and the two considered buying an apartment in the city to maintain a Manhattan presence for their business. “But undress [of the city] created more opportunities to travel,” Susan says, because people didn’t associate her with the physical studio in New York. They have been to Milan, Italy, to shoot commercials for Martini & Rossi, Chicago to shoot for Crate & Barrel, and Colorado to shoot for Target, among others.

Meanwhile, she launched her home design and renovation blog, House of Brinson. It started in 2009 and the first posts they wrote were about their home, food and travel. It caught the attention of interior designer Nate Berkus, who invited her to his TV show, and led to an appearance on a Design*Sponge podcast. By the time they moved north, “the blog was already buzzing about it,” says Susan. That hum would get louder.

Renovations out of pocket, by hand

When they bought Stony Ford, “everything was broken, but it was livable,” says Wilhelm. “The walls were cracked, the ceilings were cracked.” However, the original hand-hewn beams and moldings were in place, and the Brinsons saw the opportunity.

They spent the first two years on necessities like supporting structural beams in the basement and replacing the water heater. “It allowed us to live in the house and see how it could reflect us,” says Susan.

Since then they have replaced floors, renewed electrical and plumbing, removed old wallpaper and freshened walls, renovated bathrooms and planted a vegetable garden.

They did 90 percent of the renovations themselves by watching videos, researching online, and reading books. “We’re just practical people in general,” says Susan. “Our whole house was built before there was electricity. What is the problem with a practical renovation? We have resources like Strom and YouTube.”

For the Brinsons, a DIY makeover is NBD.

For the Brinsons, a DIY makeover is NBD. “Our whole house was built before there was electricity,” says Susan. What is the problem with a practical renovation? We have resources like Strom and YouTube.”


William and Susan Brinon/House of Brinson

For the Brinsons, a DIY makeover is NBD.

For the Brinsons, a DIY makeover is NBD. “Our whole house was built before there was electricity,” says Susan. What is the problem with a practical renovation? We have resources like Strom and YouTube.”


William and Susan Brinon/House of Brinson


“Our whole house was built before there was electricity,” says Susan. (Photos: William and Susan Brinson/House of Brinson)


Stony Ford is a bar renovation only, so they work at their own pace. “We’ve never taken out a loan to work on the house,” says William.

“When we’re done, we’re done,” Susan adds, even if the pace of work means they haven’t started the kitchen yet.

Her followers grew exponentially when she started blogging about Stony Ford and soon the 2,000 Instagram followers grew to 122,000. Your blog receives tens of thousands of page views monthly.

This came in handy when COVID struck and photo jobs dried up. “We went through a transition,” says Susan. “We had to turn around and develop a plan B.”

Plan B was House of Brinson’s shopping page, a curated selection of featured merchandise such as barware, table linens and gardening tools. Susan and William say they insist on keeping the site authentic and not adding articles they don’t endorse. “If there’s something that we say we like and use, then we really like it and use it,” says William.

They’re toying with the idea of ​​opening a retail store, possibly in Newburgh. “That would be a big draw for our region,” says William. “We see a synergy with what’s happening in Newburgh and what we’re doing.” Last December, they dived into the retail world with a pop-up shop at Tuxedo Park Junk Shop, an antique and art gallery.

The Brinsons said they were contacted about a TV show but didn’t like the ground rules, which included contradicting and arguing on camera to create dramatic tension.

“We don’t fight in real life, so we’re not going to fight for TV,” says William.

“Not manufactured drama,” says Susan. “We’re trying to think very carefully about our process so that our relationship stays in a good place.”

As the Brinsons know, there’s more to a good life than a well-repaired home.

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