This fall, Tom, Norm, and the rest of the This Old House TV crew will take on one of the oldest and most storied houses in the show’s 32-year history: the Nathaniel Page Homestead in Bedford, Massachusetts. Built circa 1720 and once occupied by a participant in the American Revolutionary War, the current owners of the house want to retain its historic character while adding a few modern amenities.
Joe and Rebecca Titlow bought the distinguished early Georgian house, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places, in 2007. “To us, every floor creak and wall crack in this home is a link to our history,” says the couple. “We’re proud to raise our family here.” So far, that family includes one toddler daughter and two energetic dogs.
The house has quite a past indeed. Nathaniel Page, a descendant of the original owners, served as the flag bearer for the Bedford Militia during the Battle of Concord, in 1775—one of the first military engagements of the Revolutionary War. The battle flag, purported to be the oldest in the U.S., remained in the house for decades and was later donated to the town of Bedford.
Just like the young nation Page helped establish, this home has undergone many transformations over the years. Though the original structure looks much as it did when it was first built around 1720, a late-18th-century rear ell addition added more space. The house is believed to have been moved from an adjacent lot to its current site in the late 1800s. And like any home it has undergone period piecemeal renovations and fixes throughout its lifetime.
While the Titlows enjoy their nearly 300-year-old home, they’re looking forward to having more elbow room and incorporating a few of today’s creature comforts. To achieve that, the couple will work closely with the TOH crew to build two modest additions and selectively update other rooms. The most significant project is a 480-square-foot rear addition that will house a generous family room. A smaller addition out front, containing a mudroom and powder room, will serve as an informal entry for the family. The kitchen will maintain its current footprint, but a massive brick fireplace that takes up serious real estate in the middle of the room will be removed, and a new center island and built-in breakfast nook will be added.
The Titlows are doing everything possible to maintain the flavor of the old spaces, even in the new areas. The family room’s cathedral ceiling, for instance, will have exposed timbers, and its raised-hearth fireplace will be made of brick salvaged from the hulking kitchen fireplace. A low-ceilinged study will be maintained as the house’s “period” room; the Titlows hope to find and freshen up original wide-plank pine boards beneath the existing floor.
There are many other projects in store as well, including careful restoration of several 19th-century windows. TOH general contractor Tom Silva will replace rotting clapboards, remove a rambling wheelchair ramp, and rebuild the front entryway. TOH master carpenter Norm Abram will restore the house’s raised-panel front door, which is believed to date back to its original construction. Richard Trethewey, TOH plumbing and heating expert, will make some much-needed fixes and updates to the house’s HVAC system. And TOH landscape contractor Roger Cook will transform the outdoor space by adding new flower beds and raised beds for an edible garden.
Finally, if the budget allows, Joe, an accomplished DIYer who’s watched nearly every episode of This Old House, will work with Norm to turn a detached two-car garage into the full-fledged woodworking shop of his dreams. With careful planning and the expert craftsmanship provided by the TOH TV crew, this American icon of a house is poised to survive for another 300 years.
New episodes of the Bedford house project begin airing on October 6, 2011 on PBS. Check local listings for dates and times in your area.