A Youthful Passion
This Old House steps into the role of homeowner this year, with the goal of passing down our house (and our values) to a new generation.
You know that feeling you get when you spot a great old house that's seen better days? You believe it just needs a little love to revive it; maybe you even allow yourself a daydream about being the one to do it. No, there's nothing quite like the lure of the fixer-upper, the faded gem that you're sure will flourish in your hands.
We know that feeling all too well. When we decided to buy our twenty-fifth anniversary project house in Carlisle, This Old House was taking the same plunge that so many homeowners take every day. We think we can take this old beauty, lovingly restore it, and reinvent it for modern living. Of course, we won't be living in it when we're done — we'll put it back on the market, and for the very best of reasons: We'll be using the proceeds of the sale to fund a scholarship for those aspiring to careers in the building arts. (See Back to the Future.) And because we're so committed to getting young people excited about our business, Tom Silva will be supervising a team of young apprentices working on this project.
We have a lot going for us as we start out. First, we have the best team in the business, so we know we'll end up with a first-class renovation. Second, we'll be working on a classic Greek Revival house along with a vintage New England barn, both of which have great appeal to prospective buyers shopping in Carlisle. Finally — and critically — we'll be able to get many products donated by manufacturers who want to support our cause, which will give us a control over our costs that the average homeowner doesn't have.
There are some negatives, too, and they scare us as much as they'd scare any homeowner. That classic old farmhouse was built to the standards of the nineteenth century, with the tiny rooms you'd expect of that era. Spread your arms and you've got the width of the closets, which are exactly one hanger deep — barely enough to put a pair of shoes on the floor, assuming your feet aren't too big. The original house didn't have a single bathroom, and the facilities that have been crammed into the house in the last 50 years are not exactly up to modern standards. And the sleepy road the farmhouse once faced is now a busy two-lane artery through a growing town. Our challenge is to keep what's great about the house, lose or hide what's no longer so great, and create a twenty-first-century home inside a nineteenth-century envelope.
Then there's the barn. Once a home to chickens, pig, horse, and cow, the barn today is redolent of its former life. It's spacious — cavernous, even — with wonderful exposed timbers and sheathing, and character to spare. We're thrilled to be able to save it, and so are local historians, but it will be quite a job to convert it into living space. It's sound, for a barn, but it's held up by what are essentially tree trunks on rocks. We'll have to get it cleaned up, shored up, and — through a miracle of transformation — incorporated into the house's layout.
And that layout . . . . There's a lot of square footage to work with in this house, but it will take an ingenious space plan to make it come together as a home. The farmhouse and the barn are connected by an ell, named not for any L shape of its own but for the right angle it makes with the house. The ell is two stories, both of which are way too small for a modern home. Upstairs and down, even a not-so-tall visitor can easily touch the ceilings. Upstairs, the pitched roof makes the space feel even tinier, and an elbow-high doorway between rooms adds to the Lilliputian effect. Separating the old farmhouse from the barn, the ell is now an impediment to well-integrated living space, and our job is to make it the new heart of the home.
Right now, before construction begins, we're doing what any smart homeowner would do before commencing such a project. We're poring over plans, working and re-working the budget, and lining up the roster of talent we'll be calling on over the coming months. Over the next few months, this Project Diary will cover the tearing down, building up, and pulling together of one remarkable home, on a homeowner's budget. Keep an eye on the WebCams to watch our progress, and plan on stopping by for a visit when we're done!