Modern Methods, Classic Details: After
Bill and April Harb used to escape their cramped condo in the city by going for hikes or walks along the beach on Boston’s North Shore. It was on one of those forays three years ago that they fell for a four-acre wooded property for sale just outside the center of Essex, Massachusetts. “We loved the mature trees, the privacy, everything—so we jumped at the chance,” recalls Bill.
Shown: The period-style farmhouse that homeowners April and Bill Harb chose for their lot in Essex, Mass., is the first model Connor Homes offered.
Cupola Installation: During
They’d need to build a house, of course. Problem was, says April, “We were turned off by the lack of character of most new homes.” Then one day they found their dream home in a very unexpected place: a catalog. “I did an online search for ‘Greek Revival farmhouse’ and found a house that looked so good, we couldn’t believe it wasn’t old,” she says.
Shown: Contractor Erik Kaminski‘s crew lands a fully built cupola on the roof of the garage, where it will let light into an upstairs guest suite.
The farmhouse was actually Federal style, a model built by Connor Homes at its factory in Middlebury, Vermont. Connor’s approach to prefab is called panelization: Highly detailed shop drawings guide the precise measuring and cutting of nearly all the wood—from floor joists to rafters—and craftsmen build doors, windows, entire staircases, and wall sections with all the window and door openings in place. Then all the parts are labeled, bundled, and trucked to the site to be assembled in a specific order by a local builder.
Shown: From left, TOH TV host Kevin O’Connor and TOH TV general contractor Tom Silva chat with Connor during a tour of the 118,000-square-foot factory in Vermont.
Old-World Craftsmanship and Industrial Cutting Machines
“We focus on traditional American design,” says Mike Connor, whose eponymous company offers 70-plus models of classic New England houses, from simple saltboxes to elaborate Georgian gems. “You have to get the scale, proportions, molding, and architectural details right,” he says.
Shown: Workers install muntins in a custom mahogany window. “Even with the high technology that we employ,” says Connor, “I find it comforting to know that occasionally 17th-century technology trumps 21st-century technology.”
Factory-Built Cupola Ready for Shipping
The farmhouse the Harbs fell for is a two-story with four bedrooms and a wing featuring a small porch to mimic the look of a house that’s sprouted additions over centuries. The layout didn’t quite fit the couple’s vision, so Connor worked with them to revise the plans. “We wanted a more open kitchen, living, and dining area,” says April. So they widened the opening from the kitchen to dining room; they also sacrificed an upstairs bedroom for a larger master suite and a laundry.
Shown: A cupola similar to the one on the Harbs’ garage sits on the Connor Homes factory floor ready to be wrapped and transported to a job site.
House Parts En Route to the Job Site
While the parts were being built at the factory, Kaminski was excavating and pouring the foundation. Most of his projects are stick-built homes, but he’s done a few panelized jobs and he figures that they cut framing time in half because his crew doesn’t have to measure and cut as they go. “It’s basically like putting together a giant puzzle,” he says.
Shown: House parts are wrapped, stacked, and labeled before being trucked to the job site in several batches, depending on the size of the house—say, a framing package and a finish package with interior trim.
Panelization for Quicker Assembly
To achieve the look they wanted inside, the Harbs worked with interior designer Kristina Crestin to select vintage industrial furnishings punctuated with period-style lighting and black accents, including a salvaged sliding barn door that serves as a room divider. Those elements enhance the always-been-there look of the house, creating a modern approach for a young family that now includes a 1-year-old daughter. “Doing the house this way was the perfect fit, and gave us exactly what we had wanted all along,” says April. “A new home, with character.”
Shown: On-site, a framer connects two wall panels that form part of the rear gable end of the Harbs’ garage. Connor Homes uses industrial machinery to cut parts to within 1/32 of an inch. Kaminski estimates that panelization cuts framing time in half.
Panels with Pre-Cut Windows and Door Openings
Wall panels arrive with openings for windows and doors already in place, a key factor in the efficiency of panelization.
Homey Meets Formal
The Harbs moved in just in time to celebrate their daughter’s first birthday.
Charming Details in the Mudroom
Shiplap walls and a slate-look ceramic tile floor announce a casual vibe to visitors entering the mudroom, just off the small porch between the house and garage.
Ceiling-mount light: Schoolhouse Electric
Sconces: Visual Comfort
Floor Tile: Mirage
Baskets: West Elm
The living room, open to the mudroom at one end and the dining area at the other, is the Harb family’s main gathering space, complete with fireplace, TV screen above the shiplap-style mantel, and built-in bookcases and storage.
Large floor lamp: Visual Comfort
Blue chair: Lekker Home
Sofa: Kristina Crestin Design
Green stools: Mohr & McPherson
The open-layout living and dining area stretches along the back of the first floor, with French doors leading to a deck that overlooks the wooded property. The hickory floors unify the space, as does the use of black-painted trim on the multi-pane windows, transoms, and doors.
Ottoman: Serena & Lily
Windows and doors: Connor Homes
Who Left the Barn Door Open?
The Harbs made sure their new house had plenty of vintage appeal by incorporating elements such as a salvaged barn door on a sliding track to divide the dining area from the front hallway. Extending the casual look, they chose a rustic table, Windsor-style chairs, and a coastal landscape painting evoking the North Shore area where they built their new-old home.
Barn door: From $165; Old House Parts
Door hardware: Specialty Doors
Table: Restoration Hardware
Chairs: Crate & Barrel
Artwork: Coastal Cove, by Craig Mooney, from Jules Place
Turn On the Charm
A black pendant chandelier takes on a vintage look when outfitted with antique-style Edison bulbs with clear glass and old-fashioned filaments.
Gracious Kitchen Built for Entertaining
The U-shaped kitchen layout revolves around a large marble-topped center island ideal for entertaining. Industrial touches include black hardware and steel-legged stools.
Custom Cabinetry & Shelves: Connor Homes
Pendant lights: Visual Comfort
Bar stools: Nuevo
Six-burner range and vent hood: Wolf
Sinks and faucets: Kohler
Dog cookie Jar: Target
Farmhouse-Perfect Hickory Floors in the Kitchen
Random-width hickory select floors in a natural prefinish are a perfect fit for a farmhouse. $8.85 per square foot; Vermont Plank Flooring
Open Kitchen Shelving
Open shelving of quartersawn white oak and black metal brackets stands out against white subway tile. Connor Homes
Handsome Library Lights
Metal library lights above the kitchen sink complement the black-painted windows. $169; Restoration Hardware
Federal-Style Trim for the Study
The first-floor study is the only room of the house where the Harbs chose to keep the traditional, Federal-style raised-panel trim that is part of this particular Connor Homes design. The panels arrived from the factory precut to fit around the fireplace and the bookshelf cabinets.
Paint (walls): Benjamin Moore’s Black Pepper
Sofa and side table: Restoration Hardware
Rug: Landry & Arcari
Floor lamp: Serena & Lily
Hanging pendant light and sconces: Authentic Designs
Wood Armchair: McGuire
Drapes: Crate & Barrel
Vintage Details down to Fittings
Vintage-style chrome-and-ceramic fixtures in the first-floor powder room reinforce the vintage look. $1,115; Kohler
Glass Doorknobs for a Period Look
New glass doorknobs with oil-rubbed bronze rosettes echo the period theme. $112; Baldwin Hardware
Shades of Blue
On the second floor, the master bedroom includes touches of blue, from the navy bed linens and drapery panels to the old glass jugs made into nightstand lamps. A salmon-toned throw and the richly colored rug inject vibrant hues.
Rug: Landry & Arcari
Throw: Pine Cone Hill
Nightstands: Restoration Hardware
Bottle lamps: Kristina Crestin Design
Sheets and coverlet: Target
Duvet cover: Serena & Lily
The Harbs chose Carrara-marble countertops, white subway tile, and vintage-style accents such as the custom mirror frames and candleholders made from salvaged wood to bring the old-house feel into the bath.
Cabinetry: Connor Homes
Tile: Roma Tile
Mirror frames and candleholders: Old House Parts
Sconces: Restoration Hardware
Fixtures and fittings: Kohler