When Michael Campopiano took his son to see the house he’d just bought, 9-year-old Giulian took one look at the ramshackle building and turned to his dad. “You can’t show this to Mommy,” he advised. “She will never live here.”
Shown: The new garage-and-master-suite addition mirrors the gabled form of the original Victorian-era house. When finished, the addition will display identical exterior details.
Weather-resistant barrier: VaproShield; Sheathing: Huber Engineered Woods; Exterior trim: Claymark Tru-Pine
Giulian’s worry was understandable. While the Queen Anne in the beachside Pier Neighborhood of Narragansett, Rhode Island, was an old-house lover’s delight with its stained-glass windows, embellished bargeboards, and medley of shingle styles, it was also in pitiful disrepair. Paint flaked from its sides; the front porch was rotted and sagging. Inside, linoleum curled up from the floors and lath showed through cracks in the plaster.
Shown: Owners Kassiane and Michael Campopiano outside their just-purchased house last winter. Though Michael is an experienced renovator, this is the couple’s first time rehabilitating a historical structure.
It was, in other words, a perfect project to launch This Old House’s 42nd television season.
“It’s a classic,” says TOH home builder Jeff Sweenor, referring to the Victorian-era exterior embellishments. Located in Narragansett’s historic district, the 1,700-square-foot Daniel A. Caswell house, as it’s known, was built between 1887 and 1890, as Narragansett was developing into a fashionable seaside resort. Michael and his wife, Kassiane, live in nearby Cranston, where both grew up spending summers on Narragansett’s beaches, and have long dreamed of living there.
Shown: TOH plumbing and heating expert Richard Trethewey, general contractor Tom Silva, and host Kevin O’Connor caught up with home builder Jeff Sweenor to check out the progress his crew has made on the job site since coronavirus restrictions were eased.
General contractor: Jeff Sweenor, Sweenor Builders
Over the winter, Jeff and his team worked up a renovation plan with Michael and Kassiane (who, despite their son’s dire prediction, was immediately on board) and began work in March. Almost immediately, the Covid-19 pandemic brought work to a standstill. It was May before Jeff’s crew, clad in protective gear and following new work-site guidelines, could get back on the job. They caught up quickly, gutting the interior, shoring up the framing, and inserting steel beams and posts to open up the first floor.
An existing sunporch was annexed to expand the living area, and an old brick chimney was removed, though the exterior portion will be rebuilt for historical accuracy. On the second floor, they rearranged walls to modify the three existing bedrooms and one bath, and eliminated a cramped attic to give each bedroom a vaulted ceiling. This freed up space to add lofts to two of the bedrooms as overflow sleeping space for extended family and guests.
Shown: The first floor of the house now holds two large open spaces thanks to a support structure created with five steel beams supported by steel posts. A former sunporch was annexed to the main living area. Sagging floors were shored up with new lumber.
Framing: Coastal Forest Products; Adhesives: Gorilla Glue
“A steel substructure we can disguise as beams enabled us to open up the first floor, turning six rooms into two.”—Jeff Sweenor, TOH home builder
Exterior walls stayed in place. “The basic structure was in remarkably good condition for its age,” says Jeff. “It was built well.” Still, the decrepit porch had to be torn down and rebuilt with new footings and piers. New electrical, plumbing, and a state-of-the-art heat-pump HVAC system will add 21st-century comfort.
Shown: Ornate bargeboards, a row of rosettes, and clapboards arranged in a “rising sun” pattern embellish the front gable of the original house. The new wing, protected by a bright-orange weather-resistant barrier, peeks out alongside.
Electrical panel, switches, and meters: Schneider Electric
What sold the Campopianos on the house, in addition to its elaborate exterior, was its potential for expansion. Their plan: a two-bay garage addition with an upstairs master suite, and a one-and-a-half-story connector that holds a half bath, a laundry, and a mudroom downstairs with a hallway above.
Now framed and sheathed, the addition will replicate the home’s style—including its expansive repertoire of trim—while adding about 800 square feet of living space. In back, the garage will have a kitchen, a powder room, and a cabana to serve the patio, pizza oven, and plunge pool planned for the backyard. “We wanted space outside because that’s where we’ll do most of our entertaining,” Kassiane says.
Shown: Two steel beams support the second floor above what will become the new, wide-open kitchen. The bay on the right will become a dining area with built-in bench seating.
But out front, the home’s distinctive shingle and trim patterns will take center stage. Jeff and his crew spent much of the summer scraping, sanding, repainting, and in some cases rebuilding the home’s exterior details—all while following mandated procedures for handling existing lead paint. The impressive array includes sawtooth, butted, and fishscale shingles; turned porch posts, rosettes, and medallions; and clapboards arranged in a “rising sun” pattern inside the front gable. “We were able to salvage probably ninety percent of it,” Jeff says. Stained-glass windows are being restored in the Sweenor Builders woodshop, with windows for the addition custom-made to match the original double-hungs.
Shown: Eliminating most of the attic will create vaulted ceilings in the second-floor bedrooms, and lofts in two of them. New walls throughout the second floor will reconfigure the three bedrooms and bath.
None of this comes cheap, as the new owners have learned. “It’s significantly more expensive to redo a historical house,” Michael admits. But that’s okay, he’s quick to add. “It brings a value that can’t be measured, because you’re saving a piece of history.”
Shown: The original roof structure was shored up with ridge supports. Original board sheathing was left in place but reinforced with engineered-wood panels on the exterior.
Shown left: The original house, built between 1887 and 1890, was adorned with fine details but struggling against time and the elements.
Shown right: A former outhouse attached to the kitchen will become a pantry—after a thorough remodeling.
The original porch will be removed and replaced with a new structure that includes as many original elements as possible. Shallow footings will be replaced and new brick piers built.
For its original builder, even the back of the house presented an opportunity for creative detailing, including a gable window topped with a curved eyebrow of sawtooth shingles.
New windows: Marvin
Despite the peeling paint, builder Jeff Sweenor says the house’s woodwork remains in remarkable shape. The crew was able to save about 90 percent of it.
A secondary cross gable is embellished with fishscale shingles, medallions, and leaded-glass windows.
A side view of the house before renovation shows the deterioration of the front porch and the sunporch that was incorporated into the living space.
Original stained-glass windows—some with as many as 24 decorative panes—will be restored in Sweenor’s shop.
A series of walls partitioned the first floor of the original house into six rooms. Removing those walls for an open plan required adding steel beams to the ceiling.
Second-floor oddities included an oversize bathroom that has seen better days. It will be completely reconfigured to give more space to the three bedrooms.