This (Not Really) Old House

It all started with an ad in the paper. When the couple decided to relocate to the southwestern part of New Hampshire to retire, they didn’t find much property on the market that fit their needs. So they decided to take matters into their own hands and put an ad in the local paper. They received 50 responses for available properties, many of which weren’t even listed, but whose owners had been toying with the idea of selling. They eventually found a dairy farm in Temple that had been in the seller’s family for almost 200 years. But when the patriarch of that family passed away, he stipulated in his will that it be sold.

At that point the farm was completely dilapidated,” the owner says. “We tried to save some of the old buildings, but we just weren’t successful.” After a year’s worth of cleaning up what was on the property, they had a “clean palette for creating a new house.”

The decision for what style of architecture they wanted to use was easy for the couple, since they had lived in an antique Federal home on the South Shore of Massachusetts. It was a shipbuilder’s home, and though they loved the style of the old house, “we wanted windows that opened and closed. We wanted detail but also the functionality that we all enjoy today,” she says. Not to mention they already had a house full of period furniture.

Later, they heard about an old brick house that was being taken down on the shores of Squam Lake. “We had seen and admired the house 10 years ago,” he says. “Someone had bought the land and required that the house be moved.” Like one giant recycling project, the couple bought the house, had it dismantled and were able to use all of the brick and much of the granite — 40,000 pieces of the house in all — for the new home.

The couple spent a good year planning and thinking about the new house. “Our goal was to make it look as much like an antique as we could,” she says. With help from the architect, Marcus Head, they researched other homes of the Federal period, such as the Gardner-Pingree House in Salem, Mass., and the architectural drawings of Asher Benjamin from the early 19th century. “Then we came back and pulled it all together,” she says. The couple lived in a 1940s Cape on the property for a year while building their new house. “That gave us the ability to be right on site as they builders put up the rooms,” she says. “It was easy to walk over and make sure we were looking at the right views, that it had the right feel.”

That “feel” is of an authentic Federal home that is brand new, not built several centuries ago. The couple hired Thomas Jayne, an interior designer from New York City they found while flipping through a magazine, to help them re-create the interior of the Federal home as accurately as possible. Jayne studied at Winterthur (H.F. duPont’s estate and learning center in Delaware modeled in the spirit of 18th- and19th-century European country houses), Historic Deerfield, and Sotheby’s, and used this expertise to combine antique and modern goods, while retaining the style of a period home.

It’s such a good replica that unless you have a trained eye, you might just be fooled. “A lot of people come in and say, ‘Oh, you live in an old home.’ More astute people — usually an architect — will see that the edges on the moldings are still crisp,” she says. “It just takes time to wear down like an old house.”

Still, with Jayne’s help, the couple went so far as to imagine what might have happened in this home, had part of it really been built in the 1700s and then a wealthy merchant wanting a summer home in the country moved in and upgraded in the 1800s. “We made it as though a someone had moved in and added on a formal addition in front of the older house,” she says. To relay that feeling, the back part of the house was made “older” than the front. Wrought-iron molding in the back rooms changes to brass in the front of the house — and even Victorian details in other parts of the dwelling. “This took place in New England quite often,” she says. “Houses evolve; they’re not static.
Things weren’t ever kept in pristine condition. That’s what I enjoy about an old house.”

As you enter the front door, a formal stairway with a climbing volute handrail leads to the upstairs. The formal parlor is to your right, decorated in the Regency period. To the left are the double parlors, used as a dining room and family gathering room. The kitchen is at the back, and the back staircase leads to the master bedroom and bathroom.

“The house is laid out comfortably for our lifestyle,” she says. “We use the back more often and spend most of our time back there. We can even close the front down if we don’t have company.”

Indeed, detail is what it’s all about at Seven Maples Farm (a name that is also made up, by the way: “There are 10 maples out front, but 10 maples didn’t have the same ring to it that seven maples did,” she says. “It’s really just a lack of creativity on our part”). Take the floorboards. “We wanted to do the front of the house in old chestnut,” he says. “It was a challenge in finding good old chestnut boards. I spent days poring through piles of old chestnut boards, selecting ones that we thought were good.”

“I kept saying, ‘It looks too rough!’” she adds. “Now that it’s down it looks like it’s been here for a while, and the dings in it make it look real.”

For all of the details and attention to the letter of the period, there was a limit to how far they wanted to go to reproduce an authentic 18th-century house. Here and there you will find “nods” to the 21st century.

The kitchen has a Sub-Zero refrigerator, plus two refrigerator drawers in the island, two dishwashers (one in the kitchen, as well as a Fisher & Paykel drawer model in the butler’s pantry). The couple decided to create a butler’s pantry not only for the storage it afforded but also to alleviate the “two cooks in one kitchen” dilemma. “He is a wine connoisseur and I always felt like he was in my way preparing drinks while I was cooking,” she says. “This is a place for him. It worked out very well, too; it’s nice to have a pantry to keep formal dishes in and he can pour wine when I’m cooking.”

The couple took care to correct past mistakes when laying out their new kitchen. “We had done a kitchen before in our antique house on the South Shore,” she says. “That was 20 years ago and there were lots of things I did wrong.” For this kitchen, she went in when the walls were just studs and mapped out where they would set up the island, refrigerator and other large objects. “I knew where every dish and flower would go so that everything fit,” she says. “The architect even measured the KitchenAid MixMaster to make sure it fit exactly in the drawers. We spent a lot of time on that, but it was all worth it.”

After so much scrutinizing, is there anything they’d change? “I can’t think of a thing,” she says. “I dreamed and lived so much of this house while we were building it, that by the time we moved in, even half asleep in the middle of the night I knew where everything was.” NH