The New Old Farm House

Our intention from the first time we saw the Farm House has been to make it our home. Certainly we made sure before we bought it that it would be a sensible investment, but we have not for a moment considered ever selling it. We hope that the Spencer family abides in the place for at least as long as the Wilson family did.

When we learned about the way Victorians viewed their homes and how they lived in them, it struck us how similar their attitudes and lifestyle were to our own. This is undoubtedly why we so easily looked past the cracked plaster and sagging veranda, and saw the Farm House as it should be: vibrantly alive, humming with activity, wearing its age with pride and dignity. We have thus tried to approach the restoration from a Victorian viewpoint, formulating our plans in terms of restoring the Farm House's beauty of utility, of propriety, and of form.

This is not to say that we plan to restore the house exactly to its original condition. Our intention after all is to end up with a home, not a museum. When the Farm House was new, it was extremely Spartan even for its time; such a house nowadays would barely be considered fit to live in. We have higher standards of comfort and utility than the Victorians did, just as they had higher standards than did their forebears.

Even so, we were determined to keep visible changes in the main structure to a minimum. We have seen the damage that brutish, ill-conceived modernization can do to a fine old home's innate beauty, and we are loath to commit any such atrocities ourselves.

To get the ball rolling, then, we began by setting down those changes that we were compelled to make in the name of safety and structural integrity. At the top of this list is a new foundation, concrete right up to the mudsills, that matches the original in its external appearance. We will also have to replace the gravity-defying Chimneys of Damocles, as well as all the plaster. The house will get new plumbing and electrical systems as a matter of course.

With these essential matters taken care of, there are only a few areas in which the Farm House in its original condition fails the fitness test. The most obvious area is the kitchen. Its original condition has been lost to history, it is far too small, antiquated, and awkward to be useable in its present condition, and there is no graceful way to bring it up to snuff. Moreover, since the laundry room and bathroom must be demolished, we will need to do something to replace them.

Our solution is to demolish the kitchen as well, and build a new addition containing a new kitchen, bathroom and laundry room. This addition will be shed-roofed like the present kitchen, but it will be a few feet deeper and span the entire width of the house, less a half-foot on each side.

Click for larger imageThe addition will provide benefits beyond the increased usefulness of the new rooms. It will improve the traffic flow by restoring direct access to the rear through the kitchen and allowing easy access to the bathroom via a hallway between the kitchen and bedroom. It will also provide, through another entrance off the laundry room, a place to clean up from garden work before entering the main house. Finally, it will restore the house's beauty of form by eliminating what over the years has become a haphazard, unsightly appearance from the rear. The addition will not require any changes in the main structure, but we will put in a pass-through between the kitchen and dining room where a window, looking out on the laundry room, is now.

Another modern amenity which the Farm House lacks is built-in closet space. We will address this in several ways. The addition will provide space for a closet serving the first-floor bedroom. On the second floor, we have chosen one room to be the master bedroom, and will provide it with a good-sized closet by borrowing some space from the adjacent bedroom, which will become a dressing room with more closet space. In all the upstairs bedrooms, we will wall in the sloping-ceiling areas for closets and storage in different configurations depending upon the room's intended use, and three of the rooms will also get window seats. The space in front of the window in the fourth room is reserved for Lydia's sewing machine.

Aside from the above changes, we plan simply to restore the Farm House pretty much as it is. We'll clean it up, fix what needs fixing, paint it, and move in.

We'll need to do a few things outside the house, too. Before we do anything else, we'll have an arborist evaluate the condition of all the trees. This is especially important given the age and size of some of them. Imagine the destruction if one of those tall pines fell over! An arborist will be able to tell us what care the trees may need, and whether any must be removed for safety's sake. He will also be able to give us instructions on how to avoid undue disturbance of the trees' roots as we build; oaks, especially, are sensitive to root disturbance, which can quickly kill them.

We will have to build a garage. We plan to place it to the rear of the north side of the lot, well away from the house, with a gravel driveway leading back to it. Its exact location depends upon what the arborist tells us.

A tall picket fence in line with the front wall of the house will set the front yard off from the rear. A new concrete walkway will run from the avenue down the middle of the yard directly to the front steps, where it will intersect with another walkway running from the driveway across the front of the veranda to a pedestrian gate in the fence on the south side of the house. We will put down a wide expanse of lawn under the pines, with a bed of roses along the south edge of the yard.

We will not start to landscape the rest of the lot until the renovation is complete and we have moved in. For the most part, all we plan to do is plant some flowers, lay out a few paths, and place a few comfortable benches on which to sit and enjoy our little bit of Heaven.

Next: Forward Into The Past

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