When it comes to home renovation, I am an unapologetic addict. My two boys have grown so accustomed to the sound of banging hammers in every home they’ve ever lived, that I wonder if I might be subconsciously turning them into the architect and carpenter I’ve always longed to be. To paraphrase Carl Jung, nothing so affects the child as the unlived life of the parent!
Of the many projects I’ve undertaken over the years, the restoration of our farmhouse in New York this year has given me so much joy. Built in the 1850’s in the Carpenter Gothic style, the house was originally intended as a home for farmhands who worked on an industrialist’s surrounding estate.
A previous owner had given us a handed-down photograph of the house in its original state. Hardly grand in its size or presence, it nonetheless had great personality with its high-pitched roofs edged in the beautiful vergeboard that characterizes the Carpenter Gothic style.
But somewhere along its history, the vergeboard and a great many other of its charming details had been stripped. New additions were attached but old curved top windows and moulding were removed. A two-sided fireplace was hidden behind the kitchen refrigerator. No doubt the house grew substantially in size over its 160 years … but its true character had faded.
With the help of a local architect, John Adams, who knew this style of home well, we set out to restore the details. Using the only photograph we had of the house and research on other Carpenter Gothic homes designed at the same time, John created a template for the vergeboard to be carved by hand and re-installed in the roof peaks.
The restoration of this single detail seems to have brought back the architectural integrity of the house. The mix-up of rooflines and crazy room additions that had been done over the years somehow now seem to make sense.
When the project was mostly complete, a neighbor who has lived next door for 20 years called me up to say that when she drives by the house now, it seems to be smiling at her.
I thought this was the nicest compliment anyone could have given our home and I have to agree with her. It seems to be happy again.