Friday, September 17, 2004
This Old House: where's the entrance?
The film crew of This Old House was back onsite at 730 Concord Street in early September. A lot of work has taken place at the site. From the road, you may have a tough time figuring out where the front entrance will end up. Will the front door still be in its original location in the oldest remaining, the Greek Revival façade dating back to 1849? Or will it be near the modern day entrance — at the garages that open up on to South Street?
"Actually, when we got here, even the former owners never used the old entrance," says Bruce Irvin, executive producer of the This Old House project. "They used an entrance in the ell." The reconstructed house will also have an ell entrance. However, it will be located slightly left of the original so not to impede the window views of a new small office area overlooking the street. Nonetheless, the original door of the oldest part of the house will remain.
"You can't get rid of that doorway piece because it's absolutely crucial to the Greek Revival façade," explained Irvin. "Then you have the problem of how do you leave it but make sure nobody comes to it? We're going to do that basically through two schemes: one, the logic of the building. You're going to be pulling up to the barn so right away this front door will seem too far away. Secondly, we're not going to have any walkway up to it. It's merely a memory of what the building was long ago."
While the front entrance and a short drive will open up to Concord, the design will reduce the front parking to a single space. For that reason, Irvin believes the new residents of the house will more typically use the South street garage entrance. Landscaping will clarify the location of the front entrance for visitors, according to landscape architect Stephanie Hubbard from Halverson Design of Boston.
"Landscaping will help articulate how people come to the site and their arrival sequence," said Hubbard. Don't expect manicured and excessive floral decoration, however.
"This is beautiful, rural Carlisle so it's important to respect that character," said Hubbard who grew up in nearby Concord. "It's important not to put in things that are not appropriate and not in keeping with the neighborhood."
To create a buffer in the front from the busy road, Hubbard plans a low, country-style stone wall. She will use plant materials and shrubs consistent with the historical era of the house, including flowering shrubs such as spireas and lilacs. To enhance visual interest, Hubbard plans a small fountain. In preserving the agricultural nature of a farmstead, the fountain will consist of a small trough.
Landscape and septic designs intersect
Plumbing and heating expert Richard Tretheway agreed to accommodate the tree by slightly adjusting the digging area. "Then, of course, we find ledge," said Tretheway, citing an issue familiar to many town homeowners when relocating portions of a septic system. "We had to come in with machines and do a thing called 'hydrofrac.' You drill down into the ledge and with high pressure water and air you fracture the rock and dig it away. It was not an easy job to get this hole in."
To minimize septic difficulties in the future, the team decided to install the best tank available, a monolithic tank. "Instead of having concrete walls cemented together, this tank was poured as one piece so there's no chance of it leaking or leaching in the wrong place," said Tretheway. The cost of the tank may be slightly more than a conventional tank, but he believes it's worth it. Such a tank costs about $1,800, but the charges for engineering and digging a replacement tank are considerable. "Whenever I'm thinking about a septic system, it's going to be at least a $20,000 hit. And then Murphy's Law takes it to 30 or 40 [thousand dollars] if you have issues."
The back yard landscape will preserve the feeling of the farmstead. Aside from the existing trees, the yard will have fescues, a heat-tolerant grass. Once established, fescues require minimal watering and mowing. However, Hubbard noted establishing a fescue lawn is not low-maintenance in the beginning. Watering and regular removal of excessive seedlings must occur on a regular basis.
With the addition of the fountain, new plantings around the house, and the fescue lawn in back, Hubbard recognizes access to water will be essential. Tretheway already has plans in place for outside plumbing on every side of the house. Apparently, it's more usual than not for the septic and landscaping plans to coordinate easily.
Architect has the last word
Jeremiah Eck, architect on the project, believes the idiosyncrasies of an older house add to the interest to the renovated house. For example, there's a lot of variety of room heights. The old and the barn are anchors to the building, but the central entrance in the ell will clearly emerge as the main entrance.
"Contrary to a lot of houses that are built these days with these gigantic entrances that no one uses, we are trying to ensure that people use this entrance," says Eck. "Even though it is somewhat informal and not a big splash, I think it will be apparent that this is the main entrance."
In any event, it will be the entrance with the doorbell and that's perhaps the strongest visual cue of all.
© 2004 The