The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 29, 2005


This Old House puts a new face on an old house

Using a house model, architect Jeremiah Eck points out the two-story wall of windows that opens up the old barn to the backyard courtyard. Show host Kevin O'Connor looks on from the end of the kitchen counter. (photo by Ellen Huber)
The Greek Revival-style farmstead and barn on the corner of South and Concord Streets still stands. Obviously, it would have been an easier, faster, and less expensive job to tear down the old property and start anew. However, the property caught the eye of the This Old House team looking for a house to feature in the program's 25th anniversary season of 20 episodes.

Over the course of the past year, the This Old House team purchased, renovated and put the Carlisle property up for sale. This marked the fourth time in the show's history that it bought a house for renovation. With a "sale pending" sign, the Carlisle property may be sold within a year of when construction actually began. However, the new owners will not be able to move in until the Show House tours conclude on Sunday, May 29. Until then, the public can view 22 interior spaces with a mix of diverse design approaches and both contemporary and antique styles. The Show House gives public exposure to the work of various designers and enables This Old House Ventures to raise money for its scholarship program to benefit students choosing to learn building trades.

Tom Silva, general contractor for the show's projects, considers the property "one heck of a deal." He cited the "quality materials installed by quality craftsman" and mentioned the many "bells and whistles." Silva began working for WGBH designing the set for Victory Garden with his father, one of the Silva Brothers founders. The general contractor has been with the This Old House series for about 18 years.

How much is left of this old house at the Carlisle project? The rough outline of the original building remained (right to left): the two-story Greek Revival style-wing, a connecting ell section, and the barn. Architect Jeremiah Eck preserved the essential look while updating its feel with modern elements, particularly shown in the updating of the center section with its dramatic windows, the addition of a master bedroom suite, and a screened-in porch. Eck altered the size and interior layout of the components, but the ghost of the original building remains.

Expanding the Greek Revival section

The relaxing library, designed by Charles Spada, replaces what formerly represented the front entry room to the old property. (photo by Ellen Huber)
The oldest portion of the house, the Greek Revival-style portion dating back to 1849, maintained the highest percentage of original composition. Nonetheless, use of the lower floor — once the public area of the house with the dwelling's main entry has changed to meet the private needs of the future inhabitants. The space offers a library, library hall and powder room, and a laundry. The library is currently decorated by Charles Spada of Boston in relaxing gray tones with areas set aside for reading, contemplation and writing. The wall cases contain the designer's own books (on loan) and the room notably does not include a television. The hallway, with designer Christine Welsh of the Brookline Design Group taking inspiration from the town's wooded environment, features unusual jute wall-covering with a pattern of a dark brown leaves and branches. The laundry room, from THEREdesign Ltd., tries to make light work of cleaning clothes with humorous detail. The house structure is still intact although it has grown four feet in length to allow for a staircase.

"The old part of the foundation remains," said Silva. "Basically, four exterior walls, attic, floor, and roof still remain."

The top floor still has two bedrooms but now includes a bathroom. These bedrooms are commonly referred to as the children's rooms in the house, with one suited for a girl with a motif inspired by Eloise (book authored by Kay Thompson) and one for a teenage boy. Just prior to applying plaster, the construction team made the decision to jack up the center sections of the two bedrooms to give them more height. Silva revealed that the bedroom height was actually uneven: seven feet on one side, and seven feet and one inch on the other. They jacked it up to seven feet and a half feet throughout to give the bedrooms more height using the existing materials and existing beam structure.

"It made the space seem larger," said Silva.

A doorway at the bottom of the stairs separates the master suite area. It includes the master bedroom, master bath, master closet, and hallway. Entirely new construction, this area contains the most modern features and design of the house. Frank Roop, responsible for the design of the master bedroom, found his inspiration in the blues and greens of the Mediterranean, even down to the shell incorporated in the custom-designed cabinet and table. The block wall design creatively mirrors the square window motifs. The completely new master bathroom spares no expense — the master bath shower stall and its exterior wall are heated. The closet area (an entire room) designed by California Closets, allows ample and separate storage space for a couple, and then some. A central tabletop space allows for easy suitcase packing or ironing.

Repositioning the entrance

The home's new heart has totally replaced the former ell, originally only 13 feet deep, which connected the old house with the barn. It includes the main entryway, a kitchen, breakfast room, home office, and dining room. In fact, the master bathroom space, accessible through the bedrooms, is actually part of the central space.

Silva explained the decision to demolish the entire ell: "It was under-structured. It was rotted. The foundation was caving in. It was very shallow." In rebuilding the space, Silva removed two tiny bedrooms and a sitting room on a makeshift second floor that were accessible by a ladder. In removing the three rooms, Silva gained three rooms for the master suite addition at the back of the old house.

Mally Skok Design of Lincoln gave a traditional feel to the main entry hall while using contemporary products. Kathy Marshall, with a design firm in South Hamilton, created a kitchen using New England craftsmen and artisans. Whenever possible, she chooses natural products consistent with the local environment. When considering the large space allotted for the kitchen and the eating area, Marshall elected to create a home office at the front of the central space. Hilary Bovey of the Bovey/Steers Design Group designed the breakfast room. Bovey has a strong link to Carlisle. Her grandparents, Martin and Hope Bovey, used to live in Carlisle on West Street. Bovey explained the creative approach to the hexagonal space: "We see the breakfast room as a classic conservatory with a contemporary twist and a bit of fun." The windows look out on to the backyard garden, and the sheer drapes sport appliqués of leaves. Green and yellow woven vinyl wedges decorate the floor. There's a pine tavern table with Louis XVI-style chairs which are molded from clear polycarbonate. A large moss topiary dragonfly hangs above the table to complete the natural motif. "The dragonfly is a symbol of

Designer Alexa Hampton maximizes elegance in the formal dining room with red damask walls, a color favored in colonial times (photo by Ellen Huber)

good luck," said Bovey on why she selected this particular bug as the center of attention rather than a more conventional chandelier. "Also, it eats mosquitoes!"

The formal dining area leads off from the kitchen. Alexa Hampton, one of the on-screen personalities featured on the show, sought to create an elegant yet inviting room. The red damask-patterned fabric on the walls set off the area as special. Hampton calls herself a traditionalist, yet tries to "adapt to the needs of contemporary life."

Under the central section, the architectural plans called for Silva's crew to include a basement with space that future homeowners can use for workshop or storage areas. It houses a wine cellar designed by Wine Cellar Innovations. Three structural posts in the area proved a challenge, but storage racks hide the support columns. The capacity exceeds 1,500 bottles.

Housing people versus farm animals

In its past life, the barn sheltered farm animals, most recently chickens. Roughly, the footprint is 40' x 50'. In examining the structure, Silva loved the beams and sturdy wood walls, but he found the base and structural supports were questionable.

"We basically jacked up the barn almost 30 inches and dropped the rotted floor out of it," said Silva. "By doing that, we were able to level out the foundation." Silva's crew then put in an insulated floor system with 12-inch-thick foam panels. The barn then went back down on new concrete footings reinforced by steel. The barn ended up being 8 inches higher. Although the original barn door remains in the separate barn court entrance, Silva's team creatively extended it by adding a board across the base.

The large open space of the barn area includes the original beams intact down to the original nails for hanging tools. Local designer Kathleen Kennedy of Concord designed the barn entry and nearby powder room. A spectacular fireplace centers the area near space for seating and games. A media alcove lies to the left with the home's signature cabinet piece designed by Norm Abram. A living hall with a breathtaking wall of windows lies to the right of the fireplace with a mix of contemporary and antique furniture selected by Eric Cohler of New York City. Off the living area, one can step into a porch with automated screens and outdoor/indoor furniture decorated by Robin's Nest of Hingham.

At the front of the barn space, there's a private area suitable as a guest wing. There's a room on the ground floor. On the floor above there's a loft sitting area designed by Circle Furniture and a guest bedroom decorated by Norwalk Furniture of Ohio, and a guest bathroom. There's even more undecorated space on the floor above.

Beneath the barn, there's a large garage area. The roomy spaces allow for four average size cars or two SUVs. It features a heated floor and includes a workshop space.

New outweighs old

Now that the construction phase is complete, Silva looks back on the project. Despite the extras thrown in at no cost, he believes his budget came in within his goal of 10 percent. In renovation projects, Silva outlined the important items, "You want to spend more money on the insulation, the heating and the cooling, and the windows, because that is what will put money in your pocket forever."

The house now offers radiant-floor heat which requires a lower temperature of water compared to other forms of heating such as baseboard or hydraulic hot air. There's also the ability to section off individual parts of the structure to maximize heat savings. For example, the large barn area has four quadrants with separate controls.

Silva admits that radiant heat does cost a little more at the start, but its efficiency leads to savings later on. He said, "So you're heating at a lower temperature, you're saving energy, you're heating your feet, and you're fooling your brain in keeping your thermostat four to eight degrees cooler."

Silva was worried at the start about the project schedule. He believes the project easily could have taken four to six months longer than it did, but the hard work of his team and assistance from four interns from Minuteman enabled him to bring in the project on time. He described his own typical days at the project starting at 5:30 in the morning and ending at 8 at night.

"The original dimensions for this house were 3,300 square feet. We went from 33 to a little under 6,800, so it's a big difference," says Silva. By reworking components, the team was able to maximize the available property and meet all town requirements.

That old house is still there under the surface. There's just a lot more of it and a lot more to it in the new house.

2005 The Carlisle Mosquito