The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, October 19, 2007


An historic barn houses Carlisle Center's newest business

Carlisle has just a few businesses in its center, befitting a small town that has no intention of becoming a shopping mecca. A store, now Ferns, has been the only retail business for many decades, but in midsummer another retail operation opened just down Bedford Road. Knowlton House Ltd. Country Furniture is Carlisle's newest store, doing business at the corner of East Street and Bedford Road in Francene Faulkner's 200-year-old barn.

Ian Sampson, custom woodworker and proprietor of Knowlton House Ltd., showed the Mosquito around the 15 x 30-foot "showroom," which seems like a misnomer for the very-Carlisle-looking space, complete with a wood stove in the corner. Sampson built the space to his specifications at the rear of the barn that he rents from Faulkner. In 2003 the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), acting on the town's zoning bylaw that supports the preservation of distinctive structures in town, gave Faulkner a special permit to renovate her historic barn for use as professional office space. Last year Sampson received a special permit from the ZBA to operate a business in the Historic District.

Ian Sampson's furniture store is at the far end of the 200-year-old barn on the corner of East Street and Bedford Road. Sampson repaired and then renovated the part of the barn that became his showroom. (Photo by Mollie McPhee)

English-inspired country furniture

Sampson — tall, blonde, 43-years-old — is justifiably proud of the attractive pieces on display. Artfully arranged around the room are several hutches with different configurations suitable for kitchens, living rooms and family rooms; a large country kitchen table; bookcases and small wine racks. With a wave of his hand, he says, "This is English-inspired country furniture, based on what I've seen in my travels to England. I finally decided to build them myself, according to my own designs." He points out that his mother is British-born, which might explain the English influence in his works. Sampson builds his furniture in his workshop at his home on Fiske Street.

"Just picked up" woodworking

His mother, Pamela Sampson, a writer and illustrator of children's books, also lives in Carlisle. "Everyone in my family is mechanical and creative," he notes. "My father was an engineer and could design and build anything. My brother is a hand surgeon." With a smile, Sampson says woodworking is the cabinetry equivalent of surgery.

Sampson grew up in Concord and graduated from Concord-Carlisle High School. Instead of going to college, he worked at Anderson Photo, did aerial photography (he is a pilot), and taught photography at the Fenn School. About his woodworking talent he says, "I just picked it up. I needed a bookcase, and I just built it. People saw it and asked me to make something for them. My business gradually developed, and I became a custom woodworker. I've been doing it for 18 years, and I've gotten better."

A Carlisle location

Asked about choosing Carlisle as the location for his store, Sampson replies, "My wife saw the space for rent, and said, 'Why don't you open a store?' I had had it in the back of my mind." He continues, "I live here and clearly [Carlisle] isn't Newbury Street or even Main Street in Concord. You don't get a lot of walk-ins, but you get a lot of curiosity. Even if I were on Newbury Street or Main Street in Concord, I might get a lot of traffic, but it doesn't guarantee that it will convert to sales." Sampson began his business with the help of fellow resident Ruben King-Shaw. "He and I are close friends, and he's a silent partner," Sampson explains. "The response so far has been pretty good. We haven't been open that long."

Custom woodworking and retail

"There are two elements to this business," he points out. "There's my custom woodworking where you might say, 'I love this piece, but I want you to build a wall of bookshelves, or make a library for my house.' I'll do that too. This is more of a retail element; I'm trying to create a line of furniture that we will market widely and potentially open more stores."

English-inspired country furniture that Sampson designs and builds is attractively displayed in his showroom. A variety of hutches and bookcases line the walls and a large country kitchen table occupies the center. (Photo by Mollie McPhee)
Several rectangular pieces that are dwarfed by the hutches catch the eye. On closer inspection they turn out to be wine racks in pastel colors, each holding four bottles and featuring a drawer underneath the rack. They are based on a design Sampson saw in England that sell for £495. Sampson builds and sells them for considerably less and mentions that wine racks can be added to the hutches. "There's a modular element to the hutch designs, so we can add things. We want to make the country hutch not just something to look at, but make it useful for every day."

Sampson works with pine, and sometimes poplar wood. The pieces are painted and then waxed with fine steel wool, which "gives them a nice feel."

Keeping space fully stocked

While the showroom in the barn feels very comfortable, Sampson reveals that he will be bringing in more pieces to display. He quotes a store designer from Crate and Barrel who advised keeping the retail space completely stocked, almost overstocked. "If it's not," he cautioned, "it has a negative psychological effect on the customer."

Open house on Thursday

To introduce Carlisleans to his store, Sampson will host an open house on Thursday, October 25, from 7 to 10 p.m. Concord Provisions will provide a wine-tasting and hors d'oeuvres and Bruce Irving, a renovation consultant, will be there. Irving was for 17 years the producer of WGBH's This Old House and worked on the house at 730 Concord Street. Sampson too was involved in Carlisle's "This Old House" — he built the master bath.

The historic barn that was preserved and today houses a new business run by a talented local woodworker seems a Carlisle success story in the making.

Ian Sampson can be reached at 1-978-369-0496 or by e-mail at

2007 The Carlisle Mosquito