During the Winter of ’96, as many winters past, the house sat alongside a well traveled road; abandoned and dilapidated. It had been vacant for a dozen years or more and was awaiting demolition. In the meantime wildlife made their nests in the vacant rooms, walls, ceiling and attic; enjoying a cozy, undisturbed environment.
On a very cold February day, we stepped through an unlocked door and our heads and hearts with filled with dreams of what could be. There was never a moment of hesitation that perhaps it wouldn’t or couldn’t be. It seemed those days were fueled entirely by magic as the labor of love began – our lifestyle at country house and garden.
The original construction (upright on the left) was built in the early 1870’s, followed by the wing (center) pre-1878. It is a traditional American farmhouse with add-ons, as was often the case with farmhouses. We added the “upright” addition on the right in 1996-97. The design of the addition is in keeping with the architecture of the original structure. Wood lap siding and over-sized trim, at the roof line, was milled to the exact specifications of the original construction. Throughout the restoration and building process the focus was on salvaging every possible piece of the original interior and exterior. When construction of the addition called for removal of windows to create interior, passage door, those windows were reused in the addition. All original wood lap siding, windows and glass were restored. The original, wide plank flooring was uncovered from beneath many layers of wood and linoleum flooring.
Prior to purchase, a structural engineer was hired to evaluate the building and determine the potential for restoration, which was time and money well spent and highly advisable. Valuable information was gained in regards to the condition and type of framing (balloon), load bearing walls, points at which to fortify the foundation to avoid deterioration of the field stone, as well as the potential of the structure, in regards to restoration and enlarging the footprint with the addition. As poor as the condition of the house appeared, the structure received a remarkably good assessment.
View from the library door into the front porch, then and now.
A residential home inspector was also hired prior to purchase to assess other aspects of the house, and estimate the cost of the restoring the basics on the existing structure. That report was remarkable in it’s own special way, too. The complete report (above) had the honor of being the lengthiest (and worst) home inspection report that our inspector had ever written. Diamond in the rough!
First on the list:
√ “tear off front porch and rebuild entire porch”
The front porch was rebuilt in typical farmhouse style; one step up onto the low wide-plank porch floor, and open-air with square columns. While the style was definitely preferred, we chose to enclose it with glass windows several years ago for a variety of practical reasons. One reason in particular, during the cold Michigan winters this south facing porch will easily reach 80 – 90 on a partly-sunny day. The adjoining rooms benefit from the warmth.
These three original windows on the east side of the house (first floor with shutters and second floor) were removed to create passage doors into the addition. They were reinstalled into the south facing wall of the addition, keeping all original windows on the street-facing side of the house.
The previously enclosed airlock at the back entry, above, was a ramshackle construction of odd storm windows. It was removed. The upright addition now completely wraps around the east and north sides of the house. The location of the “airlock” entry in the photo above, is where the washer and dryer are now installed, within the addition.
This room opens into the kitchen, which somewhat explains the watermelon on the dryer.
Looking back, at the back …
The entire roof on the building behind the house (to the right) had completely collapsed onto the floor leaving heaps of debris that appeared to be charred, possibly from a wood burning stove found inside. The exterior walls, constructed of very substantial framing, remained intact. The structural engineer determined it to be suitable for restoration.
The remnants of the damaged roof were detached from the interior walls and the debris was removed from the floor. A new roof was framed and constructed. The entire building was then completely renovated. The large old doors had rotted and broken and could not be reused. They were replaced with windows that were recycled from a local, historic home undergoing restoration.
During the many years of vacancy the library and dining room ceilings were very popular with wildlife. Having a dozen Black Walnut trees on the property resulted in an incredible amount of walnuts being stored in these two wildlife “homes”. As the damaged, plaster ceilings were being removed walnuts were actually raining down. An unimaginable amount of walnuts were removed from the back door (above) with snow shovels! That was the first phase of demolition, and a classic should we laugh or cry moment!
We contracted the installation of the well, septic system tanks and field, roof tear-off and re-shingle, complete electrical upgrade, 90% of the plumbing, and the framing and exterior construction of the addition. The remaining restoration was D.I.Y. over the last 20 + years.
Lath and plaster walls and ceilings are still intact, imperfections and all. Only two ceilings, the library and dining room, are new drywall. In the dining room ceiling the installation of plumbing and a cast iron tub on the second floor had compromised the ceiling joists to the point of being unsafe. New joists were installed along side the original cut and sagging joists to provide the strength needed to raise and secure the joists back into place to restore a level floor above and lift the sagging ceiling below. It was amazing that the heavy cast iron tub, when filled with the additional weight of water and a bather, hadn’t fallen into the dining room.
Reconditioning floors boards, patching plaster, refurbishing original sash windows, replacing bathroom fixtures, installing lighting, sanding, filling and staining wood took place, after cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning. Caulking and painting (an unbelievable number of gallons of interior and exterior paint), along with constructing interior and exterior projects: sewing drapery and tablecloths, reupholstering furniture, planting gardens and the many little things that make a house a home, has made for a very busy 2o years. With each stack of lumber, gallon of paint, shrub planted, and project completed; enthusiasm, enjoyment and gratitude continues to be the theme.
Immense joy is found in backyard wildlife sightings, as well as projects that range from construction to the purely creative. An appreciation for domesticity, gardening, entertaining, and spending time with grown children and grandchildren … along with the exploration of whatever strikes the fancy, is the lifestyle of “Country House & Garden”.
There is no “end” to our story, as is the case with older homes (and homes in general), they’re the gift that keeps on giving! We look forward to continued sharing of the before and after, along with the present. Creating a lifestyle is what we all have in common, so please, join in and share your pleasantries, inspiration and aspirations, as we celebrate life one memorable and meaningful day at a time with a goal of thoroughly enjoying the process!
Living in the moment,