February 27, 2012

The story of an 18thc. New England house in BEFORE and AFTER photos~PART TWO

Welcome to my second post chronicling my long journey restoring a dilapidated 1700's house, much of it alone, and with no funds to speak of.
In this installment, I present my 'main room'. This is the room with the cooking fireplace and 'beehive oven', as it is popularly known.
My little 230+ year old cape is a collection of rooms around a massive center chimney which serves 3 fireplaces and the 18thc. baking oven in the wall. This is the classic configuration of an early New England 'cape', as this style house is commonly called.

When I bought my house, all three of the original fireplaces and the bake oven were here, but they had had numerous bad 'patch jobs' over the decades, all with a variety of hair-raising styles of bricks of many eras. Some were shiny glazed, some pink, some bright red, some yellowish---all hideous. I knew when I moved in that the fireplaces were condemned and had to come down. You could crawl into one of the 3 fireboxes and look up and see huge holes in the masonry. I remember I did that the night I moved in, and I could see large patches of dark sky with stars.

I could not have known however, the magnitude of the job, or that an inebriated contractor would walk off early on, and leave me with a 4 foot square hole in my roof and a chimney taken only half way down to the upstairs floor, in November.
I had paid him some money. I could not afford to hire someone else---I would end up chipping out and hauling over 4000 old brick out of this house almost alone, so that new, beautiful and safe fireplaces could be built from scratch, replicating the originals.

I liken this job to the ant who ate the elephant----one bite at a time.

This is me signing papers making an offer on the house, July 1998, as realtors look on. (*Note: the dates on the BEFORE photos are incorrect).

This photo was taken by me the day I first went to look at the house. All furnishings are those of the previous owner. This was the fireplace wall. In this small photo you can't really see all the outlandish patch jobs to the bricks. The wooden fireplace wall is NOT the one original to the house. Those goofy panels were jerry-built by someone and each one was a different size! This picture does not adequately show how terrible it really was. All the old paneling in the room was badly and unevenly stained, and then slathered in nasty, shiny varnish.



You can see some of the nasty patch jobs in the old brickwork of the 'main room' fireplace.

The bake oven is fired up for baking. After many hours of keeping a ripping fire going, you sweep out the coals, swab down the oven with a wet rag on a stick, and "commence to baking"...

Glen built a beehive oven by hand, and exactly as it was done over 200 years ago. He built a proper shape with wet sand and laid many layers of brick over it. After a few days, we opened the door and shoveled out the sand into 5 gallon buckets, and there was a perfectly shaped oven.


You can see more of the horrible, later, blotchy stain and shiny varnish.  Note that all the trim in this room was painted a bilious orange. The former owners kept a chair in front of the closed door to the front entry because they were using it as a closet. (How silly!)
Oy....What can I say...
So sad...NO chimney...but one fine day a big truck and crane came and delivered my new fireplaces in the form of thousands of hand-made reproduction bricks, bags of mortar, etc. to my front yard.

NO MORE FIREPLACES--- Here you are looking at what USED to be the fireplace wall in my main room, and what once had been an apprx. 10 x 10 foot 'room' of solid masonry. To the left is the back of the fireplace opening in the dining room. Straight ahead you can see the back of the fireplace opening in my bedroom and the back of an original built in wall cupboard that is also in that room. You are looking at a sight not seen in over 200 years. 4000 old bricks had to be chipped out by hand, from the chimney all the way to the rock and dirt of the ground, and taken out of the house by hand in 5 gallon buckets. I did much of this myself. It then took me a couple months to load them into a friend's pickup truck and haul them to the dump to dispose of them one load at a time.
I was new to New England having come alone over 1000 miles to move here. My neighbor lady across the road came over with 4 children under the age of 11, (three of them triplet girls), and another wheelbarrow, and we all chipped away at those thousands of bricks.
(Several years later my neighbor who had come to the rescue with her kids to help me all those years ago told me that after seeing the disaster area that was my home, she had gone home and told her husband, "I feel so sorry for her. An army of church ladies couldn't get that house clean"! But I did, and alone, after doing every job.) 
Down in the old masonry, I found an over-200 year old, hand-whittled child's fishing pole. It now hangs over a door in the room. To hear the rest of the story see this previous post~
This old 18thc. fishing pole is another item that will be given to the new owners who buy our house.

None of the 3 hearths on the floor in front of the fireplaces were still the originals, so they were jack-hammered out with a neighbor's help. Here my fabulous mason contractor and friend, Glen, and his helper work to expertly reconstruct 3 period fireplaces and a working beehive oven. Because this was all going on in December and January, and all supplies were in the front yard being brought in all day long through the front door, it stayed open all day. I couldn't have the heat on, so I and friends who were helping me paint, scrape, etc., wore heavy sweaters, hats, and fingerless gloves all day.
Getting ready to pour a new foundation to support the massive center chimney...It is so neat to see these lath and old boards that had not seen the light of day in over 200 years.
 I wrote a little story of how I came to be here, and that I was undertaking the restoration of the sad old house alone, and rebuilding my life shattered by a tragedy. I added a photo of me and my little dog, Phoebe, dated it, and sealed it into a plastic ziploc bag. My mason Glen later bricked it up deep in the center of the new masonry; a time capsule that surely will never see the light of day until I am long gone and this house crumbles...And now, just a few 'AFTER' shots of this same room...The fireplace is warm and comforting, and I have cooked many a meal in the period bake oven.  
(*Ignore the dates on the BEFORE photos. The camera was not set properly. All of this was taking place in Dec. 98-Jan. 99)


Adam made the bake oven door for me from ancient wood as a Valentine's Day present one year...I did the faux 'burn marks/smoke' painting on the fireplace surround to 'age' it. 


There is one more 'BEFORE' photo I would like to share with you. This is a picture of me taken in Dec. of my first Christmas in my home, only 3 months after I moved in.  I was a widow of tragic circumstances. I was 47 years old.  I had no husband and no money. I moved here alone, with only my little dog, Phoebe,  for company on what I always told her was "the big adventure of our lives"...

December 1998~My first Christmas in my new old home.

***TO SEE MORE, INCLUDING THE LATEST UPDATED 'AFTER' photos of our home, please visit our website TOUR page~


February 23, 2012

Sally and the 'raspberry coat'~

Adam's c. 1740 style coat with a romantic story to tell~
Today I have a few tears in my eyes. These are not from sadness, but more the "awwwww...." kind of tears brought forth from the mists of a fond and poignant memory---The kind of memory you cherish every day of your life.
Before I can tell you the little story of Sally and the raspberry coat, you should read my post about Adam's and my courtship first, if you have not already---it's important to the tale...

Recently Adam put his old, c. 1740 style raspberry linen coat up on our website for sale. This was a coat from his early days in the reenacting hobby, long before he met me. It had seen many a good time at several year's worth of French and Indian War events at places like Ft. Ticonderoga, Ft. Frederick, and many more...These were days of camaraderie and hilarity with 'the guys'. I know that Adam treasures the memory of each and every one. The coat has seen it's share of mud, and black powder, and maybe a little spilled food around the campfire.

Enter Sally---a lovely woman. She is a fellow antique dealer and valued friend of mine. She purchased another old period style coat of Adam's several years ago as a bit of '18th century atmosphere' for her beautiful, antique-filled home. She has always loved it, and had mentioned to me that she would like another.
Adam had decided to sell the old raspberry coat since he is in need one for the 1760's period more. We put it up on the website for sale, and immediately emailed Sally photos of it, telling our sweet friend that she could have first 'dibs', if she wanted it. She did.

She promptly purchased the coat, and sent me this email this morning~

"You have made my heart sing!  I am so excited and honored to own my purchases from you and Adam. Thank him for allowing me first refusal!  I can see it hanging next to the stool.  Mary, from the bottom of my heart thank you both!  Check will be in the mail this evening.  Many blessings and a big hug to you!  Sally"

Now, here is the rest of the tale...and this is for Sally.

On a cold January morning well over 6 years ago now, Adam rang my doorbell. I did not know him well at all, as you will learn from reading my 'courtship' post.  I was gob-smacked to open the door and see this nice man I knew only briefly from his coming to my annual business Christmas Open House, standing before me with an armload of grocery store flowers--(the only place he could find some on a Sunday morning).
I could see he was trembling slightly. He spoke before I could utter a word, stammering a bit with nervousness;
He proffered the bouquet and said "I want to court you in 18thc. style, and I don't care how long it takes...will you?" 

He was dressed that morning in this raspberry coat with matching breeches and his best cravat, a black cocked hat set jauntily at an angle on his head. 
He looked positively dashing---better than any cover on one of those romance novels, to me. I will never as long as I live forget that day...or the raspberry coat with the best story to tell, ever. My husband is a gifted artist and former newspaper cartoonist, among other things.
Early in our marriage he drew a colored, caricature-style picture of himself dressed in this coat with flowers in his hand and hearts where his eyes are. He gave it to me one day. I taped it to the window of my van. It is still there. It is faded from years of sun, but still the most wonderful picture---the picture of how it all began...I won't take it down until the old van bites the dust.

So Sally, my friend, give this coat a warm and special place in your lovely home. I can't think of a nicer place for it to be. Look at it fondly through the years, and think of this story. Pass it on with the coat, if ever you part with it---I have the picture of that moment in time forever in my heart.

Oh, and as you all know now, I did say 'yes!'...
...and the rest, my friends, is indeed history~

February 22, 2012

Spring fever, 18thc. shoes, cooking, and S'mores Pie~

When I woke up and went out to the kitchen early on Valentine's day morning, this is the sight that greeted me! My darling Adam had left me 2 flowers purchased at the school---(the junior class was selling them to raise money)---and a heart of candy hearts, the center one reading 'SWEET PEA'~

Never fear loyal readers. PART 2 of my series of posts on the BEFORE and AFTER photos of my 18thc. house is coming later this week. I hope you'll be amazed at even more hair-raising BEFORE shots, and then the transformations to my own little bit of 17thc. heaven.

In the meantime, we got a dusting of snow last night---perhaps an inch or 2, but it's bright and sunny now, and the sap is running. I am listening to my 'Songbirds of Spring cd'.  I have spring fever terribly. Of course that normally expresses itself in a frenzy of rearranging my antiques in the rooms of my home. Recently we did just that, switching out things and adding some newfound treasure here and there. Some 'old friends' found new homes and some other long-hoped for items fell serendipitously into our laps. After my series here is finished, you will be able to visit our website and take an updated tour of our entire house, to accompanying period musick late this spring.

I have also been motivated to cook, trying all new things, with great success I might add, and new favorites now added to the culinary repertoire. We love to regularly bake the Perdue Seasoned Roasting Chicken in a Bag, which I have praised to the heavens in past posts. The leftovers are as juicy and delicious as can be, and in the past few weeks we have made one of the most favorite of new recipes several times---a 'healthified' chicken pot pie, using them.
This whips up in just minutes, is far less fat and calories than regular pot pies, but you'd never know it---it is creamy, decadent, and absolutely delicious, surpassing most pot pies I have ever eaten.
The other night we made a wild mushroom 'pizza' on a 'crust' of soft, creamy polenta. It was a divine combination of savory mushrooms, shallots, smoked gruyere, and thyme on polenta that had some fresh grated parmesan  melted into it...
The best new recipe of all is a spinach and artichoke pasta casserole.  It is a 'healthy' recipe, and was creamy and company worthy, and by far the best version of a macaroni-and-cheese we have ever had, bar none.
It was like eating the pasta version of the best spinach dip in the world---A dreamy concoction of, among other things, whole wheat rotini, fresh garlic, lowfat sour cream and cream cheese, chopped spinach, artichoke hearts,  two kinds of cheese, and a hint of lemon. It was simple, and we made it together and baked it the next day, finishing it with a quick trip under the broiler, browning the cheese gracing the top... We can't wait to make it again.

I have a couple more new things I am making this week, including a 'Bar B Que-d' beef shepherds pie.
Adam will be in heaven over that one. Yesterday I made him a 'S'mores Pie'---OH MY GOODNESS! After having tried several recipes online for this kind of pie, and being repeatedly disappointed, I came up with my own creation, and it was spectacular!
We'll make it soon again when friends come over for dinner. I had a small piece, and it sure made my day. Hmmm...perhaps I will include my recipe in a cookbook I plan to write and offer for sale on our website and my blog.

I took a picture of my finished product~

PART 2 of my series 'BEFORE and AFTER photos of my early New England House' is coming soon~

February 18, 2012

'BEFORE' and 'AFTER'~my old New England house~PART ONE

Today I begin a series of posts that have been in my mind for quite awhile. (*There is a link to PART 2 at the end of this post). I live in a house that was built in the 1700's in a quiet hamlet in New Hampshire. I will not go into the exciting adventure of my coming here alone from the midwest and buying the shabby, run-down house 15 years ago, for that tale is told in past posts here on this blog, as most of you loyal friends know.
 ---And there are a few more---you'll just have to grab a cup of tea someday when you have some time, and read all my old posts if you are interested~

For lo these many years I have worked ceaselessly and with utmost affection and dedication on restoring this venerable old house and bringing it back to life. I say, not without a certain amount of pride, that the lion's share of this was done over years when I was broke and alone---no husband or partner to help me, and no pot of gold or hidden treasure to help facilitate the restoration. My efforts have been rewarded with recognition and kudos from literally tens of thousands, my little brown house having been featured in several books and national magazines. But by far, the best part of it all was the satisfaction and feeling of accomplishment I felt in my own heart when I looked around, feet up, sitting at 'my own snug fireside' in my ancient warm, shining, and pretty house, smiling and thinking of how all those long years of endless work and trouble were so worth it...So, the purpose of this series of posts is not to re-hash for you how I came to be here, but to show you what I faced when I drove those 1000 miles years ago, embarking alone on "the big adventure of my life"~ 
Over the next few days and weeks, I'll share with you one DIY-er's remarkable journey, through BEFORE and AFTER photos of my home...I hope you will be shocked and amazed, and a little proud of me too.
So without further ado, PART ONE~  
(This is the very first time I have ever published BEFORE pictures of my house). 

"I have made a connection with the flow of time..."~
So begins a quote I wrote on the wall in the entry, and which is still there. (You can read the rest here on my blog in a past post).When I bought it, the house was painted a lackluster cocoa with hideous RED trim. NO wall or garden in front, and later NOT original, nasty 'sidelight' windows flanked the doors. The door was a cheap, thrown-together batten door.  The phony, "colonial" driveway lightpost had to go!
Ugly '60's outdoor lighting, and none of the pretty gardens I later put in...(And the back was even worse.) I have scraped and painted, repaired old windows, brought in a dumptruck of dirt to fill in at the front of the house along the original huge granite block foundation, and planted historically correct perennials there over many years. I built the stone wall right out in front of the house with rocks I hauled alone from my own property. 
The one in front by the road Adam and I built. (Thankfully the other stone walls I have were old, and have been here for ages). I can't even begin to chronicle the work I did on the exterior alone from replacing rotten clapboards to repairing windows, trim...everything...

BEFORE~(Just after I moved in)




Porch after

When you entered from the porch entrance, as every one does, this was the first room you walked into. Yikes! The blue nearly knocked my socks off the first day I saw this house. (All furnishings were those of the previous owner; these picture were taken the first day I went to see the house.) They asked me if I would like to buy some of their furniture...uh, no thank you... I don't know what this old room was being used for---some sort of sunroom or breezeway???  The walls are old shiplapped boards, but needed some work, as well as new paint.  The crummy woodstove was vented with the OIL furnace, (uh oh, boom!---better not use that until there was a separate connection and flue...) The bookshelves someone added later were pure 1950's 'ugh' with the scalloped trim. And then there was the horrible sheetrock closet in this room under the attic stairs, with it's bare bulb hanging down...I had my work cut out for me, and this was just ONE ROOM.

Holy freaking cow...and it only got much worse from here~




This "what the heck...???" room is now our period taproom, complete with a 1700's cage bar, and sometimes called an 'ordinary' in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is now well-heated with a most lovely, efficient, and  cozy woodstove. Enjoy the difference~

There was a nasty, under-the-attic-stairs closet in that "blue room". Now, it is a most wonderful and charming 'buttery'.
I took the door off the closet and created a primitive buttery years ago without spending any money whatsoever, using all 18thc. materials I salvaged, including all the c. 1750 boards used to panel the room. I even put in the diamond paned window that I found in Ipswich Mass. I spent only $16., and that was for the iron rosehead nails. The buttery is in the now-taproom. Hard to believe that it was once an ugly sheetrock closet with a dangling bare bulb.



***SEE ALWAYS-UPDATED photos of our home are always on our website TOUR page~

These are pictures of my kitchen the way it looked when I bought the house. Some of these photos were taken the day I went to first look at the house.  What can I say? They will surely curl your hair. It has old board walls that were about all I left; the rest was a 'gut job' I did myself. The countertops and floor were  slanted, and the cabinets so out of whack the doors would not stay closed unless latched. There was no dishwasher until I put one in. It was truly hideous from top to bottom~

I tore out the cabinets and 3 different eras of floors, and 2 subfloors. I spent one whole day on my knees just shimming up the floor before putting down a new subfloor. Later, we put down a wide board wood floor over that. There were no baseboards or window trim in the kitchen when I came. I tore out everything except the old wood board walls, and started from scratch...
Amazingly, the tiny kitchen looks much bigger now than it did then when it was white...I am a gourmet cook, and LOVE my little kitchen. It is very efficient, and I can easily turn out wonderful meals for us and our guests. 





In future posts I'll be showing you the BEFORE and AFTER of the rest of the house, and just when you probably thought the BEFORE couldn't get any worse, get ready, they do...See more 'before' and the amazing 'after'~


***Take an always-updated HOUSE TOUR HERE~