Renovation: Solving The 3-Dimensional Puzzle
This past weekend I spent time revisiting and remembering one of our favorite projects, the renovation of the Forster – Leach House an 1804 Federal Period home in Manchester, MA, whose design is attributed to well known Salem architect, Samuel McIntire.
Sally and I have been decluttering and cleaning the office because in the next few weeks we are downsizing and moving to Boston’s Metrowest area to live closer to our son’s family. Downsizing requires we purge years of accumulated drawings, files, notebooks and samples as we prepare to enter the virtual world of the 21st Century. As you can well imagine, it takes more time than we plan because we get distracted by a set of drawings, sketches, photographs, or a project notebook, etc. You can’t just toss it! You have to look, process and remember as you say good by.
In the midst of it all, this sketch caught my eye and took me down the Forster-Leach House rabbit hole for a while. At the time, this little noodle and doodle snapped the entire project into focus for m.
While not currently featured on our website, this renovation has an interesting story. (Although I’m thinking maybe it should be. You tell me.) Our client and current owner purchased the house in 2010. At the time, it had been partially renovated. In reality, it was in tough shape, taking almost two years to complete the full renovation, including both design and construction time.
As the project ramped up, we faced several unique/challenging pre-exisiting conditions. When the previous owner had undertaken his renovation, no written or photographic documentation was done of the existing conditions prior to demolition. Fireplaces, trim and crown molding had been removed and dismantled and tossed, un-labelled, into a jumbled heap in the garage.
The old wide plank floor had been ripped up and thrown away. We and our client were faced with the multiple challenge of field measuring the entire house and figuring out what went where, along with the usual design issues and challenges.
Undaunted, we moved forward. Our design mission was to preserve, restore and renovate the home in a manner that celebrated its heritage, while recognizing and accommodating today’s lifestyle and technology. The restoration draws from the home’s original details to create a seamless harmony between old and new. HABS photographs, found by the owner, as the researched the history of the house proved to be invaluable.
RENOVATION CHALLENGE #1: THE KITCHEN
One of our largest renovation challenges was the kitchen. Function was not a priority in the existing layout we inherited.
Clearly something has to be done.
The new kitchen layout accomplished three things.
- A functional open plan kitchen with efficient work triangle and work zones, defined by very selective wall placement.
- Gracious back door entry.
- Reconfigured and truly functional stair to the second floor. That funny little vertical rectangle in the middle of the before picture below is a stair to the second floor…
The balusters in the new stair mimic the balusters on the Gardner-Pingree House in Salem, another Samuel McIntire design.
RENOVATION CHALLENGE # 2: THE FIREPLACES
The four fireplace mantel locations were undocumented. We did, however have a few clues… A neighbor was able to tell us the most complete mantel went in the front parlor.
An old HABS photograph helped us locate the mantel in the dining room.
We never found any evidence of the old hearth room mantel. I drew several sketches and we we had a new mantel fabricated.
We were completely on our own on the second floor. Of the two remain mantels, we decided the more primitive carving on one mantel would go better with the carving of the wainscot in the guest bed room.
The more formal mantel was placed in the master bed room.
Of course, all the fireboxes were built the same standard size, with no thought given the to actual size of each mantel. Each fire box had to be modified… OY!!!
RENOVATION CHALLENGE #3: FITTING BATHROOMS IN TIGHT SPACES
Homes built in 1804 had outdoor plumbing. Finding space for bathrooms was our third biggest challenge.
During the renovation, we were able to tuck a new powder room discreetly under the new stair to the second floor.
We tucked a small Jack and Jill style bathroom between the guest bedroom and family room on the second floor. (My apologies for the non-professional snapshots…)
While the master bath tucked neatly behind the master bedroom, immediately adjacent to a walk in closet.
Imagine Samuel Forster’s wife, Nancy, looking out over Manchester Harbor from the clerestory windows in the attic, some 100 plus years ago, watching for her husband’s small trading sloop to appear in the harbor. I wonder what that view might have been like.
As I reflect, I am reminded we are all stewards of the homes in which live. The Forster-Leach House (and ours) has stood for over 100 years. Quietly providing shelter and comfort all who live within its walls. We come and we go. The house remains. The work of maintaining /preserving a home is never done.
As stewards the home in which we live, our job is to leave the home in better shape than when we moved in. Sally and I know the Forster Leach House is in good hands.
I’m proud to say, I think we’ve done our job during our tenure at the “WKD Ranch”.
If Sally and I can help you with any aspect of the design of your home, please don’t hesitate to contact us via the contact form on our website, here:
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