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New Homeowners Finally See Potential in This 200-Year-Old Farmhouse

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This Federal-style house in western Connecticut sat on the market for years with no takers. “I looked at it with other prospective buyers,” says architect Rafe Churchill, “but they just didn’t see the potential. It was pretty rough throughout, and the basement pretty much scared everyone away.” But eventually the nearly 200-year-old home found its new owners, and Churchill began the historically considerate renovation by treading softly.

Theo Coulombe, original photo on Houzz

“After” photos by Theo Coulombe

Houzz at a Glance

Location: Sharon, Connecticut

Size: 3,800 square feet (353 square meters) on 50 acres; four bedrooms, three full bathrooms and two half-baths

Designer: Rafe Churchill (architecture)

When Churchill and the homeowners met early on to discuss the project, they initially considered building a significant addition. But ultimately they scrapped that idea and stuck with the original footprint.

With about half of the structure needing to be gutted, Churchill says his approach was to maintain the home’s architectural integrity. The front facade probably looks much as it did in 1820, when the house was built.


Related: See Another 1820s Home Restoration


After this photo was taken, the homeowner painted the front door bright green.

Besides an overhaul of the plumbing, electrical and heating systems, the renovation prioritized, when possible, repairs made with traditional materials. A new roof, a partial chimney, beefed-up floor joists, and repairs to the wood clapboard siding and many of the existing windows stabilized the structure and exterior envelope. Windows that were too far gone to be refurbished were replaced with new Marvin windows. All were topped off with new triple-track storm windows.

The rich blue library was created from what had been the dining room. Although they could pass for original doors, new pocket doors were added for access from the front hall. Custom-milled molding matches existing trim elsewhere in the room.


Related: Is Crown Molding Right for Your House?


THEO COULOMBE, ORIGINAL PHOTO ON HOUZZ

Like the pocket doors, new custom built-in bookcases are modeled after existing details.

Natural light highlights the details and plank width of the original wood floors, which were saved and refurbished in the library, dining room, front hall and some bedrooms. 

Interior designer Heide Hendricks found the vintage orange sofa, which stands out pleasantly against the blue. Hendricks also designed the steel-frame ottoman and the drapery.

THEO COULOMBE, ORIGINAL PHOTO ON HOUZZ

To the right of the entry hall, the dining room takes its shape from a former parlor. While the fireplace box was existing, Churchill designed a new soapstone surround and mantel. The trim throughout is painted a rich purple-brown.

The homeowner-artist created the fascinating wallpaper. Nodding to the home’s history, it is made from a scan of the town’s handwritten 1820 U.S. Census. The scans were then printed on a heavy paper using a high-end printer and adhered to the wall.

THEO COULOMBE, ORIGINAL PHOTO ON HOUZZ

The bright living room features midcentury modern furniture that the homeowners previously owned. New wood floors made of southern yellow pine here and in the kitchen were stained dark to integrate with the older floors.

The fireplace is original to the house and shows off the homeowners’ assemblage of antique candlesticks. Two sconces depicting small hands extending from the wall provide an understated bit of humor.

The kitchen, in the rear of the house, maintained its previous location but was slightly reconfigured.

A large pantry and staircase previously cut off the kitchen from the rest of the house. Churchill removed it to maximize cabinet and counter space and to provide better flow with the living room. Raising the kitchen’s extremely low ceiling also helped open up the space.

Theo Coulombe, original photo on Houzz

Modern touches are sprinkled throughout the historic home. Churchill says he selected the LED chandelier over the kitchen table because “we like a mix of contemporary and traditional, and liked how we can see through it to the view.”

The dining table is a custom piece by furniture designer Seth Churchill, the architect’s brother. The trio of windows overlooks the backyard.

Upstairs in the main part of the house, the original wood flooring continues in the hallway and bedrooms. Walls and trim are painted the same white as the living room.

Churchill says all the doors had to be refitted and their hardware repaired so that they would function properly. Most of the components, including the trim, were existing, but the architect had to add some to match what was already there. 

Theo Coulombe, original photo on Houzz

This guest bedroom is in the addition at the rear of the house, above the kitchen. And like the kitchen, it has a low ceiling compared with the rooms in the main part of the house. The structural wood beam, shown on the left, is original.

The guest room furnishings already belonged to the homeowners. However, Hendricks, who helped select some of the furnishings elsewhere and design the window treatments, resized these drapery panels from the homeowner’s former residence.

Wood planks in the guest bedroom were used to repair the wood plank flooring in the master bedroom, so the new pine flooring installed here was painted. “We love a painted floor in an old house,” Churchill says. “Especially on the second floor.”

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