We repaired the house’s anchoring center chimney and brought it up to code (ceramic-lined with new smoke shelves and dampers). From this central flue we now enjoy the former cooking fireplace in the north parlor (including its restored beehive oven), a small fireplace in the south parlor (with fieldstones for the back wall), and a modern thimble in the west parlor for our pot-bellied c. 1907 Herald base heater. Although the house has a modern heating system, we heat primarily with this stove, an amazing marvel of engineering for its time, and still an efficient cast iron and nickel beauty.
We replaced the 1950’s asphalt roof with cedar, replaced the original skylight on the north face of the roof, and added two new skylights on the south face to afford views of the back pastures and permit sunlight and airflow into the garret.
We restored as many of the original wooden windows as possible, since old-growth lumber is denser and stronger than modern (fast-growing) wood and less resistant to rot and decay. We add old-fashioned wooden storm windows for the cold months and the house is comfortably snug but still breathes.
The flooring on the main level was pulled up to allow inspection and repair of the original beams and sills. While everything was open, we dug a proper crawl space (most of the house was built essentially on the ground), installed a vapor barrier, and took the opportunity to hide modern HVAC ductwork for the first floor under the flooring. We then installed wide pine with hand-hewn nails. Fortunately, the original 2nd floor flooring was salvageable. After repairing, sanding, and oiling (plus yards of oakum to stuff the gaps between floorboards) its worm-holed honey patina brings us back to the 1700’s.
Back of house, pre-restoration.
A unique feature of the 2nd story of the house is the garret (the habitable attic with steeply sloped ceilings). It features exposed roof beams and collar ties and the white-washed exposed chimney which rises up through the center of house.
One of the most tedious projects was pulling down the first floor 1950’s ceiling (plaster on lathe), because along with it came dozens of old mouse nests. What we found was stunning – the original ceiling beams and joists in all their whitewashed and smoke-charred glory. Since Norman is tall we decided to keep that extra headroom and began the never-ending task of steaming and stripping. The work was worthwhile, though, because most visitors agree it’s a jaw-dropping sight when you enter the house. The variation in construction techniques over the centuries also lets you clearly see the original section of the house and the two subsequent additions.
We insulated the roof and walls (the original house had plank walls and no insulation). We found original feather board paneling in the north parlor, which we pulled a zillion nails out of and painted. For most of the remaining walls we chose to plaster to retain character, and painted everything a uniform light color to play off the dark ceilings and keep the house as bright as possible.
We re-sided the house exterior with cedar to match the roof. The 2 existing wells on the property were in working condition (the original hand-dug well capped by an antique granite millstone and a newer deep-driven well). We updated the electrical and plumbing, added a septic system, and found space for a modern galley kitchen and two baths.
The English bank barn (built into a slope), like the house, was in amazingly good structural shape. It needed some modern lolly columns for support (it relied on large cedar tree trunks) and a few beams to be replaced, but all in all was quite stable. A large colony of bats had made the hay loft their home for decades, as evidenced by the thick mat of bat guano Norman shoveled out while wearing a respirator and Tyvek suit. We uncovered and re-built the huge hay mow doors on the north face (shingled over in the 1950's). The hay track and pulley system were still intact in the loft. Farmers would have used a giant hay hook to lift piles of hay into the mow each summer. We hay our three front fields but are grateful for modern technology! We use a modern hay elevator (hayolator) to bring neat square bales into the loft.
With a new cedar roof, shingles, and windows, the barn has been brought back to its former glory. We repaired the 2 sets of antique sliding doors and their tracks and hung an antique barn gooseneck light (a gift from our friends at the Antique Stove Hospital in Little Compton, RI).
As is the case with many bank barns, our animals live under the barn. The main level of the barn (which was originally used as a threshing floor for the wheat, and later as an antique shop) will become our creamery, commercial kitchen, farm store, and classroom space.
One of the most charming buildings on the property, this workshop (including a fireplace for blacksmithing repairs, something every farmer found a valuable skill) had a vaulted plaster ceiling and a tiny ell. This was the only building on the property to have suffered significant water damage, so repairs were extensive. After much TLC, including rebuilding the ceiling, adding structural fir beams, replacing windows and doors, mortaring the foundation, installing a proper floor, insulating and plastering/painting, and restoring the fireplace, we now have an adorable guest cottage, complete with a bathroom and a tiny c. 1910 pot-bellied coal stove.
We rebuilt the two storage sheds to their original specs, relocated the tiny Corn Crib to become our chicken coop, and use the smallest little shed as our Milk House. All hew to the same look and feel as the other buildings in the barnyard – cedar roof and shingles, with everything now weathered to that classic coastal New England gray patina.
For 29 acres the farm is quite diverse: 10 acres of hay fields and pastures; a 4-acre quintessential 18th century barnyard; and 15 acres of woodland. Shallow natural springs and cress pools feed into the brook, drawing wildlife year-round. Deer love the thick underbrush and brambles.