Passionate about History and Energy Efficiency

When they bought a spectacular property in Bow that includes an early nineteenth-century house, a barn and a blacksmith shop, Mike and Nancy Sampo were determined to make sustainability key in their preservation efforts.



The main house on the fifty-one-acre Cyrus Colby Farm was built in 1826 and is the first home in Bow approved for historic designation by the town. The post-and-beam dairy barn across the road was built in 1878.  The solar-powered barn serves as Mike Sampo’s workshop and as an indoor gym complete with basketball hoop and climbing wall for the Sampo children.

In the late 1980s, Mike and Nancy Sampo were interested in moving to Bow. They were fascinated by the expansive farm their Realtor showed them: the Cyrus Colby Farm, on Great Hill.

The fifty-one-acre property includes a large post-and-beam dairy barn, built in 1878; a former blacksmith shop; and the main house, the first home in Bow approved for historic designation by the town. Built in 1826, the home had been in the Colby family for generations. Even the views are compelling: on a clear day, looking north and east, Mount Washington and the White Mountains are visible in the distance.

The Sampos’ warm, friendly kitchen, designed by Sue Booth of Vintage Kitchens in Concord, is the home’s activity hub, with plenty of counter space for homeowner Nancy Sampo and daughter Amanda to cook.

The farm was being sold in increments by its owner. The Sampos purchased the barn as well as a ranch-style home adjacent to the property in 1989. It was the beginning of a close, thirteen-year relationship between the families, culminating in the Sampos’ purchase of the main house and remaining property. In the process, the Sampos became committed to preserving its history while updating the main house to make it comfortable for themselves and their two children.

“We didn’t want to build a new house,” Mike says. “We wanted to make the house as energy efficient as possible while preserving its historic structure.”

Utilizing solar power

Mike, a carpenter, restored the barn and blacksmith shop first. The original wood-shingled roofs of both structures had been covered by the previous owner with galvanized steel plates, salvaged from old railroad refrigerator cars. “Those steel panels probably saved those structures from complete destruction during New England’s massive 1938 hurricane,” Mike says.

The galvanized steel has since been replaced on both buildings with durable, standing seam, metal roofs. Both buildings are now powered by a solar array, installed on the roof of the barn by Kim Frase, of Frase Electric, LLC in Tamworth. The barn is perfectly located to take advantage of the sun’s power. “The sun just beats on the building all day long,” Mike says. “Putting solar panels there was a no-brainer.”

Also a no-brainer is the benefit of using solar energy. The Sampos participate in a group net-metering program. When the barn’s solar panels generate more electricity than the family needs, the extra power is returned to the regional power grid. The Sampos receive a rebate from their utility company, Unitil, for the excess power.

Renovation challenges

As Mike worked on barn renovations, he continued to research energy-efficient options for the main house. This work included speaking with the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance about taking care of a historic home (“They were extremely helpful,” he says). By 2012, the Sampos were ready to tackle renovation of the main house; their building and design team included Scott Dias, of Scott Dias Custom Building, Inc., in Henniker; retired architect Rob Reno, of Henniker; and Sue Booth, of Vintage Kitchens in Concord.

The kitchen design was driven by the magnificent restored range (with a modern gas cooktop, insulated ovens and custom- built hood) and beautiful soapstone sink set in a tiger maple base (right). The track lighting is from Tech Lighting.

There were several renovation challenges. First, the home had no running water or central heat until the early 1990s, so electrical wiring and plumbing needed to be updated. Second, the kitchen was small and not functional for a family of four. Third and, most important, was incorporating energy-efficient conveniences—such as additional insulation, radiant heating and air conditioning—without compromising historic details, such as the original plaster walls and moldings, post-and-beam construction, and wide-plank antique heart pine floors.

The Sampos also wanted a full bathroom and laundry room on the first floor. “Putting in the mechanical systems the Sampos wanted without compromising the original walls and floors was challenging,” Dias says.

The solution: working from the outside in. 

“We removed the exterior shell of the house to access the interior walls for rewiring, updating the plumbing and adding rigid-foam insulation,” Dias says. “Then we put it back together.”

A brick root cellar is among the original details the Sampos retained in the home. Mike Sampo repointed some of the exposed bricks both here 
in the basement and above the roof line.

Working with Mike, who was on-site every day alongside Dias’s crew, they installed radiant heating under the first floor by accessing it from the basement, preserving the floorboards above, and eliminating the need for radiators or visible heating elements in the house.

Hot water for the heating system is provided by a Central Boiler wood gasification boiler, which was installed by HR Clough of Hopkinton and is located several hundred feet behind the back of the house. The boiler powers the system from mid-November through April, backed up by a Viessmann propane boiler in warmer months.

A heating, ventilation and air conditioning system by Unico System creates a comfortable environment inside the house year-round. The system’s small, flexible tubing slides through wall structures and around obstructions, making it a good choice in a historic home with tight spaces.

The Sampos also added eight inches of blown-in insulation between the attic and second floor to increase the home’s overall heating and cooling efficiency.

Restoring the interior

Guided by their research, the Sampos restored the home’s interior. They expanded the seven-room home’s original footprint by adding a three-car garage, side entry and powder room; extending the kitchen; and building a ten-foot-by-eleven-foot addition that includes a full bath and laundry room on the first floor and two full bathrooms on the second floor.

Left: Formerly the winter kitchen, the comfortable sitting room features one of the home’s seven fireplaces. 
Right: The front sitting room is furnished with many pieces that belonged to the Colby family, who built the home in 1826.

Color choices were made based on the Historic New England color palette by California Paints. The family also repurposed some of the home’s original furnishings, many of which had languished in the barn for years.

The large, sunny kitchen—connected to the garage and side entry—was originally the home’s summer kitchen. At the beginning of the project, Nancy and Booth stood together in the dirt, brainstorming where to place appliances. “There weren’t many places to put the refrigerator and freezer,” Booth says. They decided to place them underneath a staircase connecting the kitchen to the upstairs master bedroom. “It’s perfect. They’re tucked away but very convenient,” Booth says.

A focal point of the kitchen is the massive, refurbished antique stove, restored by Erickson’s Antique Stoves, in Littleton, Massachusetts, with a gas cooktop and two electric ovens. Nearby is the antique soapstone sink, also from Erickson’s, set in a tiger maple cabinet that matches the island countertop. A microwave is set in to the island, and a larger oven is hidden in a hutch-style cupboard along one wall. The radiant-heated floors are covered in a porcelain tile that looks like slate.

“I like the way the kitchen blends seamlessly with the original farm house,” Booth says. “Nancy and Mike embraced everything about that house. Nothing was a problem. There were just opportunities for creative solutions.”

Booth and the Sampos also collaborated closely on the home’s new bathrooms, adding modern conveniences that blend with the home’s older aesthetics. Nancy found antique fixtures to use in the first-floor powder room. Also on the first floor, a full bath and laundry room—adjacent to a room currently used as a sitting room—can easily become a master bath if the Sampos decide to make the first-floor their primary living space. A setback cupboard provides storage but also hides the bathroom plumbing.

Upstairs, Booth designed two full baths adjacent to the Sampo children’s bedrooms as well as a new master bathroom. The master suite was opened up by removing an old closet and providing access to the existing, upstairs hallway, master bathroom and a staircase downstairs to the kitchen.

Another area where the Sampos wouldn’t sacrifice historical accuracy: windows. All the windows in the house were replaced: twelve-over-twelve windows on the first floor, twelve-over-eight windows on the second. “To stay historically accurate, we didn’t go with high-E glass windows,” Mike says.

The original wood window sashes were reproduced, glazed with new antique glass and installed by Dave Bowers, of Olde Window Restorers in Weare. Mike installed combination storm windows and screens over the new windows for energy efficiency.

Like many owners of historic houses, the Sampos are still tweaking and updating their home. Their passion to preserve Cyrus Colby Farm is appreciated by their renovation team. “It’s really fun to be part of a project where the owners are stewards of the house,” Booth says. “It’s fabulous that Nancy and Mike have the inclination and ability to do it—and that the house cooperated as well.”

The home’s expansion added two, new upstairs bathrooms, including the full bathroom off Amanda’s room (left) and one in the laundry room on the first floor (right), both with radiant heating. The laundry area is designed with future first-floor living in mind; it can easily become a new master bath if the Sampos ever move their master bedroom downstairs. The laundry room also has a door to the outside.

Left: The upstairs landing, looking in to the master bedroom, showcases an antique dress form and spinning wheel.
Middle: The kitchen is easily accessed from the garage and entry hall.
Right: The main house was the first home in Bow approved for historic designation.

All About Old Houses and Barns

Have fun and learn from the experts at the New Hampshire Preservation Alliance’s Old House and Barn Expo, an every-other-year event that helps old-house and -barn owners and enthusiasts find appropriate and affordable solutions. Create your own show “itinerary” and explore preservation strategies, architecture, craft and history through hourly lectures, visits with high-quality exhibitors, demonstrations and “Old House and Barn Doctor” sessions. The event includes:

More than one hundred exhibitors and lectures by top-notch presenters on varied topics, including energy savings; window repair; historic wallpaper and paint colors; barn repair; moisture management; plaster repair; energy efficiency; and researching the history of your house.

Demonstrations, sponsored by the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, including timber framing and stone-wall building.

A scavenger hunt for children (and adults) as well as opportunities to observe and try building crafts.

The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance is dedicated to the preservation of historic buildings, communities and landscapes through leadership, education and advocacy.

The event is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on March 24–25 at the Radisson/Center of New Hampshire in Manchester. Admission is $10; $7 for seniors and students; and children age twelve and younger are admitted free of charge. 

For more information, call (603) 224-2281 or visit nhpreservation.org.

—Carrie Sherman


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