An antique house with a modern breezeway
A two-season breezeway is transformed into a warm and welcoming center for cooking, entertaining and living.
The Freemans’ modern kitchen and comfortable living area are illuminated on either side by plentiful natural light.
Barbara and Ivor Freeman had lived in their antique Colonial in Newbury for nearly twenty years and were, in Ivor’s words, “starting to toy with the idea of finding a modern home.” They loved the old house as well as the surrounding grounds and gardens, which they’d worked on for some time, but they wanted to expand beyond the small rooms and low ceilings of nineteenth-century rural architecture.
About two years ago, they decided that instead of moving on, they would open up their existing space by redesigning the “connector” section of the house, which ran between the garage and the main house. With ingenuity and Barbara’s professional eye (she is an architect), they transformed this long, narrow space into a lofty, open kitchen/dining/living area with floor-to-ceiling views of the outdoors.
The Freemans’ thirty-acre property, known as Old Ledge Hill Farm, is also home to a dog, Pearl, and two horses, now retired. The farm includes the 3,500-square-foot house, outbuildings, pastures, gardens and sugar maples. Barbara points out that it is a typical farmhouse in that it faces true south alongside a road that was once a main thoroughfare (the farm’s property lies on both sides of the road).
As often happens in New England, the farmhouse had been added onto over the years. The original structure was built around 1800, with additions occurring more than once during the mid-1800s.
The space the Freemans renovated was probably added to connect the house to a barn, as was common practice in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By the time the Freemans moved in, the connector was housing a summer kitchen—a room not usually needed in northern New England—and a breezeway with a seating area. The barn was gone; but about five years ago, the Freemans added a garage where the barn once stood.
This connecting space wasn’t warm enough for year-round use. And the summer kitchen didn’t answer the Freemans’ cooking and entertaining needs (nor, for that matter, did the traditional kitchen and dining room in the main house). The couple wanted a comfortable area for preparing meals while spending time with guests. “We love entertaining,” says Barbara, who is very serious about cooking.
The connector was also not in good structural shape. It was built on a stone and rubble foundation with a somewhat “minimal” post-and-beam construction, as builder Craig Howe of Talbot Builders in New London describes it. Howe, who executed the renovation, notes that old-time farmers didn’t necessarily put a lot of time and effort into these types of connecting spaces.
However, the views from both sides of the connector were excellent; it was a space with potential. So Barbara and Ivor (a financial advisor) decided to renovate, adding a state-of-the-art kitchen and dining area, a higher ceiling, and floor-to-ceiling windows and French doors—all sourced locally, as much as possible. In the process, the Freemans also created a sturdy structure with a new foundation and sound framing. (Alex Azodi of Omega Structural Engineers in Newbury provided the structural design.) Energy efficiency was achieved through lots of insulation, radiant floor heating and a bank of solar panels on the roof to provide electricity.
Lush plantings and a curving brick walkway provide a comfortable contrast to the straight lines of the house.
Finding an architect for the project would seem simple enough, with Barbara on hand, but in fact the couple had been advised to hire an outside architect. They chose Peter White of White and Associates Residential Architecture in New London. “It [designing a home] can be a very stressful time,” White says. “I thought it was very smart of Barbara and Ivor to hire an architect.” Barbara did the initial layout, and the basic concept for the redesign was her idea. She and White collaborated on the rest of the project.
The renovated space was to occupy the footprint of the old one. A small area containing a bathroom, pantry and mudroom with an entrance was added to create a small ell at the garage end of the connector. The new foundation included a seven-foot-high basement, and the floor level was raised so the connector was flush with the main house (formerly there was a step down into it.) The roof was raised about three feet to accommodate the higher windows and additional insulation.
Howe and his crew took down everything between the garage and house, except for the existing chimney. “It was a challenge digging up against an old chimney and the house, while maintaining the integrity of it all,” Howe says. “But once we got the foundation in, it was fairly straightforward.”
Howe did have to search far and wide for beams and barn boards to match those he salvaged from the original demolition. “That search took me several hundred miles in a few directions,” he says. But in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont, he was able to find enough old, hand-hewn beams to re-create (and even improve on) the original post-and-beam interior. The upper section of the new double-roof system is actually tied together with steel rods and heavily insulated; the lower section includes the old timber framing, which is visible from inside.
Radiant heating was installed under the slate floor, along with a new gas furnace in the basement. Due to the tight insulation of the new structure, a mechanical ventilation system was added to circulate fresh air. “The Freemans achieved a very modern envelope with an older-looking interior,” Howe says.
New space for old
The tall and plentiful windows and French doors on either side of the long, rectangular structure provide an “outdoors inside” feel year-round. When the weather is nice, Barbara says, “You open all the windows and it’s like being in a screened- in porch.”
The vaulted, unfinished ceiling provides a nice counterpoint to the comfortable, upholstered furniture in the living area at one end and the modern kitchen at the other. The unfinished brick of the chimney provides further visual variety at the living room end, where a wood stove is an additional heat source (Barbara has occasionally used it for cooking as well).
The new space is extremely energy efficient. Even in winter, the room is very comfortable—despite all the windows. “Drafts are what make a place feel cold,” explains Barbara, noting that even though the temperature in both the new and the old areas of the house might be exactly the same on a given day, the newer, more airtight section feels much warmer. The bank of solar panels on the south-facing roof creates all the electricity that is needed for the whole house.
The old summer kitchen was not really necessary, even in summer. “It’s more something you find in a Southern home,” Barbara says. The new kitchen, which has taken over from the kitchen in the main house, is ingeniously designed to Barbara’s specifications for socializing and practicality. A long, oak table with seating for up to twelve (made in England for Prospect Hill Antiques) leads down the center of the kitchen. One side of the room is for prep and cooking. The other side is for cleanup and includes an extra-large sink for washing pans.
The long oak dining table in the center of the kitchen is from Prospect Hill Antiques in Georges Mills and separates the preparation side (background) from the cleanup side (just visible at right).
The new kitchen includes a baking area with both steam and convection ovens. An induction stove performs more efficiently than gas. “I love it,” Barbara says. “It’s more instantaneous and responsive than gas—temperature changes happen immediately in the pan at the touch of the control.”
At the far end of the space, near the garage, is a new bathroom with an irregular maple slab counter Barbara designed as well as a walk-in pantry—“my pride and joy,” she says. The old kitchen in the main house is still there, but the Freemans now use it as a utility room and office as well as occasionally for keeping prepared dishes warm and out of the way before being served.
In terms of materials, almost everything was sourced locally or regionally. The slate flooring is from Vermont. The countertops are slab granite from Quebec. The cabinetry is made by Brian Henderson of Traditional Woodworking LLC in Piermont. The handsome pendent light fixtures are handmade in Vermont by Hubbardton Forge. The windows, by Marvin, are American made. And most of the furniture is from Endicott Furniture Company in Concord, which sells all U.S. products. A maple slab coffee table designed by Barbara was milled and built by Richard Wright, who lives near the Freemans.
While not all part of the recent renovation, the gardens and stonework around the Freemans’ house are an ongoing project and very much a part of the overall look of the property. When the Freemans added the garage several years ago, the dug-up lawn provided an opportunity for Ivor to realize the rock garden he’d always wanted. Peter Schiess of Landforms in Bow used weathered boulders as retaining walls, building up the earth behind the boulders to create a natural drainage system. He also added a few large plantings, such as conifers. “Ivor wanted a natural look,” Schiess says. “The garden was really his vision.”
Lizette Sliter of Garden Life handled most of the smaller plantings in the rock garden and elsewhere. She has worked with the Freemans for several years, and assists in the ever-evolving process of maintaining and improving the gardens. “There are separate gardens on the property, but we want it all to feel continuous,” says Sliter. In the rock garden, she used bulb plants such as dwarf irises, miniature tulips and crocuses. Within the rock garden is a smaller alpine garden with gentia, lewisia, a collection of heathers and a rare alpine opuntia (prickly pear cactus) that Sliter says is not often successfully cultivated.
Another special landscaping feature on the property is a “white” garden with silver and variegated foliage plants, including hostas, as well as white-blossomed plants such as echinacea milkshake and Annabelle hydrangeas. Additional plants are anemones (which bloom in fall) and a silvery blue grass called Elijah Blue fescue. “The white garden makes a dramatic statement when it’s lit up at night,” Sliter says.
The varied but altogether harmonious landscape around the house includes numerous other areas of visual interest. Among these are stone walls, steps, a horse pasture, a stone fountain sculpture by Northwood artist Gary Haven Smith (his work can be seen at McGowan Fine Art in Concord) and a garden with herbs next to the kitchen. In terms of indoor/outdoor living, the house also has window boxes with floral plantings and a screened-in porch that is a nice place to enjoy drinks in the afternoon, according to Ivor.
Indoors, the new, renovated section also harmonizes seemingly disparate elements—state-of-the-art kitchen design and hand-hewn beams, for example. It all works together to create a lovely, relaxed look that merges the indoors with the out, the old with the new. And it gives the Freemans the one-room loftiness they sought as an escape from small rooms, but with visual and physical ties to the antique house they love.
The exposed timber framing includes the barn board and beams from the original connecting structure, as well as from various sources around New England.
The team who worked on the renovation included, from left, Peter White of White and Associates Residential Architecture in New London; Alex Azodi of Omega Structural Engineers in Newbury; Lizette Sliter of Garden Life in New London; homeowners Ivor and Barbara Freeman; Peter Schiess of Landforms in Bow; and Craig Howe of Talbot Builders in New London. Pearl the dog is in front.