Feature > A Well-Appointed Rural Retreat
Like most houses that make it into their third century, Hayfields has weathered some changes, although fewer than many other buildings of its vintage. In 1773, Captain Ruben Loveren settled the property—the farmhouse, a couple of barns, several outbuildings, and a dairy and haying operation—on four hundred acres in Deering. Hayfields remained a farm until the early part of the twentieth century.
Sometime after that, Henry Ford passed through the house, scooping up the door hardware to add to his Americana collections. According to current owners Thomas R. Thomas and J. Steven McCall, Ford also had his eye on the front hall staircase, a tightly turned piece with decorative scrollwork, but—luckily for them and for the house—never ended up taking it.
Despite losing some door latches, Hayfields changed very little over the years; central heating wasn’t even added until the 1960s. When Thomas and McCall discovered the house (now on a twelve-acre site) six years ago, it still had its original wide-planked wooden floors and massive (about four-feet high by ten-feet wide) stone fireplace in the keeping room. Most of the old woodwork had survived, including work by famed New Hampshire cabinetmaker John Dunlap—“Rare for a country house,” Thomas says.
That said, Hayfields was not a perfect museum. “The home was not manicured,” McCall says. “That gave us a chance to do our own thing.”
Bringing Their Work Home
Their “own thing” involved preserving the old—including a massive 1700s barn that was in danger of collapsing—while adding some modern elements of comfort and livability— such as a great room, a new kitchen and a refurbished pool as well as plantings to augment the property’s mature rhododendrons and its orchard with peach, pear and apple trees.
McCall and Thomas also equipped the house with a sophisticated mixture of antiques and more current decorative elements: Antique clocks appear throughout the house, lining the walls of an upstairs hall. In the great room, with its huge, organically curved ceiling timbers, a flat-screen TV over the fireplace overlooks richly upholstered furniture.
Filling the house with antiques as well as sophisticated fabrics and furnishings was not a stretch: Thomas owns Hayfields Antiques, which specializes in eighteenth- and nineteenthcentury furnishings and clocks. McCall owns J. Steven & Associates, an interior design firm with offices in Florida and New Hampshire. Together they had the knowledge and resources to transform the rural property into a comfortable getaway where they now spend many months of the year. (Their primary home is in Hutchinson Island, Florida.) For the most part, “we’re snowbirds,” acknowledges McCall, adding that he is lucky to have a business partner, Daphne Halenar, who helps manage affairs in the Florida office when McCall isn’t there.
Finding the Ideal New England Farmhouse
Neither Thomas nor McCall are New Englanders by birth. Thomas hails from the Philadelphia area, and McCall was born in Vero Beach, Florida. But they were both attracted to New Hampshire, and for a time combined house hunting with antiquing. It wasn’t easy to find what they were looking for—an old house with the right feel, one that hadn’t had its timbered floors replaced or covered in wall-to-wall carpet or linoleum. Before finding the right one, “we saw about twenty houses of this age,” Thomas says.
As buyers, Thomas and McCall weren’t looking for a museum-quality, pristine home. In fact, it was the additions made to Hayfields in the end of the twentieth century—a landscape mural in the upstairs hall and the checkerboard painted floors in the dining room—that fired designer McCall’s imagination. “Those are what made me see the potential,” he says.
Blending Old and New
After moving in, Thomas and McCall made some changes along post-Colonial décor lines, including the addition of a keeping-room mural painted in the style of nineteenth-century New England itinerant painter Rufus Porter. The mural—complete with Porter’s characteristic Mediterranean- style trees (an unintentional reference to the owners’ Florida roots)—was painted by Wolfeboro Falls artist Lisa Nelthropp. “Steven wanted those Southern-style, ‘weepy,’ trees,” Nelthropp says. The mural also includes ships, rural landscapes and the New Hampshire Capitol building, all part of the “land and sea” look McCall says he wanted, representing Portsmouth and the interior countryside.
The keeping room is one of the showpieces of the house. Its huge fireplace is fronted by a slab of granite and features the original cooking hardware. In the ceiling of the room are hooks from which, in older times, occupants would hang curtains to close off the area near the fireplace for bathing.
The house’s bedrooms (which now serve as guest rooms) were stenciled in the 1960s in the style of nineteenth-century itinerant stenciler Moses Eaton. McCall designed a large, new master bedroom from a former studio facing a second-floor porch. This part of the house, explains Thomas, was originally where farm help stayed.
In 2006, McCall and Thomas added the great room. “We didn’t want to destroy any part of the original house,” Thomas says, “but we wanted a big room that we could live in.” The addition also helps frame the backyard pool and patio area, making it more enclosed. Glenn Dodge of Dodgco Colonial Design in New Boston used a spectacular post-and-beam design that incorporates curved and tapered wood, some of it from trees felled on the property.
“We’re actually quite proud of it,” says Dodge, who says he used an ancient layout and joining technique called French scribe rule. “It’s a method of laying out the joins so they can fit together no matter what the shape of the wood,” he says. The system allows a builder to use available trees, which are not often straight, instead of ordering lumber from a supplier. “We can use trees that other people can’t,” says Dodge.
Dodge also helped save the old barn attached to the house. “The footers had shifted on one whole side of the barn,” says Thomas. “He lifted up the whole barn and rebuilt the foundation.”
“It isn’t the kind of work we normally do,” says Dodge, “but it seemed a shame not to save it.” The barn is now home to another rescue effort: Thomas’s grand-scale hobby of restoring pipe organs. He is currently working on one with pipes as high as eighteen feet tall that was built in Canada during the 1950s. Thomas also is an organist; he began playing in church for real money—“$100 a month”— when he was twelve years old.
Outside the house and barn, McCall has landscaped with irises, day lilies, evergreens and potted plants such as geraniums. He does all his own gardening, including mowing the property’s twelve acres. “I love it,” he says. The ten-foot-deep redone pool has a blue-and-gray-stone interior wall.
Inside the house, the emphasis is on comfort as well as style. Those antique furnishings and clocks share space with eight televisions (McCall is a self-described news addict) and contemporary decorative items. Many of the latter come from designer sources and, not surprisingly, some from the J. Steven & Associates showroom in Florida. Among these, notes McCall, are two ceramic wall sconces in the bathroom and several large jars containing decorative fruits in the kitchen.
Collecting and Letting Go
McCall and Thomas are apparent masters of the art of building up and moving on. If you decorate a house with antiques when in the antiques business, some of those antiques may eventually be sold. Thomas is philosophical about it. “Every antique dealer starts out as a collector and then eventually has too much stuff,” he explains. “Some things I’ll keep forever. Some I’ll sell.”
Such is the case with the house itself. Now that McCall and Thomas are done fixing up and decorating it, the property is for sale. McCall says he loves designing new places and is ready for a challenge. He and Thomas are now on the lookout for somewhere in New Hampshire with land, lots of land. “We’re looking to build on more than one hundred acres,” says McCall. “Something with a panoramic view, where we can ride our ATVs [all-terrain vehicles].”
So this future property somewhere in the Granite State will be their new home away from home. “I’m very fond of New Hampshire,” says Thomas. He and McCall like the change of seasons they don’t get in Florida. Admits Thomas, “I actually like winter.”