New Old House

A gently renovated antique farmhouse that lives mostly off the grid brings the best of the past into the future.
Erinlittle Heidikatie Freedom

In the kitchen, a wood-burning stove pays homage to one that was originally there. The room’s design emulates a Japanese woodworking shop, with kerfed oak cabinetry, dark soapstone countertops and hand-glazed earthenware tiles.

At the edge of a historic and pastoral farmstead in the town of Freedom, a colonial Cape house has anchored the steeply sloping hillside for nearly 150 years. From the street, it presents as it has for the last century and a half: modest and gabled, an era of architecture perfectly preserved. Driving up the pebbled path and approaching the farmer’s porch that now serves as the primary entrance, another vernacular building comes into view.

With its simple geometry and tall, pitched roof, the structure recalls a barn. Though traditional in form, modern touches like elongated windows and delicate trim hint that the building is new. A sleek, L-shaped wall of glass connects the two buildings, merging the past with the present so flawlessly that it’s hard to determine where one ends and the other begins.

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A farmer’s porch was added to the side of the main house, which is where most people enter. The barn-like addition featuring narrow, tall windows resembles a traditional country chapel.

The Lower House, which is what Charlie Watts and Holly Haynes call their home to distinguish it from another residence that crowns the nearby hill, is indeed old, but it’s also new.

It sits at the entryway to High Meadow Farm, a 252-acre property that has been in Watts’s family for some six decades. Over those years, the farm has been home to 25,000 egg-laying chickens, a large apple orchard, corn and hay fields and a maple syrup operation.

Watts, now a writer, spent his childhood summers working on the farm. Holly, a chaplain who has worked in hospital and home settings, also spent many summers in Freedom, attending a nearby camp.

However, the two did not meet until they ended up at a one-year agriculture program in Vermont. They were married five years later and now have three grown children, all of whom have also spent many summers (and winters) at the farm.

After Watts’s mother died in 2016, the couple, who were living in Providence, Rhode Island, inherited the property and decided to make it their full-time residence.

“It’s been a special place for both of us and our families,” Watts says. “But we also wanted to find a way to open things up to a broader community. Holly had the great idea to arrange things so we could host small, contemplative
retreats in my parents’ farmhouse at the top of the hill, and then keep the Lower House as a more private space for us and our family.”

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The connector, furnished only with a bench, a bookcase and a reading light, is designed to be a place of quiet contemplation.

They commissioned Kaplan Thompson Architects and Heidi Lachapelle Interiors, which are based in Portland, Maine, to create a living-working space that accommodates them as well as visiting friends and family. Their wish list was as simple as Lower House itself. They wanted a sustainable compound with two separate work spaces (a writing study for Watts, an art studio for Haynes), a place for family gatherings at holidays and vacations, a suite for Haynes’s mother, and a redesign that respected the home’s architectural history while also updating its aging systems.

“We wanted a lot of windows and sightlines so you can see outside,” Haynes says. “We are on the side of a small mountain with hills and valleys around us. With the new design, you can see from one end of the house to the other.”

The result, a close collaboration between architect and interior designer, is a traditional-style farmhouse with a more open layout and that lives, for the most part, off the grid.

“It’s a restrained renovation,” says Jesse Thompson, principal at Kaplan Thompson Architects, noting that the greatest changes to the home modified its performance, not appearance. The farmhouse underwent a deep energy retrofit that completely stripped and rebuilt its envelope. Leaky and creaky walls were improved with insulation and rainscreen siding, and high-performance windows replaced the home’s aging glass.

Despite these changes, the heritage and visual characteristics of the original home were preserved. “The exterior is calm, quiet and attempts to emulate the minimalism of New England farmhouses with clapboard siding. The design is clean and spare, elegant and simple with strong, clear shapes.”

Inside, the ground-level floor plan was reconfigured to remove unnecessary walls and open the ceilings, creating a large kitchen and gathering space. The upstairs, however, was left largely intact and updated with new finishes.

When designing the 1,600-square-foot addition, Thompson states that his main mission was to respect the old architecture. “To make it an integrated, organic whole was a tricky thing to do,” he says. “The challenge was in
the integration of a new building into a new context and to make it look like it all had grown over time.”

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The natural materials used for the coffee bar echo those used in the kitchen.

It was important, he adds, for the completed 3,500-square-foot farmhouse, which has four bedrooms and three baths, to make a modest, not grand, impression, especially from the street, where the new addition is only partially visible.

Freedom, with a population of roughly 1,600, is a classic New England town with a main street that features traditional (and well-kept) white clapboard buildings, a library, a church, a town hall and a general store that could all qualify for a Norman Rockwell painting.

“History,” Thompson says, “is all around.”

Yet the farmhouse is also a prime example of 21st-century technology, the kind many homes of more recent vintage don’t possess.

A large, on-site solar array supplies electricity for the entire property. Efficiency air source heat pumps keep the owners cozy in even the most frigid New Hampshire winters, while fresh air ventilation systems with heat recovery ensure optimal indoor air quality. The cold is also kept out by nontoxic wood fiber insulation and triple-glazed windows. These energy-efficient elements turn the original structure into a low-impact proposition that serves as a model for other renovations and restorations.

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The original screened-in porch, which had been refreshed prior to this renovation, was preserved to create an indoor-outdoor flow.

Lower House was ideally suited to Watts’s and Haynes’s expansive plans because it already had an addition: a 11/2-story cold shed that was in too poor of a condition to be salvaged.

In its place, Thompson designed an addition, complete with a guest bedroom, that Watts calls “an echo of the original” and that is cleverly connected to the house via an L-shaped corridor of glass that brings in light as well as glimpses of the natural environment.

The new building has separate spaces for Watts and Haynes at opposite ends, and the connecting hallway, outfitted only with a bookcase, a bench and a reading light, is used as a serene space for repose and reflection.

“It’s like sitting in a garden,” Haynes says.

Other significant alterations include the addition of a farmer’s porch to the side entrance of the farmhouse and a pebbled driveway. Granite slabs—original to the property—lead up the hill toward a series of barns that were once the heart of the working High Meadow Farm.

The interiors, which were inspired by Shaker, Scandinavian as well as elegantly spare Japanesque aesthetics, are in sync with the architecture, Lachapelle says, adding that the challenge lay in striking the balance between the old and new sensibilities.

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Heidi Lachapelle blended old and new in the original house’s living room.

Thompson describes the spaces as “New England in feeling with a contemporary aspect and creativity and craftsmanship; the architecture and interiors had to work together because it’s all one puzzle.”

The main pieces of the puzzle are on the first floor of the two-story structure. The space was opened up, and the wood-burning fireplace, which had been in the center of the floor, was replaced with a newer model that is sited closer to the staircase, which is defined by a wooden divider comprised of vertical planks.

The key element in achieving the unifying blend, Lachapelle adds, is the raw, unpainted plaster finish on the walls. “It gives a movement and atmosphere and a lived-in feeling to the new addition and softens the transition between it and the farmhouse,” she says.

Another unifying factor is the use of the same style of cabinetry in the kitchen and baths. The white oak, clear with a matte finish, and the soapstone tops, celebrate the natural materials. “The brass faucets in these rooms are unlacquered so they oxidize over time, which makes them more beautiful,” Lachapelle says.

The reproduction William Morris wallpaper in the first-floor living room, the first-floor primary bedroom and the second-floor guest bedroom “represents the architecture of the old house,” she says. “The tension between it and the painted trim is a fun balance.”

Although there are some new furnishings and new-found antiques that add character, Lachapelle used some of the “treasures” she discovered in the barn, including the two chairs in the living room that she reupholstered in highly textured white boucle that looks like lamb’s wool and the settees in the primary bedroom and main entrance, as memory keepers.

The kitchen, which Haynes envisioned as a “Japanese woodworking shop where things were made,” is where the addition connects to the main house. It’s also the prime gathering spot for family and friends. Sleek and serviceable, it invites everyone to sit and hang out.

In keeping with the room’s simple theme, the hardware on the refrigerator and the pantry is wooden; the drawers, however, don’t need handles or knobs because they pull out for efficiency. As a thoughtful touch, Lachapelle designed a custom extendable round table for the dining nook, with four fluted legs that pay homage to traditional architecture.

The original screened-in porch, which had been refreshed prior to this renovation, was preserved to create an indoor-outdoor flow; and a large, heavy wood-paneled sliding door between the living room and kitchen that is reminiscent of those in old country barns reinforces the flexibility of the space and adds a hint of history.

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The primary bath features a double-sink vanity of kerfed oak with a soapstone top. A Japanese soaking tub and a New England cane-top stool illustrate the home’s design inspirations.

Several other key architectural elements on the first floor, including the old front staircase and a plaster chimney that Thompson describes as a “sculptural experience,” were restored. Lachapelle says saving them made it possible to create a “nuanced middle ground” between the past and the present. “Without them making such a distinction, the space would have had a modern farmhouse feel” instead of a lived-in look, she says.

Watts and Haynes cherish the new memories they are making at the Lower House. The alterations they have implemented, and the elements they have restored, are timeless.

“We hope the changes we’ve made respect the past,” Watts says. “We also hope our investment will help this place continue to provide shelter and comfort to whomever lives here for a long time to come.”


Kaplan Thompson Architects
(207) 842-2888

Heidi Lachapelle Interiors
(207) 620-0300


Categories: Architecture and Interiors