There’s a house I think you’d better look at west of town.” This from a realtor friend who knew the kind of place that might interest me. I’d been looking around Port Hope, Ontario for about seven years for something worth restoring. When I saw the house, such as it was, set well back from the road with beautiful grounds surrounding it, four acres in all, I started to get excited.
“How did I miss this one?”
“Maybe you didn’t.” said my friend. “Put in an offer.”
Well, even at a glance, I knew I would. The house had some great features, that of course, had to be coaxed back into life; and others that demanded an immediate demise, such as the ‘Tara’ two-story porch that would come down with a good tug. It did. Only because I didn’t ask for inclusions or offer less than the vendor asked for did I successfully outbid the four other offers presented that day. Sorry!
Compared to other houses in the area, this is a large house. It has a mid-century Georgian centre hall, almost a full two stories, actually what I would call a one-and-three-quarter, having a six-foot knee-wall which allowed for eight-over-eight panes that sat down close to the floor There were only two original sashes left. Measuring the lower window jambs told me that twelve-over-twelves would be appropriate. Sometime later a neighbour provided an early turn-of-the-century photo of a funeral party standing in front of the house and I was glad to see the entire sash intact. Supporting evidence can come from unexpected sources.
There was a kitchen addition that begged help and an attached woodshed that was just an eyesore. The interior had suffered one of those sixties ‘renovations’ that it could have done without.
With four acres of grounds, I would now have lots of room to pre-build the period log homes in my inventory. It would involve, however, digging out about an acre of topsoil to the west side of the property and hauling in an equivalent amount of gravel for a good base. This, in itself, was quite an undertaking but one of the main reasons for this decision was business oriented.
It seems the house was known for many years as ‚‘Brandon Manor’ and before that, it was a tavern stop and inn, situated halfway between Newcastle and Port Hope. The public entered the centrally placed tavern door on the east gable end. A staircase from the tavern led to flophouse rooms on the second floor. This explained the lack of doors into these rooms from the upper hall. The owners at that time lived privately on the west side of the house. The tavern room, being the largest room in the house, would, of course, become the living room. When I happened across an original nine-foot-long bar with beautiful panels and a marble top, I had to find a place for it in this room. It was as if it had come home.
The front entrance was a scream, one of those Victorian remakes with coloured glass. Zowie! It soon became obvious that the interior would have to be gutted. Start over. Save what we can of the original: three-door frames, the floors, and three or four open-spring latches that are usually quite rare, but I had a few in inventory to replace the ones that were missing. And of course, the great timber frame that was no worse for wear after 160 years of service. This was not a building where the timber frame was meant to show on the interior. That’s another fad that has become a huge industry in itself in recent years. But originally, they were just structure.
It was a wonder the jerry-rigged addition walls held up the roof. And the openings were in the wrong place to allow for a good kitchen design. So the walls had to be rebuilt. A great mantelpiece was chosen for the north wall and an exterior stone fireplace was planned. I thought too, that shaker-style cupboards would look good in this room. A three-stage paint job took some time but gave that soft, worn look I wanted. Fortunately, I found a Kingston limestone for the countertops and country sink. A rough pine ceiling latexed white would give it a rural feel to contrast with the more ‘rural formal’ look I wanted in the main house. And, just for a change, I decided on cedar shingles for the three exterior walls. It gave it the ‘Hamptons’ look that I’ve always liked.
There were remnants of panels below the parlour windows that inspired the style to be duplicated in the living room. The remaining door casings set the style for the new millwork. A cornice was added in the principal rooms as well as a boxed beam through the centre of the room that allowed for wiring for the chandelier. There are some very nice period-style chandeliers available and I found a few at the Boston Restoration show. They work well if a dimmer switch is installed because ambiance is always a requirement. The slip room off the parlour became the drafting room. A modern pair of French doors were replaced with an early glazed door with a transom above. This would lead to a large deck on the north side for those summer parties. Have to think ahead!
The wall treatment in this room proved challenging but fun. I wanted an early nineteenth-century colour on a hand-wrought plaster texture. I mixed fine sand into a latex white paint and brushed it on. Then came the more difficult step: I put about half a tube of yellow acrylic paint in a bucket of water and mixed thoroughly. With a large wallpaper brush, I painted the textured wall. Because it was a watery thin coat, It would drip, leaving an uneven, unsightly look. I had to follow each stroke with another brush (kept as dry as possible) to absorb spillage and even out the colour. The overall effect turned out better than expected. On the opposite wall I ganged up four tall doors to create a panelled wall that we painted a period blue-grey to complement the yellow walls.
I could fill a book if I were to attempt to outline all of the various problems to overcome, procedures to establish (in order) and solutions required. Restoration can be a daunting task for anyone. Perhaps that is another story that calls for a room-by-room byplay if one had the patience.