A 19th-Century Farmhouse Steps To A New Tune.
The rural byway that once ambled past Capt. Joseph Blanchard’s farmhouse in Cumberland, Maine, is now a busy suburban thoroughfare. But even in 1827, when the house was new, its Greek Revival front doorway was never for everyday use. “It was kind of the wedding/funeral/high school graduation door,” remarks Roger, the home’s current owner. Daily comings and goings occurred through a side “dooryard” and the ell that connected the main house to the barn. After they bought the house in 1985, Roger and his wife, Margot, shifted the center of gravity even further from the road, expanding the ell’s old summer kitchen into a cooking/dining/living space. But the addition didn’t fully integrate indoor functions or engage with the house’s site, which stretches a bucolic half mile from the road. “We never really liked it,” Margot says, and after some 20 years, she and her husband were ready for a more comprehensive solution.
“They didn’t really need more square footage,” says architect Scott Simons. “We just needed to fix some things they had.” The first thing to go was an old garage built on the south-facing footprint of the original barn. Shifting the footprint of the new barn/garage slightly to the west opened a corner in the kitchen, which Simons expanded into a sunny dining area. At its dooryard side, the ell sports a clean, new roofline centered on a gable dormer. A full-length covered porch catches the late-day sun and creates a comfortable sense of entry.
At the heart of the project was “a classic decision about where to put the front door,” Simons explains. Making a strong case for its new location, the glazed door and sidelights offer an inviting view through the building to a stone-walled patio at the east side. Located at the barn end of the ell, the entry hall also serves as the hinge point of the house, efficiently channeling both internal traffic and communication with the outside world. A mudroom at the rear of the garage keeps the entry uncluttered, while an adjacent stair leads to the barn’s second-floor studio. Simons points out a built-in mail/recycling center, which keeps newspapers handy to the dining table and short-circuits the stream of junk mail. “Those are the kinds of things we talk about,” he explains. “The organization of the house and how things move through the house.”
More important, the renovation alters the way people move through the house. Organized and brightened, the central great room is a magnet for activity. “This is where we spend all of our time,” Margot says. For the new kitchen layout, the owners opted for stock cabinets rather than custom millwork and put the savings to use outside in landscaped berms that buffer the house from road noise and create sheltered outdoor spaces.
And then there’s the original house, whose major rooms Blanchard still would recognize: the winter kitchen, where a wrought iron pot hook hangs over the great open hearth; the formal parlor, which was used, Roger says, “when the parson came to call”; and, of course, the formal entry. With the completion of this project, these antique spaces became superfluous to the life of the family. Not a bad thing, says Roger, who has annexed them all as offices for his home-based business. And so what started—at least nominally—as the front of the house has now finally become the back. If he were here to see it, Blanchard might scratch his head. But he also might enjoy a cup of tea in that warm, sunny kitchen.