A 1750s Home Adapts to a Modern Family
A new addition adds much-needed square footage to a 300-year-old home in Massachusetts
Living in the oldest home in Winchester, Massachusetts, sure has its charms. But with a blended family of seven, Craig and Kate Carswell knew the charm of a 1750 home wasn’t going to sustain their lifestyle for long. As the home had only one full bathroom, their kids would often run to the barn in the mornings and use the outdoor shower to make it to school on time. “I’m sure our neighbors saw lots of naked boys in towels running across the backyard,” Kate says.
The Carswells desperately needed more room.
Modern Family 1: Before photo, original photo on Houzz
Houzz at a Glance
Who lives here: Craig and Kate Carswell and their five children
Location: Winchester, Massachusetts
Size: 3,700 square feet (344 square meters); six bedrooms, four and a half bathrooms
Year built: Around 1750; new addition added in 2014
BEFORE: While quaint, the existing home, shown here, was neglected and in need of updating. The Johnson-Thompson House, as it’s called, is a Georgian two-story farmhouse and is the oldest structure in Winchester. The house is attributed to William Johnson, a prominent local resident when Winchester was part of the town of Woburn. Caroline Johnson married Timothy Thompson in 1858, and the house remained in the Thompson family until 1994. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Modern Family 2: Eric Roth Photography, original photo on Houzz
AFTER: The Carswells hired Cummings Architects to put life back into their nearly 300-year-old home. While certainly livable, it needed some maintenance and upgrades. Lead architect Mathew Cummings says the previous owner was an architect with more modern taste and had hidden a lot of the historic characteristics, such as the original beams, and the layout of some of the spaces, such as the kitchen, was awkward.
For the original portion of the home, shown here, the scope of work included structural work, insulation, central air, new and refinished wood floors, woodwork, new wood windows — and lots of painting.
Builder Shawn Cayer of Windhill Builders says that every step of the demolition process was carefully monitored so that the integrity of the original workmanship stayed intact and the materials were preserved for reuse.
Cayer removed the old cedar shakes and installed new traditional cedar clapboard siding anchored with hand-driven stainless steel ring shank nails, and painted it a historic gold color.
Untreated cedar shingles cover the exterior of the new addition, seen here. The addition includes a kitchen, a living room, a laundry room, three and a half bathrooms and two bedrooms.
Two new oval windows in the foyer bring more light into the once dark space. The front door has salvaged hinges and an old-time lock with skeleton key from Wiliamsburg Blacksmiths. Kate’s grandmother’s wet bar acts as a console table.
New eastern white pine flooring, a staple in the Northeast at the time the house was built, was installed throughout the home, except in three of the upstairs bedrooms, where the wood floors were refinished. For natural variation, the planks on the first floor vary in width from 10 to 16 inches, while those on the second floor range in width from 8 to 12 inches.
Modern Family 3: Before photo, original photo on Houzz
BEFORE: Prior to the renovation, the Carswells had set up their dining room in this space, which became a parlor after the renovation. The door on the left led to the original kitchen, which got replaced by a mudroom. A new kitchen was included in the addition.
Modern Family 4: Eric Roth Photography, original photo on Houzz
AFTER: The parlor serves as an intimate living room. The sofa has a pullout bed for guests. The doorway behind the rocking chair leads to the new mudroom.
Kate tackled the decorating herself, and says it’s a work in progress. Most of the furniture is from Restoration Hardware and Pottery Barn, but some of the items sprinkled throughout are from HomeGoods and T.J. Maxx. “I’m always on the prowl for the perfect fit,” she says. Other decor items she found online, in garden centers or on vacations. The antique rocking chair was a gift. The mirror above the wet bar seen through the door on the right once hung in Kate’s great-grandmother’s house. It then hung in her grandmother’s house and her mother’s house.
Modern Family 5: Eric Roth Photography, original photo on Houzz
The new dining room occupies a space in the original structure, to the right of the foyer. The beam running through the ceiling is original to the house. Classic floral drapery in gray and earth tones and a style-appropriate light fixture over the dining table nod to the era when the home was built.
Off the dining room, the kitchen and living room occupy the new addition. These two spaces embrace a more open plan and allow natural light to flood the interior of the home. Although there’s about 270 years’ difference between the two structures, there’s little visual delineation between old and new. Cayer says the details in the design and the finishes make it appear as though the house has always included these rooms. “The details had to be spot-on to create that flow,” he says.
Modern Family 6: Eric Roth Photography, original photo on Houzz
All of the new eastern white pine flooring was installed using hand-driven nails from Tremont Nail Co., just as would have been done in the 18th century. In this image, you can see the nails in each of the planks.
The kitchen countertops are a mixture of black walnut and honed black granite. The ceiling beam, while structural, helps to visually tie the new and old sections together.
Kate says during the week, the house is full of action and the kitchen island is command central, with homework, art projects and the inevitable grazing with five kids. With all the sports practices and games, it’s rare that all seven of them are home at the same time during the week, so meals are eaten primarily at the island. Kate says even when they host parties, eventually everyone gathers around the island. On weekends, the pace slows a bit and meals are eaten in the dining room, which Kate says is her favorite room, especially when it’s cold and they have the fireplace going.
During the renovation, Cayer found bricks being used as insulation inside an upstairs bedroom wall. He cut them into veneers and repurposed them as a kitchen backsplash. Because they’re handmade bricks and are different sizes and thicknesses, they’re not uniform and have a little sway to them. “We felt that it brings even more character to the house,” Cayer says.
Modern Family 7: Eric Roth Photography, original photo on Houzz
The star of the project is the master bathroom in the new addition. Kate says it’s truly the wow factor when she shows people the house. Cummings says the two-story bathroom is a bright, cheery space to start the morning and a refreshing break from the old home’s lower ceiling heights.
Standout features include a glass shower with bench, a wide double vanity with custom cabinetry, a salvaged sliding barn door that hides a walk-in closet, and a claw-foot tub.
Exposed beams add to the rustic farmhouse feel.
Modern Family 8: Eric Roth Photography, original photo on Houzz
The master bedroom sits in the original home, and a palette of period-appropriate grays is an elegant improvement over the previous light yellow and blue color scheme. Cayer says old doors from the period were combined with replicated new handmade planed ones and installed in the original part of the house. However, since antique doors aren’t a standard size, new door frames were required to make them fit. Configuring antique door hardware to make it operable proved challenging as well.
The fireplace is original to the house, and only needed cleaning and the mantel painted.