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When it came time to replace the contemporary “Colonial-style” front door of their handsome 1860s Victorian-era house, the owners did a considerable amount of research. But not just in books: They got into their car and drove around Andover, looking closely at the entry doors of well-kept houses from the middle of the 19th century.

Their attention to period architectural detail was a new enthusiasm, brought on by the purchase and subsequent renovation of a historic home near Phillips Academy.

“We thought the house was pretty, but we had no experience with anything like that,” says the lady of the house. While still living in Ohio, she and her husband purchased the property to be near daughters attending Phillips Academy.

“We wanted to be able to go to their games and things like that, so the location was what was important to us while looking. After we bought it, we started to appreciate what we had bought.” 

“We had never lived in a house that had been around for more than 30 years,” her husband laughs. “But once we figured out what we had, we became students of Italianate architecture.”

“They care about historic authenticity, so they drove around looking at doors,” smiles Susan Howell of the Howell Custom Building Group, which recently finished an extensive renovation, modernization, and restoration of the couple’s home. “When they found a front door style that looked period-appropriate and that they liked, they commissioned a custom door. It looks wonderful.”

The new double entry doors, located on the side of the gable-front house, are fashioned from mahogany and set with arch-topped panels of nearly opaque textured glass. Convincingly Italianate, sporting hefty brass hardware, they announce the attention to detail that assures historic verité was restored while the Hannah Fay House was updated and modernized.

Hannah Fay was a prominent Andover citizen, the daughter of Phillips Academy’s third headmaster; her father went on to found the Andover Bookstore. Her home has the Italianate style’s rectangular massing, tall, slender windows, bracketed eaves, and window hoods. It also has individualistic, charming rope-motif corner pilasters.

The new owners decided to rebuild the kitchen, which was small and had an awkward layout. For help, they turned to Steve and Susan Howell, whose company is located in Lawrence’s refurbished Riverwalk Mill Complex.

“At first, that was all we were going to do,” the homeowner says. “But then, we had to bring the rest of the house in line with the beautiful new kitchen!”

With kitchen and interior design expertise provided by Amanda Greaves of the eponymous Beverly firm, Howell project manager Brian Hollenbeck oversaw a renovation that began at the front door and moved inward. He installed a new powder room, redesigned and rebuilt the stair hall, laid antique reclaimed oak flooring on the first floor, redesigned and rebuilt the living room fireplace wall, restored the original pocket doors separating the two formal parlors, installed new wainscoting and crown moldings, and gave the master bathroom a glamorous makeover. The result is a house whose period styling is gorgeous and simultaneously suited for the couple’s contemporary lifestyle.

“As we were designing the kitchen, we kept going out into the dining room and the living room,” recalls Greaves. “We trickled out to the rest of the house.”

Guided by the preferences of the homeowner, who describes herself as “not an ornate person,” Greaves designed a clean white kitchen that gets pizzazz from a hand-hammered copper hood and an apron-front farmhouse sink. The central island and the counters are topped with black granite whose watery pattern complements the accent tiles of the stove’s backsplash. The focal point of the spacious, light-filled room is the far wall, where the six-burner stove, with its tile backsplash and copper hood, is flanked by windows.

This configuration required moving the powder room; it is now at the end of the central hall. When a coat closet was lost as well, builder and designer worked together to create a clever solution: a new closet that slides out of the wall, hidden from view when not in use. Removing shelving from the living room fireplace wall created space for the closet.

The master bathroom, like the kitchen, boasts white custom cabinetry. Porcelain tile flooring, white Carrara marble, and wainscot paneling bring elegance to what was a sadly dated room. Especially pleasing is the freestanding claw-foot slipper bathtub, which replaced a 1980s Jacuzzi.     

Throughout the house, hefty new crown molding brings formality and character, complemented by soft colors and patterns chosen by Greaves. The original pocket doors, essential to any Victorian double parlor, had been rendered inoperable with countless layers of paint.

“We spent half a fortune redoing them,” the man of the house laughs. “They had to rip the wall out to make that happen.”

The doors now glide open and shut at the touch of a finger. Like the front doors, they represent the house’s historic character while functioning like new.

Article appears in the Fall 2015 issue of Northshore Home magazine.