The Carriage House
A shabby North Shore structure comes back to life
Renovating a house can be difficult, but reconstructing one from the ground up, copying the historic architectural details and painstakingly salvaging as many of the original materials as possible, may be even harder. Yet this is precisely the project that a couple in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, took on when they rebuilt their dilapidated carriage house.
The original carriage house was constructed in 1896, part of an 11-acre summer estate called Apple Trees because it was once the site of an apple orchard. S. V. R. Crosby, a prominent member of the community, purchased the estate in 1902 and summered there. In fact, Apple Trees was one of many summer cottages constructed along the Manchester coast, according to one of the owners, who conducted her research on the estate through the Manchester Historical Museum and other published materials.
When the estate was subdivided in the early 1960s, the carriage house fell into disrepair and also suffered from a fire on the second floor; the homeowner and her husband sought to reunite the main house with the carriage house and restore their historic character. “When the property became available, we welcomed the opportunity to purchase it. It was a one-time opportunity to bring the properties back together, and we knew that anyone buying it would most likely tear the carriage house down and build a new house there. The building by that time was in very poor condition, with structural issues; we were hoping to restore it as best we could,” she says.
The couple had already renovated the main house before they turned to working on the carriage house. They contacted Manchester-based Windover Construction to determine if a renovation of the carriage house would be feasible. However, the structure was clearly beyond repair after years of wear and tear. In the winter of 2010, they teamed up with Dave Malmquist, architect and project manager at Windover, who recognized the significant number of original features that they could salvage for the reconstruction.
The project became a matter of replicating the original building. “We planned to copy the exterior and rebuild the interior, keeping as much as possible to the original plan but modifying it for our needs and lifestyle,” the owner says. Malmquist adds, “They wanted it to look like it was there from the beginning.”
Because the carriage house was built right before the turn of the century when there was a mix of architectural influences, it exhibits some Georgian character, with its box-like structure and detailed symmetry. The homeowner describes the carriage house as a “simplified Colonial Revival,” which complements the more elaborate details of the main house located nearby.
The original carriage house featured a main block and a wing on either side, totaling about 9,000 square feet. Since this was more space than the couple needed, they only rebuilt the main block and the right wing (now totaling 6,800 square feet), but the stone foundation of the left wing remains, enclosing a simple garden. The ground floor of the central structure has always served as a place to store automobiles once carriages went out of fashion around 1910, but the owners, who are keen gardeners with extensive gardens to maintain, decided to incorporate a potting room. Upstairs, the carriage house had a great room that required some modifications in order to meet the needs of their family, friends, and two college-aged daughters with their friends. Adjacent to the great room, they added a galley kitchen, bathroom, and home office. They also wanted a screened porch since there had been one in the left wing, and they made copies of the original arched frames for the screens. The tenant apartment in the right wing had been a squash court, complete with lockers.
Construction began in the spring of 2010 and was completed by spring of 2011. For Malmquist, one of the most challenging parts about the project was fulfilling the homeowners’ requests while maintaining the footprint of the original building. He had to fit the design into a predefined space. As an architect, though, he relished the challenge, particularly when it came time to take the house apart piece by piece. “To go through that process of surgically removing pieces of a structure that was from 1896 and put it into a new structure in 2011 and have it mimic what was there was amazing,” he says.
Malmquist had photographed the entire interior and exterior, and the family even provided copies of floor plans drawn up by a previous owner. “Prior to taking the structure down, we cut out a number of details that we replicated 100 percent,” he explains. Subcontractors took the trusses, beams, squash court backboard, and more to their workshops for refurbishment.
The homeowner carefully notes each of the reclaimed features of the carriage house: The trusses are in their original position in the great room; fifty salvaged heart pine beams serve as purlins (part of the roof structure) and also became fireplace mantels, custom occasional tables, and beams in the potting area and apartment kitchen. The salvaged fireplace brick was used to rebuild the interior portion of the fireplace (new bricks on the exterior form the chimney). The squash court lockers are in the first floor entry to the great room. The squash court backboard creatively serves as the large kitchen island in the apartment and as the potting room work counter. The green pendent lights hang in the potting room, which is also equipped with the black soapstone sink and fixtures from the original kitchen. The original shutters, which had been stored for decades in the stable, were cleaned, painted, and reinstalled on the exterior. The cupola, too, perched atop the tenant apartment, underwent replication.
For the exterior, the couple retained the original color scheme that matches the main house. They used white clapboard siding and trim with dark green shutters and sliding barn doors made from mahogany slabs. They chose a naturalistic gravel drive and cultivated the garden beds around the carriage house.
The homeowner uses her 350-square-foot potting room frequently. “The property has always had extensive gardens,” she says. “The original owner’s wife, Henrietta Crosby, was quite an avid gardener, but of course she had several full-time gardeners and a large staff to help! The garden has been simplified since then. My main passion is gardening and taking care of all of the beds. They’re mostly perennial gardens, but there is also a greenhouse on the property that was put in in the 1920s, which fell apart, but I do a lot of vegetable gardening in the ruins of the greenhouse. It’s like a large garden folly.”
The current owner designed the interior of the carriage house herself, finding inspiration through magazine clippings and books. She enlisted the help of a paint colorist from Waters and Brown Paint and Decorating in Salem to select the right shades of tan. A neutral color palette and mildly rustic décor make the vast spaces feel warm, while stained, quartersawn oak floors keep the different areas of the carriage house connected.
Despite the many wood varieties used in the house—from the cherry cabinets in the great room kitchen to the maple-veneer painted cabinets in the apartment kitchen to the yellow-hued squash court countertop—the original wood features remain the focus of the carriage house.
“We tried to maintain the look and feel of the original structure. That lent itself to using a lot of natural wood products,” Malmquist says. “We tried to make sure that the floor wasn’t the dominant element; our focus was to highlight some of the features that we were able to salvage. Your gaze is drawn to the beams; those are old-growth, amazing pieces of wood that you just can’t get today.”
The carriage house is the site of casual entertaining; formal entertaining takes place in the main house. Formerly called the “ballroom,” the 1,500-square-foot great room has served as an entertaining space from the beginning. “We did not have to make a choice between wanting an entertaining space and it not fitting with what was there because that’s what it was built for originally,” the homeowner says. “The great room is used by our family and friends for relaxing, casual entertaining, watching the large-screen television, and exercise. We usually have small gatherings but have also hosted larger community groups.” The couple enjoy entertaining regularly, especially at Christmastime and in the summer.
Off the great room, they use the galley kitchen, which includes a bar area, as a “support space” to heat up hors d’oeuvres and prepare drinks. In order to maintain the structure of the carriage house and its reclaimed features as the focus, the family only needed a kitchen that was functional and attractive but low-key. Meanwhile, in the tenant apartment, the kitchen is a main part of the living area, so it holds more of a prominent role in entertaining. In this case, the squash-court countertop was able to characterize the space.
“The project ended up being a labor of love, as we wanted to preserve the carriage house as a piece of history and bring it back together with the main house, but also make it functional for modern living and our family. To the extent that we could not use original materials, we tried to keep the feeling of the original space,” the owner says.
During the demolition process, the carriage house produced an extraordinary surprise. At the very center of the building, tucked in the space between the floor joists under the great room, were two brown boots. “I remembered reading that there was an old tradition that goes back to England. It was supposed to be good luck that you put a shoe hidden somewhere in the building,” she says. The pair of shoes now rests in the potting room, a tribute to the carriage house’s historic origins and a reminder of the story behind its meticulous reconstruction.