A First Period home gets a second life
Eager to preserve a bit of early American architectural history, a couple restore their 17th-century home in Ipswich.
AL BOYNTON AND KATHY BRUCE OF IPSWICH bought the 1686 Daniel Lummus House because it was a wreck.
“It was abandoned. The house had no wiring or plumbing and was leaning forward because the summer beam had been removed,” says Bruce. “It was horrifying.” The couple had been house hunting, focusing their search on this North Shore town’s historic properties.
“We bought it because we were afraid that the house would end up torn down or badly damaged,” says Boynton, a director at Thomson Reuters. “This is a First Period house. They are so rare; it is extraordinary that someone could own one.”
First Period houses are the timber-framed dwellings built by the 17th-century settlers of the New World who relied on a medieval building style already out of fashion in the Old World. The First Period style was supplanted by the emergence of Georgian architecture at the beginning of the 18th century. Ipswich has 60 known First Period houses, this country’s largest concentration of our earliest architecture.
“We had looked at other houses that were not in need of restoration,” says Bruce, a director at Massachusetts General Hospital, “but we wanted a house where we would have the opportunity to put our own ideas in. From my childhood in Maine, I remembered that a friend lived in a very old house that I loved; it had wide pine floorboards and an atmosphere you couldn’t reproduce.”
Before they bid on the Daniel Lummus House, the couple called on Ipswich architect and friend Mat Cummings, who learned that the 1686 structure had been significantly rebuilt in 1746. “That explains the Georgian paneling,” he says. Lummus, a housewright, owned the home at that time and did the renovation work himself.
“Significant elements of important historic fabric were hiding under more recent accretions,” explains Cummings, who has been involved in the restoration of many Ipswich First Period houses. “Those elements included the chimney, fireplaces, all the paneling, many walls, the trim, plaster, doors, hinges, moldings, and the entire frame.”
That was enough for Boynton and Bruce. With Cummings’s direction, they launched into a 1½-year restoration that put back the summer beam, straightened the house, and added a lean-to section.
“Within our old house we wanted modern amenities,” Bruce says. “We like to cook, and we entertain, so we added on to create a big kitchen.”
The new kitchen flows seamlessly into the ancient adjoining rooms, testament to the care with which Cummings and his clients approached their project.
“The most important thing in a historic project is to preserve all the historic elements,’’ Cummings says. “The second most important thing is to provide all the modern amenities that anyone else would have without deteriorating the historic fabric.”
“We had to do everything,” Boynton points out. “I don’t think people realize what’s involved when you renovate an old house like this. It is definitely easier and cheaper to build new.”
But he and Bruce have no regrets. They love their 2,300-square-foot historic house. They filled the rooms with antiques, stenciled the top of the parlor walls, and installed new dentil molding around the large hall fireplace. (“Hall” is the medieval term for what we now consider the family room.)
Boynton has spent the last three years building a new patio outside the kitchen door, as well as constructing stone walls.
The community shares the couple’s enthusiasm; in 2012, the Town of Ipswich conferred the Mary P. Conley Preservation Award upon the Daniel Lummus House.
Boynton’s favorite part of the home is an intimate element that has survived intact for 327 years: the inglenook, or ancient brick seat, built into the large hall fireplace. “This is the only known seat like this [in the United States]. There is nothing I love more than sitting here when it is really cold,” he says. “You get all this radiant heat; in wintertime you can actually be warm.”
“You usually have to bring enthusiasm to these projects,” Cummings says with a smile. “With Al and Kathy, I didn’t have to; they were already excited.”
A WORD ON WINDOWS
“Never, never, never throw away old windows,” says Mat Cummings, who describes himself as “an intense architect who refuses to ruin the historic fabric of the country.”
“People replace 200-year-old windows with new vinyl ones that are guaranteed for five years,” he continues. “They are made of oil products and evil gases, and in five years, their useful life is over and the windows end up in the landfill. Old windows are made of clean wood and glass, and once rebuilt are good for another 200 years.”
Regina Cole is a writer in Gloucester. Send comments to email@example.com.