Reinventing the Farmhouse

A young architect merges styles in his Vermont home.
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A young architect merges styles in his Vermont home.
Richmond Farmhouse: Dusk

Brian and Monica Mac are excited about enrolling their 3-year-old twins, Beck and Dylan, in the Cochran, Vt., ski school this year. The family-friendly nonprofit ski area is just a quarter-mile from their Richmond home. “We can actually walk there in five minutes,” says Brian, noting that their renovated farmhouse has the added advantage of being an easy three-mile commute to his architectural firm’s office.

But location was just one of the things Brian considered several years ago when he was weighing the pros and cons of buying the ramshackle 1840s farmhouse. Where others might have only seen problems—half the dilapidated Greek Revival structure was falling down—the young architect saw only possibilities. In addition to a good locale, the property was affordable, and Brian knew he could draw on his own design talent and building abilities to transform the residence into a welcoming home.

What began as a labor of love ultimately turned into just labor as Brian spent much of his spare time over the next seven years reworking the 1,200-square-foot space. “I ripped down half the house, shored up the foundation and gutted the entire place,” he says.

With the infrastructure restored, an improved open living room, dining room and kitchen floor plan emerged under the exposed hemlock ceiling joists. “I had to rip down three layers of ceilings to get to those joists,” says Brian, who also had to build new interior walls. “The house was all plank construction, and the boards were all butted so close together there was no room for insulation.”   

The addition of a step up to the kitchen solved the problem of an uneven floor, and every square inch of the new cooking center was maximized for food prep and storage. “At that point we never dreamed of adding on, so we made use of every nook and cranny,” says Brian, who designed and built the low-maintenance black steel-plate cabinets. 

One flight up, the addition of two bedrooms, a bathroom and laundry room completed the exhaustive renovation, but it wasn’t long before the arrival of the twins thwarted the couple’s plans to revel in life without construction, and the architect was drawing plans for an 1,800-square-foot addition he hoped would honor the structure’s history while addressing to the needs of a modern family. “I was interested in doing something that made sense with what was built in the 1840s, but at the same time was fresh and of the current time period,” he says.

Among the key considerations, a design that took advantage of solar gain, and a materials palette that would link the past and the present. “The shape of the addition is based on getting full solar access on the farmhouse roof,” says Brian, who included solar thermal panels on the south side of the building. Similar to the renovated farmhouse, which boasts a standing-seam metal roof over painted clapboard siding, the addition features a corrugated galvanized metal roof over clapboard.

A new porch spans the two and softens the transition from old to new. “The porch itself is a nod to the past, but the painted columns sitting on metal bases with cross ties give it a contemporary twist,” says Brian. Inside, a sweeping pumpkin-colored curved wall is a defining feature in the new great room. “The curve contrasts with the orthogonal walls, and the unusual color accentuates it and gives it punch,” he says.

On the upper level, two bedrooms and a shared bathroom provide sleeping quarters for the couple and their kids, and bedrooms in the original house have been converted to guest rooms.

The radiant-heat concrete floors in the great room and bamboo floors on the upper level were attractive, budget-conscious choices. Other cost savers included salvaged doors for all the interior openings. “We found five antique oak doors with the hardware and bought them all,” says Brian, who also employed energy-effecient low-e insulated glass windows and spray-foam polyurethane insulation. And despite exchanging  sweat equity for paid subcontractors, the project was completed for only $130 per square foot. The end result is the home the Macs envisioned: “It’s not a reflection of the past or the future,” Brian says, but a home for the here and now.