The restoration of the Lake House was no small undertaking. Before embarking on the year-long adventure, we had a building inspector from Edenton, North Carolina, who specialized in historic homes, evaluate the house. He confirmed that “her bones were in great shape – she just needed a little TLC.” With his report fueling our confidence, and with the vision of Jeffery A. Lees, an architect with great experience in historic home restoration, we took the plunge.
The first step involved the dismantling of the kitchen addition that was unsalvageable. We were able to save heart pine floor joists that would later become timberframe accents in the house and would also be used to construct the top of our handmade kitchen island, constructed with stunning craftsmanship by our homebuilder, Louis Chestnutt.
Step 1 also involved the removal of the original brick chimneys on either side of the home, which were in such disrepair at the time to be non-functional. Every single one of those original bricks was sorted and stacked by yours truly and used later to construct the beautiful herringbone walkway that surrounds the house today.
To comply with current flood zone regulations, the house would then need to be raised to a higher elevation and a new foundation would be constructed. Worth Hare & Son House Movers of Edenton carefully secured the house and ever-so slowly, raised it to its existing elevation.
To our surprise, when the house was raised we discovered that the original foundation was composed of massive hand-hewn cypress blocks. Two of the original foundation blocks can be found on our front porch today as re-purposed tables.
The work of building the new foundation and chimneys began, complete with decorative flourishes modeled after historic homes from the comparable time period.
At the same time, I was busy hunting down the mysterious “ship picture” that the original family members had told us stories about. Ms. Sandra Carawan, whom I will always be indebted to for her great friendship and precious memories, shared with us her childhood recollections of a picture of a ship located on the wall of the original staircase. I am a sucker for a good mystery, and though heavily pregnant with my second son, I carefully made my way through two layers of paint and two layers of plaster to discover a line drawing of a ship on the original horsehair plaster.
New discoveries continued to abound as the work of restoration continued. Upon removing the badly deteriorated plaster, we discovered that the home had been constructed primarily with hand-hewn pegs.
Hand-hewn ax marks could also be clearly seen on the back-side of the second floor heart pine flooring where the joists were fitted.
We were loath to cover up the evidence of this 200 year-old handiwork and made the decision then and there to leave as much of the original woodwork exposed as possible. All of these features are in plain view within the house today, and tell the story of its creation better than we ever could.
Some slight cleaning and sanding brought out the beauty of the beams, and we left the old lath and plaster marks for their character.
The work was completed on the fireplaces and foundation, and the beautiful brickwork resulted in the renewed functionality of four working, wood-burning fireplaces in the home.
While restoration continued in the original main house, the new addition was being completed. The addition would house a large mudroom, full bathroom, half-bath, walk-in pantry, dining room, and kitchen on the lower floor, including a second staircase to access the upstairs. On the second floor, the addition would house an additional bedroom with full bathroom, as well as a new bathroom for the bedroom being used as the master, with accompanying closet spaces. The addition blends seamlessly with the original home and visitors are hard-pressed to identify where the old ends and the new begins.
The addition was sided with Hardi-plank for sustainability and low maintenance requirements.
The original part of the home had been sided with cypress planks, that were, for the most part, in pristine condition. We replaced the few that needed replacement with cypress boards custom-milled in Gates County, North Carolina, to match the existing siding boards.
It was incredibly important to us to save and re-use everything in the original house that we could. Unfortunately, through previous owners, the original windows in the living room had been removed. We decided to take advantage of the situation by installing French doors to extend the living space out into expansive 400 square foot front porch that overlooks the lake.
The original windows throughout the house were all replaced incredibly energy-efficient Simonton windows, designed to withstand any type of weather that coastal North Carolina can bring. Each replacement window was constructed true to size of the original window frames, down to including replicating nine-over-six window grids in the downstairs windows. She was shaping up to be quite the beauty!
The house became a constant place of wonder as the final finishing touches began. Cypress beadboard, milled at Gates Custom Milling in Gatesville, North Carolina, was used throughout the home to complete the ceilings.
The construction of the custom cabinets and island in the kitchen were completed, along with the aforementioned island top constructed from the original heart pine floor joists from the old kitchen.
All of the home’s original fireplace mantels and trim work were replaced with care, and any new trim work that was needed was custom crafted by Louis Chesnutt, of whom we could never praise enough in his care and attention to detail throughout the entire process.
The original heart pine floors were carefully sanded and refinished, while the floors in the new addition were outfitted with reclaimed tobacco-barn heart pine boards throughout. Each bathroom was outfitted with a custom-made vanity using antique furniture pieces and, in some instances, fitted with countertops made from heart pine salvaged from the original kitchen.
And then, a year after we had begun, it was complete.
It was an amazing transition to be involved in, and we will always be grateful to this house that let us be a part of its history for a short time. The pages are now awaiting for new story to unfold.