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 December 13, 2011
Home And Garden Tips From The Guys Of This Old House

David: These are a series of article from the Daily News of N.Y. in the USA Weekend section (April 1-3 2005). The first is by Norm, the next four are by Tom S, Richard T, Roger C and Alexa Hamption, you remember her, she was the Design Consultant for the Carlisle House.

Here's what Norm had to Say.

The Carlisle project gave us the opportunity to explore this issue. The first consideration is the underlying structure of the home. If the foundation or framing is seriously compromise (usually as a result of water damage), it can be costly to fix. An experienced home inspector or contractor can judge the extent of the problem. At Carlisle, the whole first-floor deck and much of the sill in the barn was rotten; replacing them would require jacking up the whole barn, an expensive process. We had to think carefully about that one.

But structural problems don't rule out a renovation. For starters, the selling price could take those repairs into account. And if the house is historic or has notable elements, it might also be worth the trouble. Chestnut window trim and quarter-sawn oak floors? I'd hate to tear down a house like that just because the foundation needed work. We decided the massive Carlisle barn was significant enough to be worth the $18,000 cost of jacking, which also allowed us to improve the foundation and replace the first floor.

Conversely, if a house has been remodeled so many times that virtually nothing of its original charm is left, you might be better off passing. It usually costs more to buy and renovate than to build an equivalent house new. Be sure to weigh the cost of renovation (get a ballpark estimate from a contractor before you buy) against the home's overall distinction and charm.

Once you've done the math, step back and look at the big picture: Can the house work for your lifestyle? Too many people
see an old house with lots of small rooms and immediately assume it's hopelessly outdated. In fact, often a little creative planning can solve any problem. For example, a wall between a formal dining room and a kitchen can be removed to allow for a larger, more communal space in keeping with today's informal e entertaining. A stuffy parlor or living room can become a functional library or home office. Two small bedrooms can be combined into a master suite.

In Carlisle we were fortunate to have the services of architect Jeremiah Eck. Jeremiah loves old homes but also has a. keen understanding of modern lifestyles. He came up with a design that converts our barn 'into a dramatic ''living hall" with a fireplace Up above, the barn lofts have been turned into cozy guest bedrooms. On the other side of the house (far from the public end) is a luxurious new master bedroom wing; it extends into the back yard, so the home's street facade remains traditional.

The biggest change came in the home's central "ell," a low-slung connecting structure between the barn and the main house. Besides being in poor structural condition, the ell was charmless. We tore it down and replaced it with a new kitchen-dining wing that reflects the scale of the old ell but feels entirely different. The eventual owners of this house will enjoy the charm of an old historic home and the convenience of a modern plan and amenities. You can't ask for much more than that.