Homes

Imitation Antique Home | The Oldest New House in New England

Modern-day convenience meets old-fashioned charm. How one Maine couple turned a 1984 house into the antique home of their dreams.

By Annie Graves

Apr 16 2015

1984_Gambrel

The timbers of a 250-year-old barn, bought for $1,000, form the skeleton
of the 1984 gambrel.

Photo Credit : Eric Roth
The light feels old … What’s surprising, though, is the warmth of color saturating the walls and furniture: dark mustard thick enough to sink your teeth into; rosy wooden chairs, like faded flowers; a dough box the color of silvery lichen. On this snowy April morning in Newcastle, Maine, I will step into a house that comes alive with candlelight almost every night. The downstairs fireplaces in Bob and Carol LeBeau’s wine-red gambrel will crackle and glow, casting shadows over 18th-century panels in the living room and in the “summer kitchen,” as Bob likes to call the side entrance, where an ancient-looking yellow mantel is strung with cranberries and spiked with dried pineapples. Wood speaks. There’s no faking antiquity. Everything about this house feels old as the hills, or at least the 1700s. Except that it was built in 1984.
The timbers of a 250-year-old barn, bought for $1,000, form the skeleton of the 1984 gambrel.
Photo Credit : Eric Roth
A seamless color palette flows from hallway to dining room.
A seamless color palette flows from hallway to dining room.
Photo Credit : Eric Roth
Bob and Carol bought the entire 18th-century wall that anchors their living room in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Bob and Carol bought the entire 18th-century wall that anchors their living room in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Photo Credit : Eric Roth
“We looked at old homes in the Newcastle/Damariscotta area,” Bob recalls. The couple was relocating from Massachusetts to Maine, and Carol remembers, “I wanted wooden ceilings, old beams, wide pine flooring, and fireplaces. Real-estate agents would take us around to places, but there would be no fireplaces, or everything old had been taken out. So we started looking for land.” They found five acres, high on a hill, away from the road. Serendipity handed them a young carpenter who was renovating a ski lodge in Brooks, Maine, on Bob’s sales route, about 1½ hours away. His name was Gary Chard. He’d never built a house. The three met over dinner. Bob and Carol brought all the measurements of their previous home, a reproduction gambrel they’d built in Acushnet. “We drew everything on napkin of how we wanted this house to be,” Bob says. “And then we told him, ‘Make it look as old as you can.’ That was the week of Christmas.” He catches Carol’s eye and grins: “A couple weeks after New Year’s, Gary called and said, ‘Bob, can you send me a thousand dollars? I want to buy a barn.’ I said, ‘Gary, what the hell are you buying a barn for?’ And he said, ‘I’m buying it for the timbers and the flooring.’”
A folk-art fireboard graces an 18th-century wall in the master bedroom
A folk-art fireboard graces an 18th-century wall in the master bedroom
Photo Credit : Eric Roth
Warmth suffuses the stenciled walls and floors of the LeBeau reproduction, with antique portraits enhancing the mood in the dining room and hallway.
Warmth suffuses the stenciled walls and floors of the LeBeau reproduction, with antique portraits enhancing the mood in the dining room and hallway.
Photo Credit : Eric Roth
Gary brought the 250-year-old barn to his property in Brooks and cut the beams there, using the measurements written on the napkin. He rented a flatbed to transport the beams and arrived with the old timbers in tow—and absolutely no way of raising them. “He went out to Route 1, bought a cup of coffee, and stood outside until one of those cherry pickers went by,” Bob says, shaking his head. “He hired the guy for a couple of days, and that’s how they got the beams up.”

Adding Age

With the massive structural beams in place and handmade bricks lining the fireplace, the antique bones were set. But 30 years ago, the “Colonial look” often meant Ethan Allen reproduction furniture. “We picked out country wallpaper for most of the rooms and stenciled wallpaper for the dining room,” Carol says. “And all the floors were honey pine, coated with urethane.”
The living-room hutch displays pewter alongside early hatboxes and an old-fashioned barber pole.
The living-room hutch displays pewter alongside early hatboxes and an old-fashioned barber pole.
Photo Credit : Eric Roth
In front of the Wolf range, a vintage breadbox serves as the kitchen’s center island; the blue hutch conceals an under-the-counter fridge. (The large one was banished to the basement to make room for an 18th-century cupboard.)
In front of the Wolf range, a vintage breadbox serves as the kitchen’s center island; the blue hutch conceals an under-the-counter fridge. (The large one was banished to the basement to make room for an 18th-century cupboard.)
Photo Credit : Eric Roth
“Then, about four years after we moved here, we made a mistake. We got into antiques,” Bob continues. “At first, we got refinished antiques, because that was in vogue. Then we bought our first piece of painted furniture, which we still have— a TV cupboard. Once we got one painted piece, we began replacing all the refinished antiques. Then we decided we didn’t like the way the wallpaper looked. We wanted real stenciling.” They removed all the wallpaper. And tinkered with paints and stencils, trying to make the walls look older. “The first room we tried was the living room,” Carol says. “We painted it white, and my husband put a stenciled border around it, but it was too sterile, too white. “I’m not a bright, airy person,” she laughs. “Then he put a wash on it, and it gave a warmer effect. When it dried, it was perfect.”
The hallway mural include scenes from neighboring Sheepscot.
The hallway mural include scenes from neighboring Sheepscot.
Photo Credit : Eric Roth
Stair treads pop with their own stenciled treatment.
Stair treads pop with their own stenciled treatment.
Photo Credit : Eric Roth
It was a turning point for the couple and for the house. Instead of stripping away the years—the usual route when an old house is being renovated—Bob and Carol began layering years on. “At that point it became a lifestyle for us,” Bob says. “Our bible was the Stencil House at the Shelburne Museum [in Vermont], where every room was stenciled.” After the walls, they tackled the floors, painting and stenciling those as well. The house was almost unrecognizable from the one they’d built. And still the LeBeaus dug deeper into history. “I’m a docent at the Chapman–Hall House [in Damariscotta],” Bob says. “It’s a 1754 house with beams like we have, but if you look up, they have wooden ceilings. So we put those in over the last 10 years, fitted in between the beams, to make it look older.” And then they bought a wall. Three years ago, at the annual New Hampshire Antiques Show in Manchester, they spotted a massive wall set up at the back of a dealer’s booth, with deeply carved panels, an opening for a fireplace, and doors on either side of the panels. “We fell in love with it,” Bob says, still awestruck. “It was an incredible 18th-century wall.” With a little bit of jiggering—covering over more of the fireplace bricks—they made it fit. (And in the end, even more authentic. “Back in the olden days, they tried to hide as much of the brick as they could,” Bob notes.)
Stacked yellowware decorates a corner cupboard in the dining room.
Stacked yellowware decorates a corner cupboard in the dining room.
Photo Credit : Eric Roth
If these walls could talk, they might recount tales of their travels. But they’ve come home, anchored to a new wall. Nestled around are massive hutches lined with pewter tankards, stacks of cobalt-blue hatboxes, a tall and slender barber pole, blanket chests that have outlived their blankets. Hand-rubbed with age, burnished with time, they almost seem to glow. “If you came here in the first week we moved here, and you came in here now, there’s nothing that’s the same except the beams,” Bob says. “The house has kept us busy for 25 years. We haven’t stopped. “But there’s not much more we can do,” he adds, almost sheepishly. “It looks kinda old to me at this point.” Carol shakes her head, smiles, and points to the fireplace wall in the summer kitchen. “He’s looking for an old wall to put over there,” she says. Her eyes get dreamy: “We’d take all this out and put an original 18th-century wall there. That’s one thing he’d love to do.” Maybe it’s not quite over.

Tips for Adding Age (for Every Budget)

Stencils and a wash of paint can add years to the look of a home, if done properly; the main investment is time, not money. Here are some additional strategies that the LeBeaus have used, from low- to high-budget.

Lower budget

• Wall stenciling (see Bob’s recipe online at: YankeeMagazine.com/Stencil) • Floor stenciling and stenciled floorcloths • Painted antiques, not refinished (in all colors and prices, from bowls to cupboards) • Antique portraits, even if they’re not your own ancestors (“We think an old house would have had portraits of the family—none of them is related to us,” Bob says.) • Old doors • Natural decorating materials (Carol uses fruit that she dries naturally or in a dehydrator, including pineapples, oranges, apples, and cranberries.) • Candles (“In winter, around 4:00 o’clock, we light candles throughout the house,” Bob says. “We probably go through a gross of candles a year.”)

Bigger budget

• Chair rails and beaded panels around the bottom third of the dining room • An early-1800s carved wall from a Connecticut house installed in the upstairs master bedroom • A large 18th-century carved wooden wall in the living room • Wooden ceilings (covering over plaster) • Rufus Porter–style painted murals in the hall and stairway

Where to Shop

Much of the LeBeaus’ furniture is 18th-century; mostly they shop Maine, especially Wiscasset and York. Here are a few more favorite sources. Roundtop Antiques Show Damariscotta, ME. More than 70 Maine dealers; late August. maineantiques.org New Hampshire Antiques Show Manchester, NH. New Hampshire Antiques Dealers Association; early August. nhada.org Kaja Veilleux/Thomaston Place Thomaston, ME. One of the biggest auctioneers in Maine. thomastonauction.com