Restoring a Historic House
The Cloverfields house, built in 1705, is being restored to the year 1784. Post-1784 features are being lovingly removed, while the rest of the home is being restored or replicated. The company that is undertaking the rebuilding is Lynbrook of Annapolis.
Lynbrook of Annapolis is a construction company based in Annapolis, MD. They specialize in fine residential construction and historic preservation.
The photographs below depict the beginning of their work of preparation for restoration. They were taken recently, in April of 2019, and they show the back of the main house, where part of a 1784 service wing still exists under multiple generations of later additions.
In 1784, the back of the house connected to a one-floor hyphen, which in turn connected to a service building. In the photo above we see the area where Lynbrook of Annapolis will reconstruct the service building. We can also see how they have already removed the second floor of the hyphen, which was built in the 1890s and therefore did not exist in 1784. (You can check out the timeline here.)
While the photo above shows the service wing from the main house, the one below shows the main house from the service wing.
Note the bright color of the bricks next to the first-floor door, in the bottom right in this second photo. These bricks were carefully laid by workers of Lynbrook of Annapolis to reconstruct the exterior back wall of the main house. This back wall will then connect to the hyphen. Those bricks match the eighteenth-century ones in color, dimension, physical characteristics, and texture.
The reconstruction is being managed by the president of Lynbrook of Annapolis, Ray Gauthier. During the year-and-a-half he has been working on the historic house, Gauthier has developed a deep understanding of the original construction methods. In the video above he tells us about them. He also tells us about the tangible connection he feels with the people who were doing what he does (building houses), over more than 300 years ago.
Gauthier’s fellowship with his eighteenth-century peers is evident when, in the video above, we see him pondering the reasons why the eighteenth-century house is still in great condition.
“Why is Cloverfields still in such beautiful shape 314 years later?” Gauthier asks. He then answers:
Because a renaissance man built it. The men that worked on it, the guys who made the bricks, the guys who carved all these panels, the guys who made the doors, the guys who carved all of the dentil molds and stuff… they were the recipients of years and years and years and years of built-up knowledge. Hundreds and hundreds of years. So to follow in their footsteps is just really exciting.
Gauthier praises the quality of the work of those who built the house, almost as if he were having a conversation with them, only not through words but through bricks, panels, doors, and dentil molds.
Gauthier goes on to say:
I am fortunate that I take care of the homes that I build, and so I get the opportunity to go back and see what my work looks like in twenty years.
Think about going back and looking at work 314 years later, and seeing that the walls are still plump. There are no places in this house that are structurally deficient. It’s just absolutely amazing.
So, for me, that is the biggest differential for Cloverfields.
The house is in great shape indeed. So many things could have gone wrong. Had the flashing of the roof been inadequate, water would have penetrated behind the roofing into the structural framing. Had the bricks or the mortar been incorrectly prepared or installed, they would not have carried the weight of the roof, or resisted water penetration or the force of the wind. None of these or of hundreds of other things which could have gone wrong happened. The roof system protected the structural frame and the bricks and mortar carried the weight of the roof. As Gauthier puts it, this is “just absolutely amazing,” and it is the direct result of the application of centuries-old accumulated knowledge.
Lynbrook of Annapolis is making sure that the structure remains sound, that the walls remain solid, and that the bricks and the millwork are properly installed. When they do so, they are following in the steps of the people who did just that 314 years ago. They wouldn’t want to disappoint their eighteenth-century peers.
Leading a Multidisciplinary Team
Gauthier and his team are in the field, every day, repairing and rebuilding the home. But this is only one of their roles. Their other role is to be behind the scenes, coordinating the multidisciplinary team of professionals involved in the restoration. Gauthier explains:
The other differential of course is running a project with a diverse group of professionals. So we don’t normally interface with the archaeologists very much; we don’t normally or almost ever have an architectural historian on board; let alone another historian, a documentary historian. So, to have that whole team together, the dendrochronologist, and the GPR, the radar. It’s just absolutely fun to be able to manage that whole group, pull them altogether, and try to come together, and make a decision first: when are we going go restore Cloverfields to? And second, once we do it, how do we do it?
As members of the multidisciplinary restoration team, we have already taken the first of these steps, when we decided to restore the house to the year 1784. We are now in the midst of taking the second step, that is, to decide what specific historically-sensitive methods will be used to achieve a restoration that is above reproach.
When taking these steps, we carefully listen to each other, because we all know that we have things to learn from each other’s specialty, but also because we are aware that we are a tiny chapter in the centuries-old story of the house. As Gauthier says:
I don’t think anybody on this team has the big head, where they say: “Oh my God, I am better than anyone else and this is going to be perfect.”
I think we are all understanding that we are just a part, a tiny part of the 314 years that went before, and the 314 years that’s going to come after. We are just this little two-year piece in 628 years’ worth of history.
And so, future generations can come here and again appreciate what has been going on in the past.
Just as three centuries later Gauthier can appreciate the care that went into building the house, he hopes that future generations will appreciate what’s going on right now.
* * *
Overhearing a positive conversation between a twenty-first-century residential contractor and an eighteenth-century one invites us to imagine how this conversation can continue centuries from now.
By: Devin S. Kimmel, of Kimmel Studio Architects, for the Cloverfields Preservation Foundation