Reclaimed and repurposed materials breathe new life into a 19th-century CapeBy Lenore Cullen Barnes |Photography by Dan Cutrona
Everything old is new again, or at least repurposed, in this recently renovated antique Cape in Harwich. Dating back to 1829 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the home is one of two on the property that now collectively serve as a family compound for Tom and Becca Ahrensfeld and their son and two daughters. The almost 11 acres include three paddocks and a high-bush blueberry field. “Our goal throughout the project was to honor the house,” Becca Ahrensfeld explains. “There is so much history there.”
The right chemistry
The Ahrensfelds worked with John Domos of John C. Domos Carpentry and Rebekah “Becky” Drozell, a designer with Mid-Cape Home Centers, on what the Ahrensfelds term as “a complete collaborative effort.” “Becky, John and I have very similar tastes,” she says. “I’ve always wanted to do an antique renovation and John [Domos] was all over it. He’s very artistic. We had so much fun bouncing ideas off of each other; 99 percent of the time he said yes.” Drozell concurs and adds: “Becca [Ahrensfeld] has such a design eye, more than anyone I’ve worked with before. She knows exactly what she wants. A lot of what I did was just implementing her ideas.”
Materials with a (re)purpose
Those ideas included reusing as many materials as possible. “Any interesting wood we repurposed,” says Ahrensfeld. “Some of the original doors are now closet doors and floorboards were used as trim for the kitchen ceiling and framing out bathroom mirrors. We needed to replace the windows for efficiency but used the old windows as transoms and interior windows upstairs. I love rust and old things, and it’s the environmentally right thing to do.”
Even newspapers, once used as insulation, were saved and integrated into the home’s new life. “We found newspapers dated 1899 and 1900, with sketches of the America’s Cup and boxing matches,” Ahrensfeld recalls. “John built a ledge in the dining room that serves as a sideboard and we placed the newspapers on it and covered them with a piece of thick glass.”
Domos began the renovation by raising the structure. During that process, he salvaged bricks from the original 10-foot-round Cape Cod cellar and used them to rebuild the kitchen chimney, now a working fireplace. The chimney in the living room was not viable so it became a chase that houses utilities. The original mantel and an electric firebox maintain its status as a focal point.
Removing the sheetrock from the first-floor ceiling exposed original beams and rafters. A steel beam was added to support the second story and new ash floors were installed throughout the house, except for the kitchen and bathrooms, where tile was laid. “Utilizing as much original material as possible kept the integrity of the house,” says Domos. “The staircase siding is [made of] planks, palm-sanded from original exterior sheathing. We added two dormers upstairs and integrated some original beams and rafters into them. We left the outside gables intact to retain the [original] look.”
A unique sliding barn door between the kitchen and living/dining room epitomizes the home’s allegiance to its history while marrying form with function. At the homeowner’s request, Domos took four existing closet doors inside the house, trimmed them down to 24 inches each and joined the doors together to create an eight-foot span. For a rustic touch, “We sanded them to the original paint and kept the original handles,” says Domos.
The kitchen, which includes a laundry area and powder room off to the side, was designed to feel open and airy, so a wall of windows takes precedence over upper cabinetry. The kitchen and powder room sinks were purchased from a salvage yard in New Bedford. Meanwhile, the light above the kitchen sink was crafted from a decorative sleigh left by the previous owner.
Similarly, the antique beam hanging over the kitchen island was repurposed from a 200-year-old barn and converted into overhead lighting. “It took us a couple of days to run the wires and transformers through it,” Domos remembers. Galvanized pipe secures it to the ridge of the ceiling.
“The beauty of this project was that it’s so easy to work with Becca [Ahrensfeld]. She gave me leeway to make some choices and I enjoyed the freedom of expression. Everyone who sees the house says they want to move in,” says Domos. “It’s beyond what I ever expected,” says Ahrensfeld. “It just wraps you in a hug with its warmth and friendliness. It’s not a fussy house, but it’s a masterpiece.”