Vision for an Old House
Old House Journal|December 2020
This hands-on couple have been reading OHJ since its newsletter days. Their forever project is an exemplary unmuddling that took them 22 years. Now the 1880s Queen Anne house is a showpiece in their New Jersey neighborhood.
REGINA COLE

The porch flows into an attached gazebo that acts as an outdoor dining room.

A NEW REIGN The porch rebuilt: Antique wicker furniture is at home here. Homeowner Janet Smith stained the tongue-and-groove pine ceiling and mahogany floorboards prior to installation.

The Smiths created the interior from family pieces and flea-market finds. The tablecloth is from an uncle’s collection; china belonged to a great-grandmother. The gasolier came from a secondhand shop and was restored.

They never considered buying a new house. Nor did Janet and Bob Smith ever think they’d furnish an old house with contemporary pieces. “We love old things!” is their mantra, and their answer when they’re asked why they bought such a dilapidated 19th-century house as this one in Westfield, New Jersey. • They had to see beyond its present state, of course, not just love old things. When they bought the house, it had asbestos siding, and the once-gracious porches wrapping the front and sides were gone. A concrete patio pitched towards the structure, channeling water into the house. Tree roots had grown into the basement. Raccoons and squirrels lived in the attic. A handsome, four-story corner tower had been razed, down even to its foundation.

The Victorian house at it appeared ca. 1926: second owners the Scheffer family pose with their new Studebaker. (Courtesy Malcolm Scheffer, Mesa, Az.)

This is the house as it looked when the Smiths purchased it.

After removing asbestos shingles and restoring the exterior, homeowner Bob Smith built a porch and an octagonal corner gazebo to take the place of the original tower.

Now the Queen Anne house in Westfield, New Jersey, looks much as it did when built.

THE TOWER QUESTION An original corner tower had been torn down in the past. Replacing it was simply not practical for the Smiths. It had been four stories tall, with one room on each level: a large, complicated, expensive construction project for these do-it-yourselfers—and one that, in the end, would yield little usable (or needed) interior space.

The family did, however, need a new kitchen. The original was long gone; the small, inelegant replacement was inadequate for the needs of a family with three children. So, given the budget, they put their resources into a new kitchen instead of replacing the tower.

They compensated for the loss, nevertheless. With its whimsy, asymmetry, and conical roof, the tower had been an important style marker for the Queen Anne house. So Bob Smith created a gazebo-like bump-out as part of the wraparound porch, on the same side of the house where the tower had been. “My husband framed the octagonal porch alone, with the help of a boom lift,” Janet marvels. “I still can’t believe he did it. And carpentry is just his hobby.”

The octagonal space is usable as an outdoor sitting room and dining area, suiting the family’s needs. It also restored the house’s asymmetrical massing but with a simpler, more affordable construction. It’s what negotiators would call a win-win solution.

“You know how people paint windows shut?” Janet Smith laughs. “We had windows that had been painted open.

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