House and Barn Expo

Merging modern tastes, historic homes can take an expert's help

March 10. 2014 3:23PM

Old House and Barn Expo attendees enjoy the expo last year.. 

JUST LIKE clothes and cars, old house styles and techniques change over time.

The New Hampshire Preservation Alliance, in preparing for its March 15-16 Old House & Barn Expo, checked with some key sources to explore what's trending and what's classic. The best news, reports Beverly Thomas, program director at the Preservation Alliance, is that interest in preservation is on a steady upswing.

"The Alliance's member and constituent lists are growing, thanks to your affection for special places, need for practical solutions, and 'go local' interest," she said.

This year's expo offers more than 100 exhibitors, lectures and demonstrations at the Center of New Hampshire, Radisson Hotel in Manchester from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. Tickets are $10 for adults; $7 for students and seniors. Discounts and additional information are available at

Here are some of the trends that the Alliance is seeing:

• Returning to old-fashioned living and stewardship: Demographics and economic challenges are changing the way we live in our historic homes. With older children or elderly parents to accommodate, old houses provide lots of space and flexibility. Heating a few smaller rooms, for instance, can be more energy efficient than an entire, open-plan house. Converting basement or attic space is also popular right now. But author and expo presenter Howard Mansfield cautions that being a good old house steward involves taking the time to appreciate what's special in your home before making major changes.

"We're living in an era when too many people are doing too much," he said, "tearing out walls for an 'open concept' floor plan, 'updating' every surface and window. We have different expectations of comfort and safety, of course, but if we continue on this path of destruction-by-renovation we will be left with old houses that have the same countenance as a Botoxed face."

Making an overall preservation plan first: Preservation contractors and expo sponsors like Steve Bedard of Bedard Preservation & Restoration, Arron Sturgis of Preservation Timber Framing, Robert Pothier of First Period Colonial, Steve Fifield of Fifield Building Restoration and Relocation and Ian Blackman of Ian Blackman LLC will be at the expo to explain practical and preferred sequences and techniques of preservation stewardship solutions.

Bedard is seeing greater awareness of the need to understand their building's needs and be cost effective in finding solutions to address concerns. He recommends getting a good look at what you have first. "For instance, cleaning out the inside of a barn helps you see what problems you might have with water or insect infiltration, and removing exterior vegetation can be a first step in solving moisture problems."

Using local materials and salvage components also appeals to a growing number of howeowners. The Alliance booth at the expo will have a list of sources for such materials.

• Improving energy savings: Andi Axman, editor of New Hampshire Home, said that energy efficiency continues to be a top priority for people renovating or restoring an older home. "There are so many new options available," she said, that have minimal impact on the character of an old home."

Examples she offered include adding an exterior or interior storm window and weatherstripping and repairing the sash so that historic windows can be preserved; maintaining hot-water baseboard heating by installing a geothermal system that takes groundwater to heat pumps; and, of course, adding appropriate insulation wherever possible.

Expo sponsors ReVision Energy and Innerglass Window Systems will be on hand at the show to discuss different features of this important topic.

Updating kitchens to reflect a historic appearance: Vintage Kitchens owner and expo sponsor, exhibitor and presenter Sue Booth said new products facilitate new solutions for "historic" kitchens. If you want to keep the old layout of a kitchen but are challenged by lots of doors and windows and hard-to-light spaces, you can incorporate separate refrigerator and freezer units and add LED lighting.

And old house owners are gravitating toward natural materials such as slate and soapstone for counters and sinks, said Booth. Painted cabinets mixed with stained wood pieces continue to be popular, especially paints in blue and gray tones. Another trend, Booth notes, is that "people are motivated by functionality and aesthetics and are less worried than they used to be about matching finishes."

• The New Old: Homes from the 1950s and 1960s are the newest historic buildings. According to the N.H. Division of Historical Resources, buildings 50 years old or older qualify for historic consideration.

That means thousands of post-World War II houses are gaining new appreciation for their distinctive style and use of materials, as well as their smaller size and clean lines. L Shop on Main Street in Littleton is a popular source for vintage furnishings for such houses.

According to Sally Zimmerman of Historic New England, "Mid-century homes can offer an affordable alternative to first-time home buyers in established suburbs: Younger buyers appreciate the open floor plans, retro look, and smaller footprints of 1960s ranch houses and often they're the least pricy options in desirable neighborhoods."

Interestingly, Zimmerman sees some of the preservation needs for these homes linked to their modern ambitions: "Radiant heating systems in the ceilings, asbestos floor tiles, and flat roofs are the kinds of challenges facing owners of aging mid-century houses."

Being flexible and creative about funding: After you've identified the investments you want to make, finding ways to finance them requires knowledge of a changed real estate and financing climate. Home values are still in recovery, lending standards are more stringent, and many households are coping with employment- and debt-related challenges.

Donna Benson, senior vice president of Merrimack County Savings Bank, emphasizes that there are still many financing options for clients, depending on the scale of your project, your home's value and other factors.

They encourage prospective borrowers to take the time to meet with an adviser and explore their choices carefully.

If you have a large project, refinancing your original mortgage for a larger amount at a lower interest rate, and getting the difference back in cash can be an option. As with any home loan, you'll pay closing costs and fees.

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