About Me

Growing up in a small New England town with a mother who was an antiquarian it was inevitable that I would be exposed to old things. After graduating from UMass/Amherst I lived in Connecticut, taught school, married, and raised three children in suburbia. A move to Newburyport MA renewed my interest in all things old. This background has now evolved into research, writing, consulting and all the things I love to do.

Prudence Fish

Friday, March 13, 2015










At the top of the stairs a turn to the left brings you into the master bedchamber as it would have been called in the 18th century.  Here was a major problem.

As described previously the back staircase had been removed leaving the front stairs the only way to access to the second floor.  The chimney in the middle necessitated going through one of the two front rooms to get to a back room.  This would not be an acceptable arrangement for a late 20th century buyer.

To overcome this problem, an owner in the distant past had found the easiest solution.  He divided the bedroom.  Three quarters of the space toward the gable end of the house became the bedroom reduced in size.  The remaining quarter closest to the stairs and chimney was partitioned off creating a corridor running from the front wall of the house to the back rooms of the house.  In this corridor was hidden the paneled fireplace wall with bricked up fireplace and non-existent hearth that should have been the main focus in a wonderful room.  The paneling happened to be the best in the house.

On the left side not showing was the added in wall so
what you see in the photo was the dark corridor from the door
that you can see leading toward the rear second floor rooms.

This wall would have to be removed to restore the room to its original look. Now that there would be a new back staircase there was no need for the offending corridor in which was found this beautiful and most sophisticated paneling of all.

The back of the this bedroom shows some of the paneling, a door
to the back hall and bedrooms and a closet. The partition had
been miraculously removed with hardly a mark on the ceiling or the floor.

With great care Paul’s crew removed the added wall without destroying the ceiling.  I didn’t think this could be done but it was.  The entire ceiling was saved and the floor to which the partition had been nailed was also brought back without damage.
Here is the paneled wall before restoration of the
 hearth and fireplace.  This lovely wall had been
previously hidden in a dark and narrow corridor

The fireplace and hearth were restored and a damper added.
Here is the same rear corner after being painted.
The room was then painted a lovely blue, the floor was painted and the room returned to its original look very carefully and completely.  What a beautiful room!
Looking toward the front of the house in the master

Unfortunately the colors are so distorted you
would never know that this is a beautiful room
with white walls and a Williamsburg blue on the
woodwork.  Tab curtains were made for the


The second floor hall landing looking
toward the second bedchamber. A little of
the bedchamber blue is showing as is the
"tusk" mixed by Nellie that worked so well.
The room opposite the master bedchamber (designated as the master bedchamber because it had the best paneling) was another room of similar size.  There were no special issues to deal with here.  There was a lot of feather edged sheathing on the fireplace wall and two paneled doors at the left of the fireplace opening two cupboards, one above the other.  

Like the parlor beneath this room there is an odd mix of feather edged sheathing
combined with panels and nice paneled doors.
The floor had particularly wide boards and the center had never been painted.  There was ancient linoleum and the border around the linoleum had been painted many times.  The floor was severely pitched away from the chimney that was holding it up.  It was slanting in the direction of the gable end of the house where the sill had rotted. Leveling this floor would have been much too invasive and would result in loss of plaster.  It was left alone hoping that antique buyers would understand and find it acceptable. Lovers of old houses have to have a certain amount of tolerance for the idiosyncrasies that go with an ancient building!

This is the plaster preparatory to saving it.  Looks pretty awful but
how perfect it was when finished.  The added piece of wood between the
windows is still a mystery to me but I have seen it in other houses as well. 
The major problem we had with this room was of our own making.  I had seen a color I particularly liked. It was a lovely rosy salmon color.  I picked out a color and painted the room.  As it dried it got worse and worse. We tried again.  It was almost hot pink!  Oh! My gosh!  Help!  Again, Nellie reminded us, “Intensity increases with volume”.  We should have heeded her advice. I thought it was burned into our brains. We should have had her mix the paint! What looks like a nice color can be quite unsatisfactory when seen in large quantity on an entire room.

After many tried we succeeded in finding the
color we wanted and it still looks nice. This
photo may not be quite right but it is closer.

The room was charming when we added some old pieces
of furniture.  The walls were actually white and the wood work
was the color of the door opposite.
  We dubbed the room the “bubble gum room” because no matter how hard we tried or how many times we repainted, it always came out looking like bubble gum.

 Searching for the right color I liked what I saw on a chart for Old Village Paints.  This was a little different.  We had to purchase a can of brownish paint, then a can of off white and mix the two together. Voila!  A perfectly wonderful, soft salmon emerged as this strange concoction was blended. On the woodwork it looked even better.  The bubble gum room was finally history and a lovely, warm, cheerful room was a sight for sore eyes.  The bubble gum nightmare was over but never forgotten.

The completed bedroom looked charming and sweet
but I am so disappointed that the photos do not show
the true colors.  The furniture is part of our staging the
house for showings.  In this we were ahead of out time.

Restoration of the hearth, fireplace and installation of a damper completed the masonry work.  A coat of paint on the floor and this room was ready for a new owner. 

To be continued in part 8.  Just a little more to go!


  1. I am enjoying each installment of this series, especially reliving all the restoration decisions based on the enviable amount of original material extant. The bedroom situation reminded me of an early Greek Revival house I considered buying in northern Ohio. The stairs ended with a small landing, and there were five bedrooms arranged in a ring, with only two of them exiting onto the landing, so the most remote room required passing through two other bedrooms. I wasn't in the house long enough to figure out what was original or how it could be fixed, but I imagine a back staircase like you (re)installed would have been part of the solution. (I can't recall any original features upstairs, but you should have seen the parlors!)

    1. It's a dreary, rainy day in New England but your thoughtful comments cheered me up. An antique house with a chimney in the middle which so many of them had absolutely calls for a second staircase in the rear. Many of them were removed over the years and are left with an awkward floor plan. In fact, as we were putting this staircase back, another old house owner I knew was taking theirs out!

  2. As I await each installment of this series I grab a cup of coffee, click on your blog in the morning and I am always delighted to see a new entry. I particularly admire your approach to restoration an not remodeling an old structure. It is such a delicate balance that often goes astray as so many homes are destroyed by putting a modern new house inside and old frame.

    1. Hi Paula, I am so glad to hear you are enjoying this series. It seems as though it is going on forever! The serious old house people I guess are always interested. I do think it is really hard to find the right balance; keeping the house authentic but making it livable. I think it would be even harder today because of the expectations of the buying public especially in terms of bathrooms and kitchens.
      As always, thanks for chiming in!