Before purchasing the historic Captain Sutton House in Ipswich, Massachusetts, homeowners consulted with architect Mathew Cummings about the First Period home which was in too poor a condition to live in at the time. After careful examination, Cummings determined that the house was worth saving. Cummings, with the help of the late master joiner and timber framer James D. Whidden, began an extensive restoration project which involved the dismantling, moving and reassembling of the historic house.
The First Period of colonial American architecture is described as architecture that was built approximately between 1626 to 1725. Architectural elements from this period include steeply pitched roofs, large central chimneys and exposed beams. The front facades of these houses often faced south to maximize exposure to the sun and therefore increase the amount of heat in the interior.
Before the restoration project began, the Captain Sutton House was thought to have been built in 1743, but according to The Ipswich Historical Commission, "when timber framer Jim Whidden began disassembling the frame, architect Matt Cummings and architectural historian Sue Nelson discovered evidence dating the eastern part of the house to 1677. The location had been a shipyard owned by Moses Pengry. Etchings of schooners on the house sheathing confirmed the discovery, since they were a "record of what kinds of ships were being built at the time."
Architect Mat Cummings explains, "There was an original portion of the home called the 'one over one' that was built in the 17th century and consisted of a hall and chamber."
Whidden, master joiner on the project, had further explained, "The Sutton House was originally a 'one over one'. The posts are jowled with the common English tying joint. The frame is completely White Oak and the Hall Summer is chamfered with a simple lambs tongue termination, crudely executed. The roof framing is of principal rafter/trenched purlin design with some purlins being replaced apparently when the building was added to on the south side, becoming a center chimney '2 over 2'. The roof had a generous gable overhang, as the overhanging top plates on the south side were intact, albeit mortised to pick up the top plates of the (parlor) addition."
Cummings and Whidden restored the home by stripping it down to the post and beam framework in order to rebuild. The original layout was maintained and original features were maintained or reused, including floors, halls, doors, staircases, fireplaces, and even the original nails."
Taking an historical house and restoring it in a way that not only honors its original form but also makes it suitable for modern living is a task best undertaken by those with a keen awareness and appreciation for its historical significance. As Cummings explains, "The most important thing is loving the house for what it once was."
"We documented the entire existing home, every timber, every joist, and even every piece of lathe. Then after we were done documenting the home and understanding it, we determined what period we were going to restore the home to in each room or each section of the home."
When stripping away materials from the original rooms, Cummings says one needs to be very sensitive about the process. He explains, "It's not uncommon for there to be original plaster on the walls. When that happens we actually restore the frame of the house from the exterior by removing the clapboards and boards and we number each one. Then we place insulation and electric from the exterior of the walls and then replace all the boards and clapboards to their original locations and we only remove things that we have to."
"There are a lot of historic architects out there but they mostly do public work or they mostly do redesigning of the homes. We have a niche for these old homes which is to bring the old home back and provide people with all these really awesome designs for kitchens and bathrooms and things that allow them modern living. Typically we do this by removing these areas from the original fabric of the home and create wonderful modern additions so the homeowners can live their lives in two worlds. They can have a roaring fire in an old fireplace with maybe light only by candlelight, and then they can walk into their modern kitchen with downlights and soft closing drawers. They can live in the modern world in the additions, or they can live in the original rooms when they want to. This way, people can enjoy the spaces for what they once were."
The dining room of the Captain Sutton House was referred to as the Hall, and is where everyone gathered and spent most of their time back in the day. All of the ceiling beams are original and there is a first period fireplace in the room as well.
Cummings states, "I think if somebody who originally lived in the house walked into one of the rooms today, they might actually feel as though they're home."
The project took two-and-a-half years to complete and the homeowners received the 2012 Mary P. Conley Preservation Award for the restoration of their home. The award, named in honor of Mary for her endless dedication to preserving historical sites, is given to the owners of Ipswich, MA properties that are deemed noteworthy for a recent restoration or general improvement.