A Wreck Reclaimed

This home has stood proudly on the shores of South Kingstown, R.I., since 1896, when it was built for a prosperous sea captain in this once-thriving seaport. It was the only home in the immediate area to survive a 1938 hurricane, and while it bears no official historic designation, it is recognized as a landmark for miles around. There are even ghost stories, as neighbors insist they’ve seen the captain — who was lost at sea in 1907 — pacing in the tower at night.

Until recently, the home’s appearance was marked by tacked-on additions and bargain-rate repairs, as well as several decades of just plain neglect. When the current owners hired Davitt Design Build of West Kingston, R.I. in 2004, it was a simple time -and -materials job to replace a few windows, patch the roof and mend some flashing details. But crews soon found out that much more work was going to be needed.

“You have to expect surprises in remodeling, so we figured on a few things behind some of the walls,” says Dean Darling, project manager for Davitt Design Build. What they weren’t really expecting, however, was to find a crumbling foundation under the guest house, rotten sills under the main house, a falling chimney and a host of other dangerous or significant conditions.

So the project soon turned into a complete historic renovation, gutting many walls to the studs, replacing rotted or damaged framing members, and replacing the roof, windows (most of them original), and many of the floors. In the process, they were also able to restore some hidden and long-forgotten elements, such as period photographs that showed the original name of the home, “Broadview,” which has been re-created on then home’s turret.

“The real struggle with a project like this is in wanting to get all the modern conveniences and creature comforts, while trying to remain as faithful to the original design as possible,” says Matt Davitt, CGR and owner of the company. “In this case, the husband wanted all the comforts while the wife wanted accurate restoration. Among the three of us and my crew, we were able to provide both.”

Sounding the Ship
Beginning with the major structural problems, crews had to rebuild the entire foundation under the guest house and repoint the main house foundation, both of which are fieldstone. The foundation under the rear addition/ bump-out was little more than a pile of rocks, so that was removed and a new one was built. New footers were also poured under the fireplace, as the chimney was settling drastically.

A lot of the home’s original 6 by 6 oak sills were rotted or otherwise damaged, so they were treated and replaced. Darling says that many floor joists had been drilled or cut into so many times to run wiring and plumbing that they had to sister many joists throughout the home. “We simply removed some joists altogether, some because they were so damaged and some to make it easier to match heights of floors that previously were uneven,” says Darling.

To expand the kitchen space, the wall between that room and the bump-out was removed and headers installed to support the load. “The clients wanted to maximize their ocean view from the kitchen, so we opened it up and used steel beams the whole width of the kitchen,” says Davitt.

Battening Her Down
To make the home more comfortable and energy efficient, the home’s windows were replaced with new insulated glass models from Pella that met the region’s hurricane codes for impact resistance. Since custom authentic reproductions were beyond the client’s budget, Davitt used modern windows that fit a traditional Victorian style.

But he also used some ingenuity to replicate some original details. “Some second-story windows were actually pocket windows where the sash would slide into the wall cavity,” he says. “It wasn’t weathertight to begin with, and previous fixes had rendered them inoperable. We replaced the pan flashing, purchased impact-resistant windows, removed the sash and placed them in the opening, and after careful weather stripping, they’re tight, operable and meet hurricane codes.” They did the same on the third floor turret, although those were not pocket windows.

New insulation was also a must, and the owners wanted Icynene to seal up the drafts coming through all the cracks and crevices. Since they didn’t gut every wall to the studs — they were preserving some walls with intact plaster — they had to come up with an ingenious installation method. “We pumped it in from the outside,” says Davitt. “We cut holes at the tops of the stud bays and a little one at the bottom. You pump from the top, and when you see the insulation creeping out from both areas, the bay is full.”

A new HVAC system was also needed, as many areas of the home have never had any type of heating or cooling service. Davitt specified a mini-duct system from Unico, as those are much easier to run in tight areas where not all the walls will be gutted. “Creating feeds and returns still wasn’t the easiest thing to do. We had to be creative in some situations, like running HVAC ducts in the soffit detail in the kitchen to get to the second floor,” says Davitt. “It’s a very silent system when running, but we had to do some careful balancing after installation to get it quiet.”

Of course, other updates were called for as well, such as removing the knob-and-tube electrical system and the cast iron plumbing and replacing with up-to-date systems. A new septic system had to be installed as well, to handle the additional load from the new third-floor bathroom. “Since we were pretty much tearing out the entire dining room floor, we simply lowered all the new mechanicals into the basement through that hole, as opposed to horsing them down the stairs,” says Davitt.

Polishing the Rails
Whenever possible, authentic materials were either restored or replicated to bring Broadview back to her former splendor. An original hip roof over the rear bump-out that was concealed by a gable addition was reclaimed, as were rafter details around the entire home that had been concealed for years. Many wood floors were still repairable and so were repaired and refinished. The dining room floor is new, but done in a style faithful to the home and that matches the refurbished brick hearth and mantel nicely.

All original brass accents and hardware in the home were cleaned with steel brushes and polished to look like new, as were some of the Victorian light fixtures that were still in good shape. To find matches for old light fixtures, Davitt and the client scoured nearby architectural salvage yards.

New techniques were also employed to re-create the old look necessary for a job of this type. Those old plaster walls that were spared for their look and charm would look out of place next to new, smooth drywall, so Davitt and his crew tried faux painting. “It took a little experimenting with different materials and techniques, but we eventually got a perfect match,” says Davitt. “The whole thing was kind of fun.”