On this episode of the Chris Cooper show I will introduce the second of our project houses. A long forgotten farmhouse built in 1837 located in Bright, just 5 minutes west of Cambridge, Ontario. This house will be meticulously brought back from the brink of abandonment and used as our Edifice Atelier Campus to train and instruct home owners and professionals on how to put these houses back together retaining all of its character and charm.
Have you ever driven down that road, not knowing exactly where you are, not knowing exactly where you are going? You somehow stumble upon that gem, that little house that time and love have long since forgotten! It is love at first sight, you can see beyond the tumbled down fences, the dirty cracked windows, the rot, the neglect. You see that little place shining like a new dime – you see its potential, its inner beauty, what it once was, and what it could be.
I have seen so many of these houses slowly becoming part of the landscape, crumbling to the earth merely becoming another nondescript, four-sided figure of stones on the ground that one needs to romantically imagine what humble or possibly monumental structure rose above these stones before it was sentenced to a slow death by decay.
There are so many definitions of abandoned homes, a house is never truly abandoned, somebody, somewhere owns it. I have been working as an architectural restoration expert and educator for over three decades. I have witnessed many different levels of abandonment. From stone shells open to the blue sky above to heaps of graying timbers holding on for dear life attempting so very hard to stay vertical through the unforgiving summer’s sun and the cold damp of winter. However, every so often you find those houses that are just on the brink of becoming uninhabitable.
It seems to be a similar story whereas a house that has been loved and cared for suddenly becomes empty, sadly in most cases due to death. The family has moved on, all have their own new shiny houses, and really have no interest in fixing something that is considered old, antiquated and in need of much work. I guess modernity has made most not see past the tumbled down fences, the dirty cracked windows, the rot, the neglect. And sadly there it sits worth more as land than as a tangible home that once was filled with laughter and love.
This brings us to our story, the story of Stan Lillico, an old fellow who had passed away in 2002 in his 92nd year. As Stan was a confirmed bachelor he had no reason to modernize his untouched 1837 Neoclassical farmhouse or update any fixtures or decorating etc. that were still working, old-fashioned or not. The house has stood empty and going through the stages of abandonment and most likely inevitable demolition.
When I first entered the house I was amazed at how original it was even down to the kitchen coated in layer after layer of green paint – you know… that green paint that every farm house kitchen was painted from coast to coast.
The kitchen had no running water – just a porcelain sink with a hand pump – of course painted in the same green paint.
Much of the wallpaper is from the last major renovation that took place in 1912 when our Stan Lillico was born. The house has a patina over all the walls and woodwork of nearly two centuries of soot from wood burning stoves.
The house has amazing features including all of its 6/6 windows and even the original 1912 bathroom – we have done a lot of work over the past few years to open our Edifice Atelier to teach home owners and professionals these amazing crafts.
I think what sets us apart from other schools is that we have a house filled with the same problems faced by people who want to buy an old farm house but just don’t know where to start. Therefore the most important part of our workshops and training is that it is set in the real world of hands-on education. You get to really work on restoring things – like plaster, old windows, doors as well as learning the crafts of providing character and quality to a vintage home.
No one will ever know the laughter and the memories forged in this house if it becomes another statistic of lost architectural folk art. Yes the fences are tumbled down, the windows are dirty and its nearly 200 year old glass is cracked in a few places and yes there is plenty of rot. But what of bringing this house back to a beautiful home (or in this case an international learning institute) to live on for another 200 years? We are up to the task set before us – are you up to the task to follow our journey as we so very carefully strip back the layers of decay to put back all the lovely detail and architectural beauty this house has to offer? We hope to forge new memories, new laughter and a new chapter in the history book of this house.