Architect orchestrates top-to-bottom renovation of Vermont home

Design New England Style
The clapboard house is in a historic neighborhood once nicknamed “Pill Alley” for the many doctors who lived there in the late 1800s.
The clapboard house is in a historic neighborhood once nicknamed “Pill Alley” for the many doctors who lived there in the late 1800s. Greg Premru

In 2015, Julane Irvin-Ware took architect Ramsay Gourd to see a property she was considering buying in Manchester, Vermont. She had moved to the resort town from Boston in 1990 and loves the community, but her life had evolved — her son is an adult now, her floral business, Vermont Flowers, had grown, and she was ready to find a new space.

“The place she was looking at was big and rambling and had a barn,” says Gourd, whose Ramsay Gourd Architects is in Manchester and Burlington, Vermont, and Ramsay Gourd Home is in Manchester. “It just didn’t feel right. So I said to Julane, ‘What’s your endgame?’”

Julane Irvin-Ware wanted a simple palette of white and dark wood, with natural-fiber sisal rugs. Plants and flowers provide vibrant focal points in many rooms. —Greg Premru

Irvin-Ware remembers it a little differently.

“Ramsay took one look at the property and told me I was crazy,” she says. “That same afternoon, he took me to see another, smaller home that was on the market. The minute we walked in, I knew it was a done deal.”

That’s a bit surprising, considering the house had been rented to a smoker for years and featured an unstable chimney, wet basement, leaky windows, cramped bedrooms, stained wallpaper, and rotting carpet. But its charm was evident to Gourd and Irvin-Ware.

Granite steps and a Dutch door welcome visitors to the house, built in 1866 for a Manchester, Vermont, physician. —Greg Premru

Built in 1866 for Dr. J.S. Osman, the 1,700-square-foot clapboard home lies near the edge of the Manchester Village Historic District, just a few blocks from the four-star Equinox Golf Resort & Spa. The neighborhood was long called “Pill Alley” for its stately procession of circa 1870 structures, built by Franklin Orvis, who founded Equinox in 1853, as homes and offices for local physicians.

“I knew exactly how I wanted it to look,” says Irvin-Ware. “Very simple, lots of white. There were no monumental decisions — we were on the same page from the beginning.”

In the living room, the sofa and ottoman are covered in simple cotton and linen and accented with hand-embroidered linen pillows. —Greg Premru

To get started, Gourd hired Mike Wraga and his crew at Equinox Custom Builders of Rutland, Vermont. They widened door openings, gutted the kitchen and upstairs bath, opened the ceiling of the one-story kitchen wing to gain height, replaced every door and window, and added a small deck off the kitchen.

“Basically, we took a three-bedroom house and turned it into a one-bedroom house,” says Gourd.

At this early stage, Gourd and Wraga also focused on improving energy efficiency.

A mudroom leads to the renovated kitchen, where the pine floors are stained a deep nutty brown and the Shaker-style cabinets are painted white. —Greg Premru

“With old homes, you never know what you’re going to find,” says Gourd. “The kitchen had freeze-up issues, for example. We had to figure out a creative way to insulate it, which involved a crew member squeezing into the crawl space below the floor and sunporch.”

They also patched every hole and sealed the building envelope with spray foam and rigid insulation.

Once the building was tight, they removed a layer of flooring to reveal soft pine, which they refinished and stained a deep, nutty brown. In the kitchen, they installed new cabinets, appliances, and black granite countertops. The peninsula is an antique scrubbed-pine piece that once served as a counter in a coffee store.

A wood-and-wicker theme continues in the dining room, with an antique table and hutch and a twig chandelier from Shades of Light. The living room, with working fireplace, is visible beyond. “The environment doesn’t take away from the inhabitants,” says Gourd. “Metaphorically, the simple palette lets the plants and the people ‘talk.’ ” —Greg Premru

Beyond the kitchen, the first floor flows through a series of cozy rooms — dining, living, library, and sunporch — that perfectly suit Irvin-Ware’s lifestyle.

She likes to host intimate dinners and cocktail parties, and says Gourd: “The space works really well for entertaining. It’s a continuous thread of livable spaces, with a simple palette of white and wood that puts the focus on the plants and the people.”

The most vibrant room is the three-season sunporch, furnished with wicker and decorated with tropical-themed fabric and two graceful potted plants that reach to the ceiling. A sisal rug is framed by the deep-turquoise-painted wooden floor, which picks up the blue in the fabric.

These cheerful pops of color are echoed in adjacent rooms: the summer sky in a painting over the fireplace mantel, the gleaming bottles and glass shelves of the built-in bar, the books on the built-in shelves in the sitting room/library.

The second-story bedroom is appointed in wicker, rattan, and simple, crisp white linens. —Greg Premru

The second floor was reconfigured with function in mind. It includes a simple bedroom for Irvin-Ware, a master bath with a spacious shower and concealed washer and dryer, and a tiny former bedroom that now serves as a spacious walk-in closet, with enough room for a small desk and chair.

Outside, things are coming together. Irvin-Ware, whose floral company (formerly called Flowers, Flowers) focuses primarily on hotel and hospitality clients, worked with landscape contractors Paul S. Marchese and Homestead Landscaping, both of Dorset, Vermont, to design and install a small backyard garden and stone walkway lined with three varieties of moss.

Plans call for a breezeway to connect the house to the small backyard barn, which provides ample work and storage space for her business.

“We’ll see what the barn becomes,” she says with a laugh. “This home is a work in progress, as we ourselves are works in progress. You build a home, and as you evolve, the home evolves.

“It’s a lovely journey.”

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