It was a somewhat monumental task: renovate and restore a 166-year-old home on the coast of Maine to its original splendor. Tack on the fact that said home has been in one family for generations, and the pressure to maintain the integrity of the home’s character was heavy. But for Kelsey Spitalny, renovating her family’s small Cape Cod in Brooklin, ME — her great-great-great-great-grandfather built it in 1850 — was a challenge she and her husband, Adam, were willing to take on.
“For me, it’s very sentimental because my entire family is from here,” Kelsey says of the home, which had been vacant since 2005 after her uncle’s passing. “We’re extremely sentimental people. We’re really proud of the fact that this house has never been sold. It’s always stayed in the family. Everyone in the family recognizes how rare that is. This house basically represents our entire family history of the days in this town.”
The couple chronicle their progress on their blog, Brooklin Heirloom. Here, Kelsey and Adam detail the ups and downs of the renovation process and explain why they wouldn’t change a thing.
Adam: We determined top priority by going and taking a step back: “What’s the minimum viable thing that needs to happen for us to move in here?” Which was the basement. The basement was a dirt foundation, there were puddles, and the whole house was musty and wet.
Kelsey: We didn’t want to do anything else in the house while the basement was still wet, because we didn’t want to put anything in the house that was just going to get musty. So doing the basement and then taking out all of the damaged wet plaster was really like getting the house dry. We knew we had to do that before we could do anything else. And then we knew we needed a new kitchen, so that was the second thing.
Kelsey: We didn’t really want to change the layout of the house too much. There was a wall that was separating the kitchen and the dining room, but when the kitchen was built, refrigerators didn’t exist. They probably didn’t have a sink, and no interior plumbing here. So then, over the years, they have kind of mismatched the kitchen to try to make it work.
Kelsey: We tried to save a lot of the moldings. [Adam’s] friend, Devon, was like, “I have someone that can mill that for you and it will look the exact same.” But that’s not the point. One of my family members had nailed it in there, you know, so I don’t want to rip it out [if we can save it].
Adam: Traditionally, construction is incredibly wasteful. We’re trying not to waste anything. The original floorboards from upstairs are in the basement. Most people would just throw them out the window and call it a day. But those boards are worth something to someone — and that someone is me. I’m going to turn them into furniture or use them in the house.
Kelsey: I think the most challenging thing has been living five hours away while we’re trying to work on the house. So, living in Boston, only having weekends to come up here; you get on a roll and then you’re like, “Oh, it’s going to take me five hours to go home.” So now you have to clean up. I think that’s been the most challenging part — being patient and realizing that it’s really going to take us a lot longer than we wanted it to.
Adam: The floors were so uneven, we had to do a lot of work just to level the floor out enough to be able to lay down [the new floor]. There are hurdles we are encountering that we were not even remotely aware of [before we started this process].
Adam: You come up here with something in mind, a task in mind, you start to get in a rhythm of doing that task and then realize you might be in over your head or you think you know, but you don’t know. And then you have to take a step back and kind of do due diligence, whether it’s watching YouTube videos or hopping on the phone and consulting someone who actually knows what they’re doing. There’s something to say about working as a team, but when you’re doing a project as tremendous as this, you kind of need to tackle multiple things at once and have clear focus on one thing. Kelsey’s been really good about doing just that. She’s been the boss project manager.
Kelsey: I think the most rewarding part is we’re getting to it. We’re right on the cusp of it. I was joking that this house felt like a garage, like I forgot that it was a house, so I think we are getting to that point. You know, putting these wood floors down — my dad and I did it together. Seeing it slowly come back to a place where it’s livable I think is the most rewarding part.
Adam: Probably one of the more rewarding things for me is something to say about us working as a team towards this tremendous goal that we don’t necessarily have the skill sets to accomplish, but we’ll figure it out as we go. It’s a testament to our relationship, and, yeah, there have been times where we’re butting heads, but at the end of the day, we take a step back and we either apologize or realize that we both don’t know what is the right approach.
Kelsey: What I hope our legacy will be in this house is that future generations continue to live here. So I would love for our kids to eventually be as invested in this house as we are. I want them to know our family history, know who lived here, know how important it was to me but also to my mom. It’s important that, because my kids are not going to know my mom, this is a piece of her. So it’s important that we teach them about their family through this house. I want it to stay in the family as long as possible because it’s been in the family for so long and I just can’t imagine it not [being in the family].