An Epsom, New Hampshire, Couple Took Their 18th-Century Cape Cod from Rustic Cabin to Cozy House
From our interview with Mark Goldstein and Andi Axman
MARK: I bought the house in 1982. I [had been] renting it. The person I was renting from put it on the market, and I didn’t want to move.
It was in pretty rough shape. It had an outhouse. But I was a lot younger then—in my early 20s. And it was reasonably priced.
ANDI: It had no foundation. The sills were rotted.
MARK: It was a small, rustic, classic Cape Cod house. It was more cabin-like than house-like. But through the years, it always had a roof on it, so the roof structure and all the timber framing was intact.
I did what I could, a little bit at a time, for the first few years. The first thing I did was put in a septic system. And then I picked away at it as I could afford and as I had time for.
Then in 1986 or ’87, I started planning a more major renovation and addition. I built an addition and renovated the whole house. I picked the house up and put a foundation under it because it was sitting on the ground for 200-some-odd years.
ANDI: Mark treated it like one of his projects at work [as a commercial contractor].
MARK: All the work up until the major renovation I did myself and with friends. And I did a lot of the work with the major renovation, too, but I also hired people to help and to build the addition.
The addition was designed to replicate a barn. It created additional living space, with the main bedroom and two bathrooms downstairs, and a guest bedroom and bathroom upstairs.
ANDI: [The house is] an L shape now. It was designed that way because there’s an enormous [rock] ledge out the back door. You had to build around it.
Now the old part of the Cape has a center chimney with a fireplace. On one side is our living room, and the other side is our kitchen and dining area. The basic structure of the house is the same, like where the windows were and where the door was. Mark did have to replace all the windows, and the door is new, but they’re where they were originally.
MARK: And the chimney had to be rebuilt.
ANDI: I met Mark in 1989. I was actually introduced to him by the architect who designed his addition.
MARK: We met just as I was finishing [the addition and renovation].
ANDI: It was good timing. But I remember opening one of the cabinets in the kitchen, and Mark had some beautiful dishes and glassware in there, and the bottom shelf was all tools and nuts and bolts and hardware.
[The house] had just about everything by then—bathrooms, showers. But we have done a lot of projects over the years, like building out the gardens. And there used to be a little barn-like building that was falling apart, but never actually fell apart. It was a miracle. We took that down in 2010 and built a garage. This February, we put solar panels on its roof, and that’s been wonderful. We’re generating more electricity than we use.We have some big maple trees that an arborist told us are as old as the house. Either they sited the house to be under trees or they planted them when they built the house. We don’t know. But they provide lots of wonderful shade.
MARK: There aren’t a ton of records on the history of the house. The older records in town are said to have been destroyed in a fire way back, but the Epsom Historical Association has an incredible archive of everything that’s left. There’s a mention [of our house] in one of the books they produced.
ANDI: Town records say the house was built in 1794, but we were told decades ago that it’s older.
It was called the Roby House. A man named Arthur Roby owned it in the 1920s, I think. And apparently a family of 12 lived here at one point, but we can’t verify that.
There’s a stone wall in the backyard, up at the top of the hill. The farmers—they were livestock farmers, not agricultural farmers—would stack the rocks in neat piles and make these stone walls that are really beautiful.
MARK: New Hampshire is known for its stone walls. They’re all over, through the woods and everywhere, from back in the 1700s and 1800s.
ANDI: That’s how the farmers marked their property and their fields. Our wall probably dates to the time of the Revolutionary War. You look out the windows of our living room into our field, and it’s such a beautiful feature of the landscape.When we dug up the garden beds, we found some pottery shards and coins.
MARK: And some beautiful grinding stone wheels.
ANDI: We found three of them. They’re now part of the gardens. They’re like a piece of art around the border of the gardens.
MARK: Speaking for myself, I often forget about how old [the house] is. I come home and I see the old beams, but I don’t always think about how old it is.
ANDI: When people walk in here, they ooh and ahh over the beams. They’re one single piece of wood, and you think about how they had to come from some really tall trees. There are notches and marks in them from over the years. But it gives you pause, to think about everything that must’ve happened here. All the life events.
I feel strongly that our job is to be stewards of this building and this property. It feels like we were given this special task to do. We love taking care of it. We put a lot of time and energy over the years into different projects. And we really revived it.
I hope we’re done [with big projects], but you know how it is with a house. It never ends. Something always needs your attention. Like, the house is all wood. We never put vinyl siding on it. And that requires a lot of maintenance and upkeep. We have harsh winters, and wood rots, and it needs to be repaired and replaced. That part is ongoing. But the house is pretty solid. As far as big renovation and construction projects, I don’t really see anything in the future.
MARK: Just maintaining it and enjoying it.
ANDI: Keeping it home sweet home. That’s our plan.
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