July 4, 2017

Historic Concord Grapevine Cottage’s Charms Restored

  • By: Becky Harris, Houzz

Read the original story, first published on Houzz, here.

While his close neighbors were writing iconic American works like The Scarlet Letter and Walden, Ephraim Wales Bull was busy creating what would become an iconic grape. The amateur horticulturalist grew the special cultivar—the Concord grapevine—in 1849, right on his property. Something transcendental in the scent inspired his neighbor, Henry David Thoreau, to write in his diary about smelling it as he walked by the house. Grapes from the original vines of the now-ubiquitous Concord cultivar still grow there today.

The house Bull lived in had fallen upon hard times, but a couple who’d lived in town for years saw its charms, scooped it up, and began a painstaking renovation to restore it to its former glory. While they didn’t change the home's footprint, the pros at Platt Builders and architect Todd Fulshaw tweaked its layout to accommodate the couple's needs. “It was a real labor of love for them,” says Julie Sutherland-Platt of Platt Builders. After a two-year renovation, the home was restored.

The house was built around 1700 but is best known for the Concord grapes grown there, so it’s named for its mid-1800s phase. The cottage is one of the only remaining first-period (referring to the colonial or post-medieval English structures built during the 17th and early 18th centuries in America) 1 1/2-story, central-chimney cottages in Concord.

Former owner Ephraim Wales Bull sold off a few thousand of his grape vines, but nurserymen soon created their own strain and Bull was cut out of the growing process (today’s laws would have prevented this). He died poor, with the Concord house in disrepair. His epitaph at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery reads, “He Sowed/Others Reaped."

Bull's home had been on a downhill slide for years, until it piqued one couple's interest. As part of its renovations, the house gained all-new systems, including plumbing, electrical, and cooling. Builders kept the home's original hot-water radiator heating system, using original and refurbished radiators wherever they could. They also stabilized the home's crumbling foundation.

The house has been altered over the past three centuries, but has retained its original charm. One such alteration was the addition and later removal of a sleeping porch that was atop the screened-in porch. The sleeping porch (likely added along with the screened-in porch in the early 1900s) had been ripped off at some point during the 20th century. Thanks to historic photographs, the homeowners were granted permission to restore it. The new sleeping porch provided space for a master bedroom with 14 windows. There are three other modest-size bedrooms and two upstairs bathrooms in the house.

Houzz at a Glance

  • Who lives here: A couple with a penchant for restoring historic homes
  • Location: Concord, Massachusetts
  • Size: 4 bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms; 2,385 square feet (221.5 square meters)
  • Year built: Sometime between 1690 and 1706
  • That’s interesting: The original Concord grapes still grow on a trellis in the side yard of the property. The folks from Welch’s stop by every so often to take a cutting.

The home's kitchen had not been touched in years, but it didn’t exactly preserve the correct historic period. It was dark, and its ceiling was so low, the 6'4" owner couldn’t stand up straight without grazing his head on it. The builders lowered the kitchen floor to create more headroom. They lightened up the room by installing one large window in place of two previous double-hung windows.

Walnut countertops and simple Shaker blue-gray cabinets lend the kitchen a period look that helps balance its more modern elements. So does its sink, which looks vintage but is actually new. The kitchen's island is an antique English monk’s bench the homeowners already had and were eager to use, and it fit the room just right. Related: Why the Farmhouse Sink Still Hasn't Lost Its Charm.

The house once included a dark library that better suited the couple as an entry and sitting area. The room's beams, staircase railings, millwork, and floors are original. Another of the home's staircases is now equipped with removable banisters for occasions when large pieces of furniture need to be moved up its narrow stairs. The banisters can be taken out, and then popped right back into place.

“The homeowners are fabulous, and they had a clear vision of how they were going to bring the cottage back to life,” Julie Sutherland-Platt says.

Now when a tour bus pauses in front of the birthplace of the famous grape, tourists can see the cottage restored to glory.

By: Becky Harris, Houzz

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