July 16, 2012
The Essex cottage sits on a wooded hillside lot with views to Essex Bay and beyond to the Atlantic. The property is currently 6.3 acres, but at one time it was closer to 10 acres, as three lots were sold off for development by a prior owner. We have taken steps to restrict any future land divestiture, but the larger story is the restoration of the current landscape.
Part of what makes old houses special is that great care was taken regarding their location. The range of factors that guided the decision of where to build was, of course, limitless, but homes were generally sited to take advantage of the sun (critical in the pre-AC days and to enhance natural light), and to optimize a scenic view or vista. That was certainly the case in a small town like Essex, Massachusetts, where homebuilders had their pick of open land.
When we purchased the cottage, the land had not been cared for in many years. The majestic hardwoods and white pines on the property were overgrown and in desperate need of pruning. The understory was a maze of weeds and invasive species. Trash and lawn debris had been dumped in the back ends of the property, and the once attractive gardens that draped the property had long been abandoned. The combined effect was a damp and dreary landscape with limited air flow and restricted natural light. The main house (and an adjacent barn/studio) bore the brunt of these effects—the roofs were turning green, mold was forming from the damp conditions, and views were long compromised.
Where to begin? It starts with two things: the grade and the trees. The former gives clues about the original intent on the house siting; the latter presents the upper level backdrop against which the house sits, and the property orients. Most homeowners mow their lawns frequently, and most recognize the need to prune bushes and to tend to plants. But trees are often outside the comfort zone, and lack of attention can be a huge problem for older homes—one that only gets worse as trees continue to grow (and they always do). It’s also worth noting that there are more trees in New England today then there were when the Pilgrims landed. This aggravates the impact from storms and poses a fire threat during dry conditions.
Careful pruning and selective tree removal pay huge dividends. Like plants and shrubs, trees can grow too close together with neither benefitting from the arrangement. Trees that are adjacent to structures and drive/roadways are dangerous to inhabitants, particularly in adverse weather. Tree pruning is, of course, not for everyone and often times, the size and scope require a professional tree service. I’ve been working in the woods for many years, but I, too, leave the big messy stuff to the professionals. Safety is paramount. As the old saying goes: “Don’t try this at home (unless you’ve done it before and take all the right safety precautions).”
We are about half-way through our little woodlands reclamation project. Problem trees have been removed, the ocean view is slowly coming back, and the natural light is amazing. We’ve uncovered and exposed some amazing rock outcroppings, and the house and barn are drier and more comfortable than ever. So far, we’ve taken out 10 truckloads of trash, stumps, and fallen trees. And in the process, the grade has revealed itself, and a landscape plan that aligns with it is in place. The old growth trees in particular are spectacular in shape and size. They have a certain sculptural aspect that is lost when dead and dying branches interrupt the natural beauty.
Lastly, working in the woods is a great way to connect with nature. I’m not much of a gardener, but I do love trees. So bringing them back to their original glory is enormously satisfying. I can’t wait for the end of the year when we get to show off the reclamation project and enjoy the spectacular late fall colors.
(36) CommentsComment on this Blog
For years, I have searched without success for a recap of project costs on each of these projects. Why are you not sharing this information? What are you afriad of from your viewer base? There are tons on comments asking for this information - why have none been fulfilled? Unless - of course - I have missed something.....
Week after week as we watched the Essex house renovation we shook our heads in disbelief... a beautiful country setting with no deck or patio... and then to push and navigate a wheelchair the excessive distance to an uncovered car parking area on bumpy pavers..ARGHH... I also watched the snow that had accumulated on that steep metal roof slide down onto the freshly shoveled walkway. Too much detail to "cutsy" interior items and not enough to "real world" issues facing life in a wheelchair when out doors.
My wife, Jenny, and I lived on the North Shore in the early 1980s and were friendly with the then owners of the property, Mary and Addie Schade. Addie was a retired architect and Mary was a retired art teacher. Addie had inherited the property from an aunt. Jenny took pottery lessons with Mary in the barn, which Addie told me was a Sears Roebuck kit-build structure from the '30s or '40s. We house-sat for them several times, and I clearly remember that the view was astonishing. You could sit in a window on the first floor and see Ipswich Bay, Hog Island, and the lower end of Crane's Beach beyond. We are very happy to see that the property is being lovingly restored. And that the view is being recovered. A truly magical place!
As I sit here and watch TOH, my immediate thought was the same as Tyler, what was spent on the mechanical's? It is over the top and had to cost a budget most would have for an entire renovation.. Come on guy's these projects have to step back & cover renovations typical to a majority of the viewers, I for one could never dream of a 'Essex' without winning the lotto.
Sad to report that Dan Wegner who was the home owner for the house visited with a disabled person passed away on July 5, 2013 from ALS.
Love the house, just happened on a repeat of the show today. I would love to see the house plans, we are getting older. LOL
Re: Essex | A Home for Mom and Dad Season 32: Ep. 26
How is the propane tank installation allowed in the pit with the electric generator and general purpose electrical practices? Propane is a highly volatile liquid and heavier than air. Vapors would be expected to be present under normal conditions when filling the tank and as the pressure regulator vents due to ambient temperature swings & solar heating to relieve excess pressure in the tank. In industrial installations, the entire area of the pit would most likely be classified as Cl I, Div 1 Gr D if one were to follow API RP 500 or NFPA 497 practices.Seems there should be a vapor proof wall between the propane tank and any electrical equipment.
Why not reveal the dollars being spent on these projects that you get into. The Essex Cottage has got to exceed a million dollar.
Many, who used to watch your program every week, think that you should rename it "THIS OLD MANSION". The projects that you are doing are far beyond the budget of the "AVERAGE AMERICAN".
You are strictly a rich elitist show case and a good reason for average people to not to contribute money to PBS.
You should man-up and disclose the real bottom line cost of this remodel. It has got to be a total that would be out of sight and quite frankly imbarrassing, I believe even if the government in Washington funded the project it would be considered to much.
I would like information about the roll away vanity in the house you went to visit. Where did you get the rolling vanity cabinet and how is the piece that remains and holds up the sink supported?
I love learning about old properties like this one, it is always so interesting to read about. I think that it helps us to understand the people who cared for them.