Something Old, Something New
A husband-and-wife team honors the past by restoring an old Maine farmhouse in Sidney—and learns some new skills along the way.
One day back in 2015, John Jefferson was busy removing siding from his old barn in Sidney when he found an unexpected piece of history lurking in the walls. He peeled back the old cedar shakes to reveal pages and pages of newspapers from 1923, copies of the Daily Kennebec Journal. Almost a century ago, previous owners of this big gray barn had re-sided it, but instead of using house wrap or tarpaper, they chose a more economical option. Not wanting to rip the paper, Jefferson set about carefully removing long sheets of headlines and advertisements, inches and inches of columns, page after page of typeset.
“It turned what was a small task—taking off the old cedar shakes—into a very big one,” he says. “It was so brittle and fragile. But I saved all of it.” John and his wife, Amy Jefferson, kept this newsprint and framed pieces of it for decor. In the kitchen of their 1773 post-and-beam three-quarter Cape hangs an advertisement for a home goods shop, for example, which was selling bales of oriental rugs starting at $39.40. “I kept that one because it ties in with my love for antique rugs,” Amy explains. A piece of newsprint in the bathroom advertises a masquerade ball set to take place in Gardiner in the early 1920s. Upstairs in the nursery, pieces of newsprint still cling to the old beams. “We didn’t want to take that down,” Amy admits. “Even the advertisements are interesting. But we balance it out with some impressionistic landscapes.” She adds, “We don’t want to feel like we’re living in a museum.”
It’s a fine line, and one that this young couple is continually navigating. They want to respect the soul of their home, but they don’t want to feel constrained by an excessive dedication to historical accuracy. “We decided to keep anything that tells the history of the house and its stories,” Amy explains. “We won’t change anything that is slightly wonky just for aesthetic purposes. So we have uneven floors, which make you feel a little like you’re on a rollercoaster.” She couldn’t bear to tear up the two-foot- wide floorboards that had been worn down in the middle from centuries of footsteps. And John wouldn’t even entertain the idea of painting the original pinewood beams. Some things are too precious.
But they have made changes. After getting married and moving into the white clapboard farmhouse located on a sprawling 40 acres of fields and woodland, the couple set to work renovating the bathrooms, painting over the brightly colored walls with coats of white paint, tearing up the pea- soup-green carpeting, and sourcing antique rugs for the floors and graceful vintage beds for the guest rooms. They added granite steps to the front entryway and put on new garage doors. In some ways, they had gotten lucky: a 1990s renovation had already significantly expanded and updated the modestly sized eighteenth-century house, adding a sunroom, a bathroom, and two bedrooms onto the west side of the structure. “They did a great job in making sure that the addition had the same feel as the original house,” says John. “It’s also recessed back a bit, which makes it look similar to the L-shaped additions you often see on old houses.” The only downside, Amy notes, is that the two sides of the upstairs don’t connect. “You have to go downstairs and then up a flight of stairs to get to a guest room,” she says. “But it kept the exterior integrity of the house intact, so we don’t mind.”
While the couple shares a love for old things— Amy unwinds on the weekends by sifting through piles of vintage rugs, seeking the perfect pattern, while John restores antique cast-iron pans as a hobby—their tastes don’t always match. So they have learned how to compromise. “I would live in an all-white house if I could,” says Amy. “I think I bought 23 gallons of Simply White paint from Benjamin Moore in every finish you can imagine.” (She jokes that the staff at the local Aubuchon Hardware “cringe and hide” whenever she walks in.) While Amy loves the crisp, clean look of a semigloss white wall, John craves a bit more color, so they added slate gray and stormy blue to the mix. John also has an affinity for red, and since cherry red and matte white happen to be a classic New England color combination, they brought in some bright textiles to add pops of red to the bedroom and living rooms. To brighten the Colonial- era rooms (which have small windows and low ceilings, two elements that made them easier to heat back in the day), the couple invested in some new lighting fixtures, including an industrial-inspired oil-rubbed bronze pendant lamp that hangs over their bed and a twinkling crystal chandelier that illuminates the dining room. “There is no correct period lighting, except candles and oil lamps, so it wasn’t hard to compromise there,” says John. “But you have to have some unexpected elements in your house. We wouldn’t want to be too predictable.”
Although they’ve made great headway in creating their ideal living space, both Amy and John say there’s more work to be done, and they look forward to doing much of it themselves. “We’re on a budget, so we did everything we could together,” says Amy. “But John is an awesome woodworker—he wouldn’t say that, but he’s an old-school woodworker, and he’s really talented.” They spent Amy’s last birthday building a walnut vanity for their owners’ suite bathroom. John also built countertops for the kitchen and a small breakfast nook. He has even built a small forge in the backyard, where he created handmade iron hooks that hang in the owners’ suite bathroom. “You could buy one at a hardware store for 60 cents,” says Amy. “It does take a few hours to make one. But they’re so much more beautiful when they are handmade.” There is a satisfaction that comes from seeing the fruits of your labor, Amy says. It brings meaning to even the smallest act—like hanging up your towel after a shower, or frying an egg in a cast- iron skillet.
The couple recognizes that it will take some time to fully update and restore their old Maine home. But they don’t mind taking it slow. They find value and meaning in working slowly toward a shared goal. When asked if they consider the white farmhouse their forever home, the husband and wife answer almost simultaneously. “We plan to live here until we can’t,” says John. Amy adds, “We wanted one and done. We knew we wanted to start with our dream house and make it our own over time. We’ll be here forever—God willing and the creek don’t rise.”