Crafting a Forever Home
By Kathi Caldwell-Hopper
Photos courtesy Dakota Kate Photography
What do you do when the kids are grown, and you have the house to yourselves? Might you look forward to a quieter, more sedate life?
If you are Jerome and Jennifer Libby, you build a barn. Not just any barn where tools or vehicles could be stored. Not a place for livestock or hay. Rather, you build a big barn where you will live and enjoy your hobbies and where you can work from home.
The barn the Libby’s have created was designed and built for their lifestyles: hard working, independent people, Jennifer a real estate agent with an on-the-go schedule and Jerome, a builder and these days, with additional responsibilities as the head of maintenance at Camp Birchmont in Wolfeboro, NH. The couple has lots of friends and family and active grandchildren who love to visit their grandparents. Jerome and Jennifer have hobbies that include hunting and doing all sorts of outdoor activities. Their lifestyle couldn’t be farther from sedate. When the Libby’s made the decision to build a new home on the rural acreage in East Wakefield NH, they wanted something that would fit their lifestyle, something personal and not a pre-packaged design.
“Jennifer and I designed the house and barn,” Jerome says as he gazes at the rolling fields and distant mountains from the large windows in the space that will soon be their completed dining room and kitchen. Even in late winter (when this interview was conducted), with snow covering the ground, the 11 1/2-acre property is beautiful and quiet, reminding one of the history of the area. Indeed, Jerome explains that the property was once a working farm, they purchased from the Blackwood family.
History abounds inside the home as well, in the large amount of old reclaimed wood Jerome is using for floors and walls throughout the home. The wood floors are made of King’s Pine, and average 250 years or older.
While other people might collect antiques or coins, Jerome has been a collector of old barnboards and wood from historic homes and barns. When a friend or acquaintance calls to say they are tearing down an old building, Jerome looks over the wood and often, salvages old lumber. He always knew he would make use of the reclaimed wood someday, he just did not know how or when until he began to design the barn property that would become the home he shares with his wife and often, with their children and grandchildren, who love to visit.
All floors in the main area of the home have reclaimed wood and it makes for a beautiful, unique style. Mellow old pinewood emits softness and fits together like a unique puzzle. One of the great things about reclaimed wood is that no two pieces are just alike. It is fun to gaze at the wood and imagine the decades of service these boards have had in barns and old farmhouses before being salvaged by Jerome.
Within the barn home, which is a long, red board-and-batten sided structure, part of the space is for living and part for a workshop and a big garage to store Jerome’s work vehicles. In that workshop area, Jerome has at hand the stacks of reclaimed lumber.
To the untrained eye, the wood may just seem like piles of boards. However, as Jerome singles out a beautiful pattern in a piece of lumber, or points to a board that is many years old, it is clear this wood is more than a stack of boards. It holds history and it was made, over 200 years ago, to last. Jerome marvels at the fact the wood was planed by hand at a time long before electricity and timesaving modern tools. Some beams and lumber came from a cigar factory in Massachusetts and some from homes in Alton, Effingham and in Maine.
Because of his years as a skilled carpenter, Jerome can tell rotten wood from usable timber. He pulls a long board from a pile and show where there is potential rot that will have to be cut away. In honesty, the unskilled eye would have a hard time spotting the slightly darkened area as rot, but Jerome has worked with enough reclaimed lumber to discern any issues.
Given the square footage of the home – over, 4,300 feet in total with a footprint of 50’ x 100’ - it is amazing that skilled carpenters Bill Lessard and Bob Todd (friends) have taken the wood, and with Jerome’s help, created beautiful floors. Select walls in the living area also are of reclaimed wood and the kitchen cabinets will be faced with reclaimed pine.
How difficult is it to find reclaimed lumber these days and what might be the challenges of using it in a home? “The biggest challenge is finding the lumber these days because more people are using it in their homes. It is a supply and demand issue,” explains Jerome. “People want authenticity and they like the wood that is reclaimed from old homes.
” Jerome and Jennifer’s home is certainly unique and one can see why the grandchildren love to visit. The design includes such unusual features as a 100-foot-long archery range on the top floor and also a cupola off the range area. The cupola has windows on all four sides and with amazing views in every direction, it is certainly a great place to be as the sun sets and the sun rises, or fall foliage brightens the landscape.
There are four bedrooms in the home so there will be plenty of room for visiting relatives and friends and of course, those active grandchildren.
As of press time, Jerome and his crew were finishing work on the kitchen and bathroom and some deck work is also on the list to be completed. It has been a 1 ½ year-long construction project, but Jerome and Jennifer took their time to sell their former home, move to the barn property in the winter of 2018 and craft a forever home featuring all the beautiful reclaimed wood.
The first order of business when Jennifer and Jerome were designing their home and barn/garage was to make sure the noisier portions of the structure (the garage and workshop) would be well away from the living area. After all, who needs the noise of a truck or even a table saw when you are entertaining friends or trying to sleep? The plan works well, and the garage areas are thoughtfully separated from the main living space.
While construction was in progress in the main living area, the couple has resided in a cozy and convenient basement-level space. It would make, in the future, a beautiful in-law living apartment and it is as far from “living in the basement” as one could imagine. A large open living area has a dining room with views of the fields. There is an open living room area and a full kitchen with leathered granite countertops. Heat in the space, as well as throughout the entire house, is a central system that will also emit air conditioning in the summer. It is a moist heat, due to the system the couple chose, and it will keep the air at a good humidity level year round.
When completed by the summer, the couple will move to the main floor and enjoy their new space. The basement level will still offer a guest room and the kitchen with modern appliances. It will be a nice getaway space for guests or family. Jennifer, a busy realtor, will also have office space in the basement level.
Looking at the rolling fields and distant mountains, Jerome says, “This is something we always wanted to build. We want our kids and grandchildren to enjoy it too. This is our forever home. Our family means everything to us, and includes our daughters Amber, Dakota and Allison and their husbands Rob, Adam and Holden. Our five grandchildren are RJ, Gretchen, Weston, Carter and Reed (with one on the way to soon make six), love it here.”