Wildwood: a new home built for history
Written and photographed by Tracey Buckalew
In the design world, everything old is new once more. Eclecticism has been fully embraced, and homeowners are delightfully repurposing great-grandmother’s treasured pie safe or sideboard into their modern home as a display case or kitchen island. An item’s original function is cast aside, as it is given a new life as an oh-so-chic whosit for displaying whatsits. It doesn’t really matter what it was before or what it has since become. That’s the beauty of this style, really—anything goes.
Oh, the delight of rediscovery…
The resurgence of the love of all things weathered and worn has been simmering within the design and construction industries since the 1980s, gaining considerable momentum with the onset of the “green” movement, and as a result of our nation’s latest economic struggle. The reclamation of bits and pieces from the past to be integrated and sprinkled around one’s home has blossomed into the entire dismantling of old structures to harvest any preserved beams, timbers, and flooring.
Achieving harmony while blending the old and new is a design style in its own right, and more architects, builders, and craftsmen are becoming proficient at the successful integration of materials salvaged from an older home into the design scheme of a new one. The result is the creation of a space touched by the personality of yesteryear, but which still caters to the creature comforts of modern lifestyles. It was exactly this concept that occupied the minds of Liberty Builders’ Scott and Angela Deering, when they built their home, Wildwood, ten years ago.
“When we finished restoring Woodlawn Plantation (now the Washington Grass Inn in Siloam) and sold it to the current owners, we both agreed that our next project would include modern conveniences,” says Scott. In love with antebellum homes and period furniture, he and Angela found a way to marry a love of history with their livelihood—their creative talent being the thread by which the seams between past and present are sewn and made attractive to clientele. “I can build box-store-type homes in the blink of an eye,” he says, “but it’s the restoration of a home and bringing the past to life…that’s where my passion is.”
Consider, for example, the Deering’s own residence. Settled amongst a grove of mature hardwoods found at the end of a long, winding path just off of Liberty Church Road in White Plains, sits a two-story stone house reminiscent of a Colonial manor home. Enclosed by a rustic, wooden fence, the grounds are adorned with lush green grass and a manicured, English courtyard. Bushes bloom profusely, spilling over rock walls and providing brilliant pops of color in every direction.
The property has been lovingly created, its plethora of outbuildings—characteristic of plantations built in the 1800s—are also pristine and well kept. Guests often marvel at the effort it must take to restore and upkeep such a place. Invariably, they are always surprised to learn that the house and its outbuildings were built from 2005 to present. “We always laugh when someone asks how long it took us to restore everything,” says Angela. “Nobody believes that it’s a new home.”
“We were fortunate enough to be given an old house (the Smith-Strickland house), and it was in really good shape,” Scott says. “It was built in the mid-1800s, but we were able to use the floors, staircase, beams, mantles and granite from that house when we built this one.” Other items used to embellish the residence were found at antique shows and sales. “We gather a lot of pieces when we’re out shopping,” adds Angela. “Windows, doors, mantles… we put all the pieces together and then decide what to do with them.” According to Scott, his wife’s ability to visualize a finished project from one small component is a large part of what guides their next steps. She is the innovator, and he is the executer. “We make our own heirlooms,” Scott says as he laughs. “Our table was the front door of an old building.”
Although much of what completes their décor is something that simply caught the eye of the Deerings whilst shopping, knowledge of period-specific detail greatly dictates the appearance of the homes they build. Angela, in particular, is a history buff, and can trace her family lineage back generations to the green isles of Ireland. In fact, much of the land in the Liberty Community has been in Angela’s family for more than two centuries. Her ancestor, Reuben Smith, a revolutionary war soldier, is buried just down the road behind the very church to which he deeded the land – Liberty Methodist, organized in 1786.
Another of Angela’s ancestors is the namesake for Neary’s Pub, one of the outbuildings constructed on the Deering property. A gathering place to relax with friends, Neary’s also doubles as a meeting room when the opportunity arises to do business over a handshake and a glass of brew. Well-chosen architectural pieces lend an authentic feel to the richly vibrant, masculine room. It’s almost surprising not to detect a hint of pipe tobacco and Guinness from inside this extraordinary space.
Neary’s and two other outbuildings are joined by pristine, pea-gravel pathways lined with shade plants and flowering bushes. The serene setting is a visual treat, each of the other small structures accented prettily by well-placed greenery and tasteful décor.
Cedar shake shingles cover the entrance of a charming replica of a playhouse Angela’s mother enjoyed when she was a girl. The wee structure is a hop, skip, and a jump away from yet another space that is perfect for enjoying friends – the school house.
Embellished with a majestic entryway salvaged from an old primary school, the F.D. Roosevelt Grade School found on the grounds is now an open-air gathering place for kids of all ages. Inside, comfortably cushioned wicker furniture flanks a stone fireplace, and a red-and-gray checkered floor opens onto a deck overlooking a lush, wooded landscape. Antique memorabilia, weathered and worn shutters, and tin signs adorn the walls, while a row of Alphabet letters line the cornice overhead. It is a quaint, comfortable space that invites its occupants to breathe deeply of fresh country air and succulent ribs smoking on the grill.
Across the pebbled path, and winding around huge blooms of hydrangea and clusters of fragrant, potted herbs, is the side entrance to the Deering residence. In keeping with the 19th century feel to the grounds, the interior of the home also has an eclectic-but-tasteful flavor. The rooms are touched by items from the distant past, and are cleverly repurposed into a space that accommodates a modern family. Granite slabs and pine floors which supported the footsteps of a prior generation, now live a second life as beautiful, glossy countertops; gingerbread trim that adorned the eaves of a family home throughout the 1800s, now flirts with the kitchen ceiling as an ornate crown moulding.
A powerful statement is made when a space is filled with the history and tradition of one’s own family, but little is lost if the history is not known. Real or imagined, each salvaged treasure comes with a story that adds flavor and depth to each space we call “home.”