The island is abuzz
The last few weeks the island has been abuzz with the discussion of preservation versus modernism. I recently attended a round table discussion sponsered by the Sconset Trust at the Sconset Casino. The panel consisted of Sandy Kendall, retired preservation contractor; David Barham, preservation architect and immediate past chairperson of the Historic District Commission; Mark Voigt, Administrator of the Historic District Commission; and Michael May, Executive Director of the Nantucket Preservation Trust.
The advertised topic was the maintenance of historic homes. The discussion that ensued focused more on how do we stem the tide of the gutting and "modernization" of historic interiors. I have attended two other events this week that I will cover in my next posting.
According to some of the participants, what has been happening for quite some time is that speculative investors are purchasing run down historic homes in the fall and hiring a contractor who then moves in a dumpster and guts the historic interior, building a formulaic tract home that could be anywhere in the US inside a historic shell. Then they go on the market in the spring or summer with a tidy profit.
To give credit, all of the the island contractorrs that I have met have a very high level of workmanship. Historically renovating an antique house is much more challenging to estimate and less predictable. There are almost always unforeseen issues. For a contractor that is used to building new construction it is easier for them to do what they know. When bidding a gut, especially when you have done many of them, you can apply standard price per square foot formulas to come up with a cost. According to one attendee there are building contractors who say on their websites that they have done more than 40 of these gut projects.
Historic renovation is a dying art. I apprenticed for two years with a third-generation contractor to learn many of the skills that I have and continued to hone them over 30 years in the building trades. Panelist Sandy Kendall apprenticed with an old time Nantucket carpenter for five years at the beginning of his career.
It was acknowledged that preserving historic interiors is a complex issue with no easy answers. The approach of education and awarding and honoring homeowners and contractors who have done exemplary work in historic preeservation is good. Some people present felt that a more radical approach is needed. One person suggusted that we run a full page ad in the Inky Mirror identifying the most egregious gut contractors, similar to identifying the dirty dozen power plants and companies in the US, to shame them into compliance. Pretty much everyone in attendance were baby-boomers some of whom may have participated in protests in their college days. A radical splinter group of the Preservation movement was proposed, not entirely in jest.
What ideas do you have, dear reader, on how to perserve historic interiors on Nantucket and elsewhere? Do you have any restoration questions for me or topics you would like to see discussed in future posts?
My intention for this column is to discuss and report on topics of historic preservation and to answer questions and to give advice on restoring old houses.
You can reach me by commenting below or email me at [email protected] .