Bohemian Paradise | Mary’s Farm

Renovating an old home from drafty to snug can come with a price. Is there such a thing as too much silence?

By Edie Clark

Dec 20 2007

book ca


Early last winter, I stacked wood in my shirtsleeves, mowed the lawn, and fretted that no ice had yet come to the lakes. Even the birds were confused. For quite some time during January and February, I enjoyed watching a pair of bluebirds cavort in the brambles across the road, then dart back to my porch, where they pecked away at a Christmas display of greens and red winterberries.

This was the third of our disappointing winters. Boots, hats, and scarves stayed in the closet all the way until February. Many here rejoiced in how easy it was — no snow to shovel, no slippery roads, no bone-chilling winds. But I, perhaps too much a contrarian, craved a good snowstorm and the creaking noises inside this old house, provoked by a night below zero.

Perhaps I long for those sounds because it’s been so quiet here otherwise. In the past year, no walls were moved, no foundations poured, no floors sanded. The only change was the replacement of several windows in the ell, which has made a big difference. Curtains no longer puff out during nor’easters. I didn’t realize that living with those old, thin windows, I could hear almost everything: the occasional car, the long approach of the snowplow, the crack of a hunting rifle. It was a bit like living in a tent.

Now, with the new windows, the silence, always notable, is almost complete. I may not miss the cold winds, but I do miss that closeness to the outdoors, summer and winter. Now I actually have to go outdoors to be outdoors. In the 10 years I’ve been here, the house has been transformed from a drafty, seven-bedroom farmhouse into a snug one-bedroom home, flooded with sunlight.

There’s one last bastion of unfinished territory: a roomy attic under the eaves, its new light brought in by a big, south-facing dormer and a skylight. Fresh out of funds but not out of need, I was determined to make it a place for family and friends when they’d visit. I moved beds up there and laid thick rugs. Bedsheets, pulled tight and stapled to the rafters and kneewalls, look like painted walls.

A bookcase holds a raft of worn paperbacks. I tacked my Bread & Puppet theater posters to the roof boards between the giant timbers of the old frame. Heat drifts up from a register over the cookstove, so the warmest place is right next to the big bed, an old cannonball four-poster that my father rescued from a junk shop back in the 1940s, in anticipation of marrying my mother. I call it my “bohemian paradise” — a place where you can still smell the old wood and see the history of the house, including the charred beams from a house fire and the huge opening for the original center chimney, long since removed and the space boarded over.

I’ll have to finish this room someday — add insulation and Sheetrock, make it really nice — but no hurry. It’s a bit like the weather and my contrary nature. Don’t make things too comfortable — it makes me uncomfortable.

Edie Clark’s newest book, “Saturday Beans & Sunday Suppers,” is available at: