All photos/art by Eric Roth
Also read Sandy Wells’s 10 tips for antiques collectors.
Drive just under a mile off interstate 89 near the town of New London, New Hampshire, and you’ll suddenly come upon the hamlet of North Sutton, with its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it white clapboard general store and Baptist church.
Drawn by the sweet calm of tree-lined Kezar Lake, you may find yourself meandering along the narrow lane encircling the water. And if you do go that way, in a half-mile or so you’ll pass by the restored Greek Revival home of Roger and Sandy Wells. Roger, an architect and landscape architect, and Sandy, an antiques collector with a designer’s eye, collaborated with their daughter, Boston architect Heather Wells, to resurrect this 1890s structure.
It was pretty dilapidated, and the rehab took almost three years. The end result is a beautiful testament to a creative family partnership — one that reflects their mutual passion for reinterpreting historical design to fit a modern sensibility, lifestyle, and aesthetic.
“I’m most interested in understanding what was really good in what was done before me, and then using modern comforts and ways of living to tie it all together,” explains Roger. “Any good historic design lends itself to contemporary design. Don’t out-shout what was good in the past, but don’t ignore it, either.”
Roger is troubled by the current trend toward tearing down the old to make way for the new. “People need to see how they can open up historic homes,” he notes. “An older house is already settled onto the land and fits into the landscape. It’s environmentally more sound and culturally more meaningful to take something old, add your two cents to it, and pass it on to the next generation.”
If you think that pairing classic New England architecture with modern design seems counterintuitive, Heather Wells has a different slant on it: The two actually complement each other. She points out that classic New England buildings, with their naturally austere lines, can feel contemporary if given the right accents.
The Wells family’s collaboration went smoothly. “My parents and I work well together — we have a similar design sense,” says Heather, one of three artistic siblings. “Dad was more interested in the facade and the landscape design. I was more preoccupied with the interior, in how the house was actually going to live. And Mom focused on interior accents and paint colors. It was a true collaboration, bringing all our skills to the table at the same time.”
Heather is very satisfied with the result: “The house works well for my parents. They can live on one level if they need to. And I like the combination of historic and contemporary. It’s comfortable, and you don’t get bored with it. A little of the old, a little of the new — that’s what makes a classic.”