Home Tour: Bonavista Biscuit Box

The man who built this house was a sealer, a fisherman and a carpenter who needed a house in a time when families were large and houses weren’t. At one point, there were eight people living in this house a stone’s throw from the ocean in Bonavista, says Darrell Durdle, who now owns the house.

“It was in the family for 130 years,” says Darrell, “and just got passed on from generation to generation, then I took it over.”

As we stand in the now-blue biscuit box home, Darrell tells the story of his great-uncle, the man who built the house more than 100 years ago. The house has been in the family ever since, along with a red house next door that Darrell’s great uncle also built.

Like modern homes, this blue house by the ocean had three bedrooms, a kitchen, living room and a pantry. The difference? It’s about the size of a modern two-car garage, measuring 16 by 20 feet. The space is doubled by a second floor, giving about 700 square feet of space. When Darrell took over the house it had been vacant for years and was in need of some work.

“It was in hard shape – really hard shape,” he says. With the help of federal heritage grant funds, he set about restoring and renovating the property in 2004, giving it new clapboard, new wood windows that were replicas of the originals, and new kitchen cabinets built by his friend, an experienced cabinet maker and woodworker. Darrell also rebuilt the chimney in its original position, but has since removed the woodstove.

While he likes old houses and wanted to keep the house in somewhat original-but-restored condition, he wasn’t fond of the cramped floor plan.

“There was a little living room here, a little pantry here, a little porch right here,” he says, pointing to where the rooms used to be. “But in order to make it functional we opened it all up.”

He put in a beam to hold up the ceiling, incorporating it into a breakfast nook area in what is now one open space.

The remaining walls were stripped of more than a century of wallpaper, then reclad with tongue and groove boards painted white and run vertically. Sometimes, deciding on horizontal or vertical orientation for the boards is a style choice. For Darrell, it was a practical one – the boards, which he got while working at a sawmill, only came in eight-foot lengths, so he decided to run them vertically.

Apart from opening the main floor, very little was changed – the stairs and under-stair cabinets are original, as are the doors and windows. The ceiling still has the look of open rafters, but has been dropped a few inches to hide new electrical work.

He could have easily kept the original look on the home’s exterior while modernizing the interior, but Darrell has a respect and fondness for old homes.

“Well, you want to keep the heritage of the house; its been in the family for so long,” he says.

He lived in the home on and off for a few years before moving into a new house. Recently, with the old house now sitting unused, Darrell figured maybe some other people would like to stay in it. He again renovated the house, this time with his wife, setting up the place as a vacation rental property. The old floors, although full of character with their uneven surfaces and spaces between the boards, were a pain to clean, so they installed new faux-wood vinyl planks over the old floor. The walls were given a new coat of paint, electric heaters were added, the deck was added, and they put a back porch on the house to serve as an entrance area, closet space and laundry room.

Structurally, the house was still sound – its original balloon construction framing still standing strong well over a century later.

“They built houses really well back in the day,” says Darrell.