Home Tour: Restored Victorian Charmer in Rural Newfoundland

It’s a winter’s night in the 1920s in Heart’s Content. You’re sitting in the living room, looking out the bay window, as a coal fire warms the room. An oil lamp provides a bit of extra light for the book you just put down. The gramophone is playing your favourite classical recording. You close your eyes for a moment and, upon reopening them, realize the date is closer to 2020 than 1920. It’s understandable, though, when you’re in this house.

The feeling of stepping back in time when you step in the door is intentional. The homeowners, Craig and Bruce, have restored the house to the way it looked when it was first built, and they’ve furnished it from their extensive antique collection. Every item in the house – aside from the necessary telephone and a few other items – is from the home’s original era. The piano in the front parlour was too heavy to move, so it came with the house, staying in the same spot it was placed when the original homeowners lived here.

The house, a Victorian style home built shortly after the Victorian period officially ended, is not a common style in Heart’s Content. But then, it wasn’t built for a common resident. Craig searched the property title for the home after he and Bruce bought the place, discovering it was originally owned by the Western Union Telegraph company, who built it for telegraph operator Edward Hopkins.

“I said “by God, we got history,”” recounts Craig. “We didn’t realize we bought history. We were right excited about it.”

That discovery led to the couple working to get the house recognized as a provincial heritage property. It would be five years before they finally got their desired designation. At first, they were told the house didn’t have enough accompanying documentation. There were no photos, no written records to lend weight to the claim that this house was in its original condition and worthy of being designated a heritage property. Craig, determined, asked every old timer he could find, looking for photos of the house. Nobody had any. Then, by chance, he found a picture that somebody had taken of their car. In the background was the corner of the house. Slowly, he gathered more evidence, eventually compiling enough to satisfy the heritage folks, who gave the house a heritage property designation in May, 2015.

“That was something on my bucket list that I wanted to do – to make sure that this house got designated,” says Craig. “Now it’s a protected property, which means that nobody can change the exterior.”

The exterior now looks the same as it did when the house was first built, and far different from what it looked like when Craig and Bruce bought the property. The house had been covered in siding and the original trim work and dormers had been removed. But once the siding was off, they could see the ghost imprints of where the various architectural details had once been, giving them a guide to work with.

They had somebody make the pieces, based on photos, and they hired a contractor to do the electrical work, but Bruce handled much of the restoration work himself.

They wanted to keep the house as original as possible, so when it came time to rewire the house – it still had the original 1920 electrical in it – they had the electrician fish the wires through to save the walls. Upstairs, the wires were laid under the floorboards, each one carefully removed, numbered, then replaced.

They removed layers of wallpaper and carpet, revealing the original hardwood floors and board walls. They also revealed the original ceiling and were able to keep the doors and windows, all of which are original to the home. In an effort to retain the original charm and character of the house, they decided not to fully insulate the house, since that would mean removing walls. Instead, they insulated from the outside on areas where the clapboard had to be removed for repairs.

Those original elements were a large part of why they bought the house, having searched for years for an old house that was still in original condition. Even though the house was in relatively good condition, the restoration process took a couple of years, as Craig and Bruce had to divide their time between full time jobs in town, heading out to Heart’s Content on weekends and holidays to work on the house.

The lack of insulation means higher heating bills in the winter, but money wasn’t the driving motivation behind this restoration.

“It’s all about the passion of the house,” says Craig.

This story first appeared in the winter, 2015 issue of Home & Cabin.