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Interiorssneak peeks

An Antique Connecticut Farmhouse Made Modern

by Annie Werbler

Two years ago, a fatigued driver fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into the 1780s Connecticut farmhouse of Haldan and Gina Block. Thankfully nobody was hurt, but the impact rattled the aged foundation supports below a windowed bump-out in what is now the home’s library. The brick columns were ultimately fixed, but the accident caused the house to shift just enough to crack the room’s old plaster walls. That stroke of bad luck turned good when, upon making repairs, the couple felt inspired to paint the walls black and create a serene reading nook of the space.

Even beyond mishaps, the homeowners are particularly well-suited to the types of modernization projects required of this 1,160-square-foot structure in the Lower Connecticut River valley. Both natives of the state, Gina is an art director and graphic designer at organic food company Jovial, and Haldan is a lead at Erik Block Design, the design-build firm founded by his brother. The couple’s combined knowledge makes them a great team for shaping the home with their needs in mind. Gina first showed Haldan a picture of this house from a real estate listing, and he joked that they should have a look at it quickly before it fell down. She took him seriously, and suggested they drive by when mountain biking nearby. They of course both instantly fell in love with it, the downtown Higganum area, and the pristine surrounding landscape.

When they bought the home six-and-a-half years back, they teased that they could throw the level away. The residence had undergone a renovation during the Victorian period, and then again in the 1980s, neither of which were sufficient for the Blocks’ lifestyle. During the first three months after closing, they added a bathroom on the second floor, remodeled the kitchen, and turned the downstairs bathroom into a half-bath on one end and a pantry on the other. They stripped wallpaper and painted rooms. They uncovered many pleasant surprises upon removing ceilings and walls. In the pantry and bathroom they found a foundation wall with many layers of concrete and stone. In the kitchen, they found the original structure including a half-log supporting the upstairs floor system.

One less-than-ideal feature of many historic homes is that they tend to have been built for smaller people. Haldan, who is 6’8″ tall, was at first unable to walk through doorways without hitting his head. Removing the kitchen ceiling made the house livable for him. A year ago, he and Gina raised the door openings in the upstairs hallway so that he could fit underneath, and now he can safely walk about the house. They have added their own modern touches, but have also incorporated materials salvaged from jobsites or from the house itself. The Blocks can tell that the home had been loved by its previous owners, and while they are fine-tuning each room to their own taste, are also focused on revealing as many treasured antique details as possible. —Annie

Photography by Haldan Block

 

Notable Sources

Kitchen:
Floor- Benjamin Moore Navajo White
Wall- Benjamin Moore Navajo White
Window/Door color- high gloss black Benjamin Moore
Table- Haldan and Gina
Sink- IKEA
Rug- IKEA

Pantry:
Cabinet face- IKEA
Butcher block- Michigan Maple from Wood Welded
Knobs- Anthropologie
Containers- IKEA

Living room:
Couch- Pottery Barn
Jute rug- IKEA
Runner- West Elm

Half bathroom:
Sink and faucet- IKEA
Sink base- Haldan

Front hall:
Plant stand- ferm LIVING from TRNK

Bedroom:
Nightstand- West Elm
Headboard- Haldan and Gina
Reading lights- IKEA
Throw- H&M
Curtains and rods- West Elm
Painting- Christa Pisano from Sylvan Gallery
Pastel- Christian Brechneff

Office:
Desktop and shelves- City Bench
Legs- HairpinLove on Etsy
Bed- IKEA
Lighting- IKEA and Restoration Hardware
Metal work- Grayson Metal

Library:
Metal work- Grayson Metal
Chair- Restoration Hardware
Octagonal table- West Elm
Jib sconce- PhotonicStudio on Etsy
Daybed- Crate&Barrel
Moroccan lights- local bazaar
Floor lamp – IKEA
Mirror- IKEA

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Haldan and Gina Block recently carved out a cozy spot for reading by turning the front hallway of their Connecticut farmhouse into a library. Gina found the artwork in a dumpster years ago, and the couple stretched and framed it with reclaimed chestnut. The shelving is made of roofing boards they removed when adding dormers to home's attic. Haldan built its steel ladder frame with the help of local artisan Grayson Metal, and the Jib Sconce comes from PhotonicStudio on Etsy. Tilly the dog stands guard over the scene.
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On the shelves, Gina wanted to keep the books neutral. She wrapped each one in IKEA paper and printed labels for them, too. The wood tones and paper color pop against the black wall behind.
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In the master bedroom, an imported Tibetan rug was once used as an entry mat at the store from which it came.
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A reproduction corner cabinet was headed to the dumpster on one of Haldan's job sites, but he brought it home and it fit perfectly in the corner of the room. He and Gina decided the faux grain would look best painted black. It displays a horse carving that Haldan made and Gina gilded.
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The headboard was put together using more jobsite remnants. The Blocks attached small IKEA lamps for reading at night. A midcentury-inspired sidetable from West Elm sits in front of the quirky vertical white beam of which their friends love the look. Hydrangeas bloom in a vase made by Gina.
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A mix of midcentury and rustic pieces on the other side of the bedroom. The Benjamin Moore Berkshire Beige wallcolor creates a relaxed vibe. The oak machinist chest on top of the dressers was scored at a local tag sale, and the round brass container on top was a gift from Gina's great aunt and uncle.
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"The thing we love most about our home is... the quirky character and the handmade details." - Haldan and Gina Block
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The combination office and guest room measures only 11'x11', including a closet. The desk chair offers views directly out onto 300+ acres of preserved wilderness. Since the office portion is confined to one side, there is also room for a twin bed.
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The exposed ceiling is a dramatic element in the space, and makes it feel much more open than it did previously. It was originally stained, but the couple decided to make it look older by adding the beams and wood planking.
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The Benjamin Moore Revere Pewter wallcolor provides a subtle contrast to the white-painted trim in the room. The ash slab desk came from a local business that uses urban wood and mills it into furniture, and both homeowners can now work here together.
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The shelving for the office is made of three square steel frames that the Blocks acid washed and fitted with unfinished ash slabs. They wanted to keep everything on the shelf neutral to allow the wood and steel textures to pop.
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The hallyway's herringbone floor is visible upon peeking out of the guest bedroom. The framed wallhanging is copper flashing brought home from a job because of its great patina.
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All of the second floor traffic moves through its central hallway. Doors were recently made taller so that Haldan could walk through them without ducking. The ceiling is clad in rough antique chestnut wood leftover from a project.
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Downstairs, in a sunny part of the dining room, plants live on a table made by Haldan. He and Gina painted the doors a high-gloss black and the floors bright white. They love that the soft pine and paint on the floor show pathways from years of wear.
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Upon removing the dining room ceiling, old chestnut beams supporting the home's second story were discovered. The antique windows were then painted black. Gina and Haldan made the table to fit the narrow room, and its benches tuck beneath it when not in use.
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Gina assembled this colorful mobile found at a local gallery, and it hangs in the kitchen near the coat rack made from a chestnut board off-cut and some bolts.
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Technically the front hall, the couple refer to the space that contains their daybed the "bump-out". It was added to the house in the early 1900s and has wavy glass windows on all three sides. They nap or watch storms come through here with Milo the cat, and added the radiator for an antique feel even though the heating system was updated.
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The exposed beams and floor joists of the kitchen give it the feeling of an old tavern. The family Revere Ware pots and pans hang above a window seat. Friends can sit at the counter and hang out while the couple prepares meals.
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These charming cabinets were here when the Blocks bought the house. Upon removing the Sheetrock ceiling, they found a half-log in the ceiling with its bark still intact. The ceiling touched the top of the cabinets so a valence of some sort was needed, and they worked with the rough sides of old floorboards to fill the space. An IKEA sink fit right in, and they updated the counters to soapstone.
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The kitchen ceiling reminds the homeowners of the home's age and history. It slopes eight inches from one side of the room to the other. It has been drilled, patched, and eaten over the past 235 years. The black door and hanging planter bring a modern sensibility to the space.
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The pantry is one of the most expressive rooms in the house. The Blocks experimented with the herringbone brick veneer floor and glossy IKEA upper cabinet door. The wooden cabinets were fashioned from oak found in the barn, leftover from when the kitchen cabinets were first built. The door panels were made from copper flashing that was being discarded on a project where Haldan was working. This corner makes the small kitchen feel much larger.
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Haldan and Gina love the coziness of the living room and its built-in cabinets. The Eames replica chair was an antique shop find, and the horse wall art was a wedding gift to themselves from their mini-moon in Vermont. It once had a horse weathervane attached that was mounted on fabric and re-sprayed before being framed. The horse was removed and left this great silhouette.
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A sea captain's chest is used as a coffee table, and above it rests a wire sculpture that Haldan's mother welded and gifted to the pair. The bookshelves house a camera and industrial object collection that has been added to since they first met.
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The half-bathroom is naturally dark because of its location, and the Blocks used it as an opportunity to add a bit of color into the house. Haldan built the vanity with oak boards found in the home, and topped it with an IKEA sink. They discovered the stone foundation when renovating and decided to expose this section.
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The corrugated metal porch roof was influenced by cute Victorian houses in Telluride, CO. Haldan and Gina rebuilt their porch last year, and used their vacation time to redo the home's roof the year before. They work hard to unlock the potential they have always seen here.
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The home's floorplan.

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Comments

  • This is gorgeous. I love the exposed beams, and how they’ve highlighted so many of the antique details while blending in modern touches.
    Lynn

  • A lovely sympathetic renovation. I love that they are putting their own stamp on the house while at same time “listening” to what the house needs and retaining and enhancing the special features of the spaces. Love how they have opened up the ceilings exposing rough hewn beams and that stone wall in the half bath downstairs. Overall totally gorgeous.

  • Hi Diana,

    Thanks for the kind words! The paint color in the front hall is Black Iron by Benjamin Moore. The halls upstairs are Decorator’s White (also BM.)

      • Hi Elodie,

        Thank you! It was painted quite a while ago, but I think the color is “Autumn Leaves” by Martha Stewart (Home Depot). I’m not sure if they carry it any more :(

  • Congrats, Haldan & Gina! I’ve always wanted to see the inside of your house from driving past it for so many years. What a wonderful restoration! You should be proud.

  • Really pretty! I love the exposed foundation wall in the bathroom; it’s a lovely feature. I was thrown off by the mention of Victorian houses in Telluride, though, in the second-to-last slide—is that style of architecture prevalent in Telluride, and what’s the connection to these homeowners?

    • Kate, thanks so much! Re: Telluride – Haldan and I both fell head over heels with the architectural style that’s prevalent in downtown Telluride. Many of the buildings are small, Victorian-era structures, but have been updated with more modern industrial/rustic materials. The homeowners do a wonderful job preserving the original lines of the structures while placing them squarely the 21st century. (Think natural reclaimed siding with corrugated metal roofs and Corten steel details.)

  • Great work Haldan and Gina! I love what you’ve done with color throughout.

    So fun to see what creatives in the area are doing with older homes :)

    – Emily

  • I love how the homeowners have updated the space so tastefully to pay homage to the great bones of the house!

    I also wanted to kindly point out a few typos in the text…seems it was not fully edited before posting:

    “She wrapped each one in IKEA paper and print a labels for them, too.”

    “…and added the radiator when even though they updated the heating system to keep the antique feel of the space”

    “The Blocks experiments with the herringbone brick veneer floor glossy IKEA upper cabinet door.”

    • Alix

      Our copy editor has been away this week working on our book shoots- please hang in there with us while we try to manage these two big projects at the same time,

      Grace

  • Looking at these gorgeous photos just makes me want to throw a tantrum like a jealous 5 year old!

    So, so good!

  • This is beautiful! And what a surprise to find some familiar names here–I was friends with Erik in high school. Great job guys, and hello to the rest of the fam! So impressed!

  • The quirks and character of this old home make it such a unique treasure, I love the thoughtful updates and the mix of the modern pieces juxtaposed against the primitive elements. Bravo!

  • Stunning visuals – however, I too was distracted by grammatical errors in the text. Glad that the absence of a copy editor is an exceptional event at Design Sponge. Nice work otherwise!

  • Good job guys..! I’ve always wanted to see the inside of your house from driving past it for so many years. What a wonderful restoration! You should be proud.

  • I love your house, and am finding lots of inspiration for our new 1912 farmhouse in Washington state.
    Where did the pendant over the dining room table come from?

    • Hello Lauren,
      Thank you very much! The pillows were purchased at a store in Santa Fe on our last vacation. The store has thousands to choose from and are extremely helpful. It is called Santa Kilim and can be found at santakilim.com.

    • Justin, Thank you! The Library walls are Benjamin Moore Black Iron. It is a very versatile color, we have used it at clients house on cabinets, bookshelves and even a barn.

  • Love this space! Definitely inspiration for my renovations :) Curious, where is the little white office cabinet from? The one that’s beside the wooden slab desk with hairpin legs… looking for something similar to that little cabinet.

    Thanks!
    Karyn

  • Karyn,
    The small office cabinet is from Poppin, we also outfitted the inside quite nicely with their other accessories. Thank you!

    • Hi Elle,
      Thanks for the kind words! The main bedroom wall colors are Berkshire Beige (Benjamin Moore) and the office/guest room walls are Revere Pewter (also Benjamin Moore.)

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