Tour a Farmhouse and its Renovated Landscape
February 16, 2022
An old farmhouse on a bare plot of land becomes a gracious home nestled into a picturesque setting.
Text by Paula M. Bodah Photography by Michael J. Lee
To an artist, a blank canvas holds a world of possibilities. That’s pretty much how landscape designer James Douthit saw this property in the suburbs northwest of Boston. “It was kind of bare and flat, with just one significant tree—an oak off the back of the house,” he recalls.
Yes, there was the old farmhouse, built in 1773 and added onto over the years to become a classic, sprawling dwelling of shingles and clapboard. There was also a broken-down old barn that less intrepid clients would probably have torn down. But the fifty-three surrounding acres were little more than rolling fields. “There was definitely a beauty to the fields,” Douthit allows, “but it wasn’t inviting to spend time in.”
The new owners envisioned having an active relationship with the land, and they wanted a strong connection between the built and natural worlds. To that end, they put together a team of design pros that included Douthit, owner of a Blade of Grass landscape design company, builder Eric Adams of Adams + Beasley Associates, and architect Zac Culbreth, who was with Adams + Beasley at the time but has since started his own firm.
Culbreth and Adams brought the farmhouse into the twenty-first century. “We did a super-deep energy retrofit,” Culbreth explains. “We re-sided the whole thing, added insulation, and replaced windows.” Adds Adams: “It was all done in a way to pay homage to the home’s historic details and original glory.”
They also moved and renovated the old barn, transforming it into a dual-purpose building for the husband’s office and an entertaining space.
Meanwhile, Douthit was turning those empty fields into a series of spaces both practical and beautiful. Split-rail fences and fieldstone walls, all looking like they’ve been here for centuries, wind between a series of distinct areas, from the orchard of fruit trees to the hard-working vegetable garden to the intimate seating area located off the farmhouse’s new screened porch. Mature trees were brought in to supplement colorful beds heavy on native materials and easy-care perennials like lush grasses and masses of black-eyed Susans. A greenhouse, anchored to the land by its foundation of reclaimed granite, is an oasis where fruit trees and tropical plants bloom year-round.
The close collaboration among the design team is especially apparent in the new swimming pool, an Eden-like setting featuring a shady pergola cleverly designed to appear to float on the water, and a lavish variety of blooming perennials and textural greenery.
Throughout the process, says Adams, “The team was focused on creating this delicate modulation between the landscape and house.” To say they succeeded is an understatement. Today, the buildings and land coexist so comfortably and naturally, no one would suspect it had ever been otherwise.