Interiors Matter

The historic significance of a building does not stop at the exterior. The interior matters, too. The plan of a house, its features and materials, all reflect its history and evolution and contribute to its historic character. On Nantucket, where only the exterior is regulated, what’s inside is frequently overlooked.

An important part of the NPT mission is to demonstrate what is possible. Properly preserved and maintained interiors not only have historic significance, they are valuable as real estate assets. Preserving interior features of a historic house makes sense financially and is essential for the edification of future generations.

Floor Plans

The original floor plan is essential to defining historic character. Parlors, hallways, and staircases all contribute to the character of the building and should be retained in a preservation project.

In some cases, changes in floor plans are necessary. The appropriateness of interior changes can be analyzed by using a hierarchical approach that “ranks” the significance of spaces in a building. In residential buildings, there are usually “private” and “public” spaces, reflecting the need for formal functional areas and private individual living spaces. For example, stair halls and parlors are often on the main floor, while bedrooms, closets, and service areas are on upper floors or in rear areas.

If changes are desired, character-defining “public” areas should be retained; and the proposed use, program, and plan should not alter those primary historic spaces. Features and materials such as woodwork, doors, and mantels should be treated carefully even in the areas of secondary significance. New baths, closets, and kitchens, for example, might appropriately be placed in ells that have been added to the historic structure or in a new wing.

Design Features, Materials, and Finishes

Floor plans are only part of the historic interior’s character. Wall, ceiling, and floor treatments; doors and door and window trim; fireplaces and their mantels; and other finishes are all important features. Interiors often exhibit a mix of historic styles that reflect changes in use and taste. An early twentieth-century interior that has been placed in a nineteenth-century building, for example, is part of the building’s history and might be worthy of preservation.

All sound interior features should be retained and repaired. If damaged or deteriorated beyond repair, they should be replaced in-kind. Ceiling height, another important interior feature, helps convey historic character because it defines spatial volume, proportion, and light.

New Interior Construction and Related Demolition

Historic building rehabilitation often requires new construction and limited amounts of demolition. This work should take place at secondary or nonsignificant spaces to minimize impacts to the historic resource.

New interior work should be compatible with the existing historic character. Exact duplication of historic materials and elements is discouraged to avoid confusion between historic and new. For example, where new walls or other partitions are planned, an appropriate approach is to use new trim matching
the historic in scale, material, and general profile, rather than replicating historic woodwork. Demolition should always be kept to a minimum, and limited to secondary spaces or areas of extreme deterioration. Because demolition can involve the removal of historic material, it should be planned to have the least possible impact on the historic building.

Routine maintenance is a key to preserving interior historic materials; it prevents small problems from becoming large ones. Keeping up with maintenance will preserve your house for many years to come.

1800 House Preservation Restriction to Be Finalized

The Nantucket Historical Association’s 1800 House located at 4 Mill Street will be the 16th property on island permanently protected by a NPT preservation easement.  The preservation restriction will be up for a vote at the Board of Selectmen’s meeting on November 16.  The easement will be placed on exterior features and restricts further development of the property.  Historic research indicates the house was constructed between 1801 and 1807 by housewright Richard Lake Coleman, who built the structure according to a traditional floor plan and scale characteristic of New England domestic architecture of the period.  In 1807 Coleman sold the house to Jeremiah Lawrence, “hatter” and High Sheriff of the County of Nantucket, who occupied the house with his wife and four children until his death in 1827.  It remained in the Lawrence family until 1859.

Nantucket’s National Historic Landmark Update Gains Advisory Committee Approval

The long awaited update to the Nantucket Historic District Landmark designation was unanimously approved on November 10 by the National Park System Advisory Board Landmarks Committee in Washington, D.C. The report, prepared by the Nantucket Preservation Trust with funds from the Community Preservation Committee, began in 2007. The three year plus study includes a comprehensive analysis of the island’s architectural heritage and area of national significance. With this important hurdle now complete the update will proceed to the National Park Service for final revisions and formal approved by the Secretary of the Interior–expected in 2012. Although the old historic core and Sconset were recognized as a National Landmarks as early as 1966, when the program was first implemented by the Federal government, and landmark status was updated in 1975 to include the entire island, the designation did not recognize a significant part of the island’s history, namely its development in the late 19th and early 20th century as a resort community and the island’s critical role in the country’s preservation movement. With the acceptance of the update, these key elements of the island’s historic significance will be formally recognized.

National Historic Landmarks are nationally significant historic places designated by the Secretary of the Interior because they possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States. Today, fewer than 2,500 historic places bear this national distinction. The majority of NHL properties are individual buildings or resources. Nantucket is one of only a handful of communities which is entirely a NHL district. The program is the highest honor for historic properties and communities in the nation, and is meant to encourage and promote preservation activity. NHL designation has also been shown to help increased tourism and Main Street revitalization. Other benefits include qualification for historic properties in grant and tax credit programs, preservation easements programs, and release of building code requirements that can have a negative impact on historic fabric.