the master bedroom (left) was
created from two tiny bedrooms.
Brown took down the ceiling, opening
the room to new heights. A vintage
library ladder accesses the new
storage loft. The bedroom overlooks
the backyard where a patio made from
brick recycled from the house’s
chimney sits beneath a magnificent
weeping willow tree.
Seeds for Brown’s urge to rescue and restore were planted early by his father, a fix-it type who gave his then 5-year-old
son real tools, not toys, at Christmas. “I grew up in Mystic,
Connecticut, where my dad owned an old apartment building. It was a real treat for me to go there with him to make
improvements on weekends,” he says. Those early skills came
into full flower in his own project, for which he estimates he
did two-thirds of the labor, hiring subs only when needed for
a specific task or to meet inspection standards.
Through it all, Brown was as thrifty as Thoreau. He
bought the furnace, water heater, downstairs flooring, and
bedroom library ladder on eBay, the stove on craigs-list. The
brick in the patio came from the house’s demolished chimney,
and the mahogany stair rail with newel post was rescued from
a Dumpster. He kept the house’s Victorian and Queen Anne
elements intact, while introducing modern touches such as
radiant heating in the floors and wiring for audio, video, and
computer systems in the walls.
“Doug already had his floor plan and ideas
in place,” says Elms. “I respected its being his
project, but it turned out we’re totally in synch
about how we wanted the final result to look.
He bounced ideas off me and approved my
color scheme, furnishing choices, and finishing touches.”
What’s more, the house is now also very energy-efficient.
But beyond new technologies, says Brown, “The greenest
house you can live in is a small house.” Thoreau and modernists alike would approve.