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Creating a ‘little piece of historic legacy’

Local decorative artist restores 19th century schoolhouse one warm weekend at a time

The exterior of the old Nunnery School on Nunnery Road as it looked in mid-August when owner Heather Bruno-Sears was in the middle of replacing the roof and windows. The roof is being done in an English cottage-style using ornamental Hemlock wood.

The exterior of the old Nunnery School on Nunnery Road as it looked in mid-August when owner Heather Bruno-Sears was in the middle of replacing the roof and windows. The roof is being done in an English cottage-style using ornamental Hemlock wood. Photo by Jason Emerson.

— “It was just meant to be,” she said of her purchase. “I feel I was just in the right place at the right time.”

During her first two summers of ownership, in 2009 and 2010, Bruno-Sears, working mainly her father Reggie Sears, slowly began the renovation.

The first task was to mend and stabilize the weakened stone walls before the building collapsed altogether, she said. She took the task of scouring the surrounding area for replacement stones, mostly at a local quarry not far from the property, digging them out of the ground and transporting them to the schoolhouse.

She tried to stay with the original type of local stones, utilizing a combination of field stones and limestone. She also made it a point to use the many “interesting rocks” she found embedded with 300 to 400 million-year-old fossilized seashells, coral, trilobytes and cephalopods. Bruno-Sears also hand-mixed the building mortar; her father packed the mortar and placed all the stones. She estimates they replaced about 25 percent of the stones in the walls.

Once the foundation was secure, this year — the third year — Bruno-Sears has worked to replace the roof and install new windows and window sills. She also added one “new twist” to the structure she is keeping as original as possible: a small 30-by-30 loft space under the roof to be used probably as a bedroom space.

Also during the past three years, Bruno-Sears has accomplished a total renovation of the landscape, removing all the overgrowth, creating a driveway, planting flower gardens, bushes and trees, with ideas for a possible vineyard, orchard and vegetable garden in the future.

When she begins interior work, probably next summer, she plans to use historic, hand-hewn (but re-milled) wood boards, some of which was stacked inside the building when she bought it, some she found as discarded scraps at other historic buildings. Her ultimate vision is as a cozy, English cottage interior layered with hand wrought finishes and an “eclectic collection of visually interesting items,” such as antiques, pottery, artwork, books and a shadow box displaying the various treasures she has unearthed during her renovation work.

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