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By Jerry Becker of MSN Real Estate

Handcrafting the past

Before: 'Old' home under construction

When it’s finished, this 21st century home being built in Windsor, Conn., for Paul and Daryl Ramsey will have all the finery and detail of a similar house built in 1784, on which its architecture is based.

After: Step into the 18th century

The finished Ramsey home delivers on period architect Edward Sunderland’s mission to build new homes that echo the best early American architecture. This home, based on a design from 1784, reflects the early Federal period of architecture, just after the young nation secured its independence. A detail of note is the pavilion design in the front center of the house, with a palladium window above the doorway. Houses similar to this cost about $1.5 million from Sunderland Period Homes. If you have a smaller budget, for about $500,000 you can get an 18th century Cape Cod-style home with approximately 1,600 square feet.



Before: Prepping a period door

Period home expert Edward Sunderland rests his hands on an original 1780s-era door obtained from a house in Lebanon, Conn. Sunderland painstakingly restores period pieces to bring them back to their original splendor. This door and its original doorframe became the entryway for the home pictured on the previous slides. 


Before: Restoring, expanding a doorway

Edward Sunderland, an expert on 18th century architecture, rescued this doorway for use on the front of a new home under construction. Period details include the dental molding, the “teeth-like” blocks of wood along the top. There are also reeded columns noted for the fine grooves that run the length. Sunderland exposed the grooves by carefully stripping away 12 coats of paint. The curved area eventually will accommodate an original fan light window with leaded glass from the 1780s. The areas of darker wood are all original. Sunderland works diligently to keep as much of the original material as possible. The areas of light wood are new pieces added to replace rotted areas. The original doorway was just for a single door. Sunderland added a new panel to each side in the same style to allow for sidelight windows. 


After: A grand entrance

All of the hard labor paid off with the exquisite period details that now grace the door and doorway of this home. 


After: Intricate period details

Stripping this 1780s-era fan light window of layers — and centuries — of paint revealed a sunburst with a man’s face — complete with powdered wig — at the center. “Who could it be?” asks Edward Sunderland, an architect and builder. “Is it the owner of the home? The artist who created it? Is it George Washington? We’ll never know.” Surprising finds like this are one of Sunderland's favorite perks of his line of work. Another fine detail of the window is the delicate, beaded lead draping. 


Before: The firebox shapes up

One of the most important details in constructing a period home is to get the bricks right. Edward Sunderland, owner of Sunderland Period Homes, uses waterstruck bricks, and sticks to a single color. He uses the same kind of bricks in the chimneys and foundations of the homes he builds. Homes of the 18th century, Sunderland says, never mixed differently colored bricks together. Also, modern masons tend to use thick bands of mortar between bricks. He often reminds them to go easy on the mortar and make the bricks fit more tightly together. Sunderland views creating and building period homes as a fine art. The finished “sculpture” never completely matches what he puts down on paper. “Only once I’m standing in the painting, getting a sense of the sculpture of the rooms, can I plan the right balance and proportions for a firebox or cabinetry,” he says. 


After: The perfect family gathering place

Architect Edward Sunderland estimates that this firebox is about 5 feet wide, creating a dramatic focal point for the family gathering room. The paneling above the firebox adds period detail. 


Keep modernity hidden

Large panel doors between built-in bookcases keep a large television hidden from view. Period details include the panel shutters for the windows, along with built-in window seats underneath. 


The conveniences of today

Although he’s replicating 18th century design, architect and builder Edward Sunderland doesn’t skimp in bathrooms or kitchens. “People need all the conveniences to get to work on time, pick up the kids after school and go about their lives,” he says. The counter pictured here for the double vanity is hand-planed Eastern white pine. Sunderland also custom builds all of the cabinetry in his homes.


Bathroom oasis

Builder Edward Sunderland handcrafted the enclosure for this deep, jetted tub to give it an added degree of elegance. He’s especially proud of the molding and enclosure that curve to perfectly fit with the shower enclosure. “I love problems like that,” he says. “They give me opportunities to come up with creative solutions.”


Carved perfection

Period architect Edward Sunderland insists on handcrafting every detail. The entire balustrade pictured here was carved by hand. “That’s not available in a store anywhere,” he says. Fine details include the volute – the curved section at the top of the stair’s handrail – that connects to the newel  post, which is the tall post at the end of the balusters.


Recreating the workmanship of the past

This unique slant-front cupboard serves as a cozy computer station; the computer tower is hidden in a lower cabinet to the left of the chair. The computer enclosure slides forward for easy access.


Everything by hand

Every square inch of this kitchen was handcrafted specifically for this home. Architect Edward Sunderland says the cabinetry for a kitchen this size requires about six weeks to construct — not counting installation. The countertops are soapstone.


Cabinetry detail

Period home expert Edward Sunderland hand cuts his cabinetry with a chisel. It’s more effort, he says, but it results in better period detail.


Restoration hardware

Period detail isn’t just about the architecture, cabinetry and molding. It also extends to hardware. This is a back group assembly, says Edward Sunderland, a period home expert. It consists of a “keeper” (the backward “S” shape object attached to the doorframe), a “lift” (the curved piece of metal in a notch in the door), a “drop bar” (raises and lowers to lock into the “keeper”) and the “staple” (keeps the “drop bar” in place).


On the next four slides, we’ll look at the exteriors of four other period homes.


Can you tell the difference?

Believe it or not: This 1740s center-chimney saltbox house with projected overhangs is of recent construction.


A 1734 reproduction

This is a meticulous reproduction of the Captain Nathan Day house in Windsor, Conn. It is a center-chimney colonial with a Mansard roof. The hip roof dormers cover the full circumference of the house. The home also features an intricate triangular pediment doorway.


Board-by-board rebirth

Period home expert Edward Sunderland dismantled and reconstructed this 1770s era Georgian Colonial home on a new site. His crews painstakingly deconstruct homes such as this, saving and labeling every board, every nail and every pane of glass and then rebuild on a new site using all of the original’s materials.


A restored original from 1698

Period home expert Edward Sunderland and his wife, Linda, live in the Jacob and Abigail Strong House (pictured here) in South Windsor, Connecticut. The doorway is original, but much of the rest of the home he restored to peak condition. It’s known as a “House of the First Period,” when the first two-story homes appeared in the colonial period in New England, he says.