For The Love of an Old House

The dream of purchasing an old home came to life when Rebecca Lineberry of Higganum, Connecticut, bought The Bailey House, built in 1755.

The Beginning

I grew up in a c. 1860s home, which, despite heavy modification in the mid-1900s, still presented the opportunity to learn about and appreciate many of the quirks that go hand in hand with old houses. Stealing a mid-winter moment by the steamy radiators simultaneously provided comfort and a quick reminder not to get too close. The incredibly steep staircase was not a danger but rather a fun challenge.  Examining the 3-seater outhouse fostered a sense of gratitude for the invention of indoor plumbing, and the large domed root cellar was just a normal part of our yard.  I’ll never forget the enchantment I felt when we discovered a few antique shoes in a crawl space cupboard and how, from that point on, I became forever obsessed with the everyday objects that link past to present.

I loved visiting historic sites and museums like Sturbridge Village throughout my childhood. It always felt like time travel to me, and I loved piecing together the imagined original owners of my childhood home with what I learned from the actors and houses portraying life in mid-1800s New England.  With every visit, I dreamed about what it would be like to live in one of those houses, to wake up each morning surrounded by history, until one day, I realized I could!  

Finding the Perfect Old House

It was Spring 2020; I had recently relocated back home to Connecticut and became a casual online real estate browser from the confines of my rental home as the world shut down around us. I had no intention of buying quite yet, but there was this online listing for an antique house that I couldn’t stop thinking about.  I finally made an appointment to take a peek, along with a few other antique houses in the area, and while the original house that drew me in was not the house for me…then came the Bailey House.  I was instantly enchanted by the incredible historic features that still remained. I recall walking from room to room and saying, “Look at this! Wow! Oh my goodness!” – totally geeking out over the historical details (2 beehive ovens, 5 fireplaces, exposed beams, uneven floors) and seeing through some of the things I would update to the potential beneath.  The energy of the house was so positive, and I just knew it was meant to be my home.  As it turns out, ‘meant to be‘ ended up meaning losing in a bidding war to another buyer who came out of nowhere after 100 days on the market, crying for a weekend, then learning that they pulled out and that the seller would accept my original offer – BUT – it was well worth the initial heartache as I closed in late July 2020 and moved in August 1st, 2020!

History of The Bailey House

The house as it stands today was built c.1755 by Caleb Bailey and his wife Mehetebel and remained in the Bailey family until 1942.  Caleb is the great-grandson of John Bailey, one of the original proprietors of Haddam, CT.  A coin dated 1739 was discovered on a sill in the front portion of the house during a renovation in the 1980s, which, paired with differences in the age and species of materials used between the front and back portions and two styles of beehive oven in different portions of the house, point to the potential of the front portion being constructed c.1738 as a smaller and more rustic structure.  I have some work to do in researching and learning more about this lead!

Purchasing Older Homes Can Be Intimidating

I remember standing in the room that is now my son’s bedroom, staring at the chipping ceiling, and thinking, “Am I crazy for wanting to do this?!” But it is all just FELT right, and that is more important than anything for me!  Growing up in an old house definitely helped, as did hiring a home inspector who specializes in antique homes.  There are so many things that can seem really scary to an untrained eye – like old powder post beetle damage, a fieldstone foundation that has shifted with age, a hand-dug well – but having an expert who has looked at hundreds of antique homes identify what is an area of concern vs. non-concern was a big part of squashing any potential apprehension.  

The motivation behind sharing my story is not solely due to a love of old homes but also because I want to show others who dream of old home ownership that it is absolutely possible and not as scary as it is sometimes made out to be.  All houses have their eventual maintenance and repair needs, and old homes are no different. Still, the element of protecting a piece of history and carrying it forward is beyond rewarding!

Favorite Feature of The Bailey House

Ah! This is such a tough question!  It is a tie between the meat-smoking chamber and the hand-written names on the beams in my tavern room.  The Baileys were pig farmers, so the meat-smoking chamber built into one side of the massive chimney on the 2nd floor makes a ton of sense!  The best part is that if the humidity is just right, the original wood slats give off an incredible smoky bacon aroma!!  The beam signatures are a newer discovery, uncovered when I pulled down the sheetrock in that room in the summer of 2021.  I have more investigation to do around deciphering the names and researching who these people might have been (builders, I assume). Still, it is such a captivating link to the past, even without knowing the full story!

My favorite spot is the ‘keeping room’ – the space along the back of the house, between the kitchen and the back stairs.  The beautiful natural light, cozy couch, a gas fireplace insert, and historic details like the original fireplace crane and a beehive oven make this my go-to spot for coffee, lunch, or happy hour.  

Old Home Challenges

The most fun project has been the laundry room/1st-floor bath space that I completed this summer.  I lean toward moody neutrals and earth tones as my general home vibe, but I wanted to infuse a bit of unexpected pattern and color into this space.  I loved pulling together the mix of old and new and searching for perfect accent pieces like the antique medicine cabinet and the ‘Star Wars meets Civil War’ art above the commode. My amazing grandmother spent two days with me in that room, teaching me how to hang wallpaper, so the space is full of fun memories already. 

The most challenging project has been the room that is now referred to as the ‘tavern room’.  It was originally assigned as the parlor/living room and is a space I started working on only days after closing on the house.  I cannot even count the number of drapery/paint/rug combinations I played with in that room, but it never felt 100% right.  One day this summer, I had the eureka moment to swap the dining room and parlor spaces, which involved moving very large furniture through very small doorways, but somehow it all worked.  The energy in both rooms instantly changed, and I got to work on creating the ‘tavern room’ as I wanted a multi-functional space, not just a traditional dining room.  With a new wall color and a few very special pieces of furniture, the space came together magically. The room features a hand-crafted dining table built by my friend TJ, a gorgeous Victorian sideboard from the family estate of my high school friends Jen and Nicole, and a ‘curiosity cabinet’ with a mix of heirlooms like my late Grandparents’ wedding cake topper, unusual finds like a Civil War Veterans Encampment ribbon, and macabre mementos like a magnetic funeral procession flag and my cherished coffin plaque collection.

Decorating Style

My decorating style is ‘Authentic, Collected, Comfortable.’

  • Authentic – First & foremost, I decorate my home with things that bring me joy.  Sometimes, trends overlap with things I love, but my primary focus is always creating a space that I just can’t get enough of.
  • Collected – It is no secret that I adore antiques, so my home is full of them! I decorate with a layered mix of family heirlooms, found pieces, and a few new items to create the juxtaposition and 3D ‘memory book’ that I love so much.
  • Comfortable – From using calming colors throughout the house to choosing a big sectional sofa that could withstand somersaults and also provide a space to cuddle up and watch a movie, creating beautiful yet functional, real-life spaces for my 4.5-year-old son and me was incredibly important.  

Inspiration

My styling is driven by how a space feels vs. how it looks.  Because of this, I take pause in any space with a wonderful energy and try to soak in the details to figure out what is creating that overall feeling.  Is it a color, a silhouette, a furniture layout, or even the lighting?  I especially love studying colonial and Victorian-era interiors and then thinking about how I can add a fresh spin.

Advice on Purchasing an Old Home

If you genuinely appreciate the past, there is no book, antique, or museum that will give you the same feeling as waking up each day surrounded by history.  All houses have their problems, but being part of the legacy of caretakers on a historic property is rewarding in a way that doing repairs on a 20th-century home is not.  (Trust me, I’ve owned a not-historic home.)  Take the time upfront to hire an inspector who specializes in old homes and if everything checks out, then take the leap! There are many ways to make an old house feel fresh and like YOUR home while still protecting hundreds of years of history, so once you’re in, research any contractors you hire and be thoughtful about any changes you’re making. Old houses are truly magical places!

You may also want to read “Inside a Cozy New Mexico Cabin.”

Photos provided by Rebecca Lineberry.

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