By repositioning a mid-19th-century house on its lot and renovating the interior spaces, a spectacular modern home emerges.
By Christina Poletto
The venerable house on Main Street in Wenham, Massachusetts, wasn’t finished telling its story. That’s what developer Jeff Novack believed when he purchased the property in 2021 and assembled a crackerjack team to restore the historic structure sited on nearly four acres of land.
Originally built in the mid-nineteenth century, the Second Empire building was in poor condition. The landmark home, familiarly known as “Hadley House,” is named after Frank Hadley, who left the property to his daughter, Phoebe Hadley, who then lived in the home with her husband, Dr. John Robinson, a Civil War surgeon. When Novack acquired it, the house sat perpendicular to the road so the front door faced the neighbors; a side wall was only a couple dozen feet from the busy thoroughfare. Though it flaunted elements of historical importance, like a regal mansard roof, the home clearly needed some serious TLC.
That’s where the teams at Novack Properties, SeaGlass Architects, and Jackson’s General Carpentry came in, together setting out to reimagine the home for the 21st century. After consulting historical documents and photos, the property was meticulously redesigned to capture its historic personality outside but with interior spaces suited to today’s lifestyle.
After discovering an old map showing the home’s long axis facing the street and set back from the road, the decision was made to relocate the home on the property, raising the home off of its original foundation to accomplish it. The house was lifted, turned 90 degrees to face the street, and situated on a new concrete foundation set back 40 feet on the property. Not only did the move stabilize the building, but it also brought about a more harmonious relationship between it and the land.
For Eric Gjerde of SeaGlass Architects, one goal was to reclaim the authentic exterior detailing. Craftsmen were able to replicate the detail of the clapboard siding just as it was in the past. A new covered porch, based on a design uncovered in a historical document, features Victorian Folk gingerbread detailing, period-appropriate corbels, and a frieze. Adding these decorative details to the facade of the carriage house required approval from the Wenham Historic District Commission.
Brand-new windows duplicate the dimensions of the original glazing. “Marvin makes fantastic products to match the scale and details that are there,” Novack says. “They custom-created 7-foot tall double-hung windows for this house from their Ultimate line.” These windows‑, the same size as the originals, allow an abundance of natural light into the home, which is key when considering the overhang of the home’s large front porch. The team also chose to mix in several Elevate products from Marvin as well.
With the support of the historic commission, “the development team also worked to design a garage in a carriage-house style to be set back from the original house and to replicate somewhat the look of a detached barn from the 1800s,” Gjerde says. “A garage is a modern convenience, but the structure was designed with seamless integration of the original house to the addition so it blended well with the architectural line of the home while also allowing the wrap-around porch to be prominent.” The heated garage features two Tesla charging ports, and above, there is an unfinished space that can be outfitted as a workshop, bedroom suite, or home office.
Novack says there was virtually no original detail left in the house when it was purchased. “The only remaining item is the newel post, and we’re trying to figure out what to do with it.” This allowed the architectural and development teams and builder Paul Jackson to create new layouts for gathering, entertaining, and relaxing in the 5,054 square feet of living space. The building phase was completed in 2023, and the updated home features six bedrooms and six bathrooms.
Interior TruStile doors were used in the hallway’s two vestibules as well as in the dining room and sitting room.
The state-of-the-art kitchen features custom cabinets from Kennebec Company. “The pine doors were hand-paned to make them look like they were always there,” Novack says. The heart of the kitchen is a 12-foot-long marble island, which seats five, flanked by 8-foot-long butcher block boards. Two pantries sit between the kitchen and dining room, and a mudroom connects the kitchen and the garage. The kitchen, with an adjacent dining nook, opens into the gathering room, which features a cathedral-beamed ceiling and a stone fireplace. Just outside this space is an outdoor patio for entertaining and a covered porch.
The second floor comprises three bedrooms with one and a half baths, a laundry room, a primary bathroom and bedroom with a cathedral ceiling, his-and-hers dressing rooms, and a private balcony.
The third floor has two bedrooms with window seats created using Marvin Ultimate casement windows with simulated check rails for another nod to history. It also boasts large closets, a full bathroom, and a loft space ideal for use as a sitting room. Another bonus: The new foundation created a cavernous basement, which is unfinished but already temperature controlled. Novack suggests it would be a prime space for a theater, wine room, or golf simulation area. A finished basement would increase usable living space to 7,500 square feet.
“Creating a home that provides function, style, and peace will appeal to everyone,” says Mia Davis, interior designer at SeaGlass Architects.
Living spaces were conceived with a thoughtful mix of classic and contemporary design to feel relevant now and for decades to come, Davis says. “There is nothing stock or cookie cutter about the choices made for the Hadley House. I was and have always been inspired by textures, colors, and scale.”
For Davis, this meant focusing on even the smallest details: handles and hardware, lighting fixtures and finishes, tile flooring, and a comfortable mix of textures inside the living spaces.
“What’s different about this home is that there isn’t anything like it out there,” says Kristin Zechello with Novack Properties. “It has all the functionality of new construction with energy efficiency and luxury, yet to look at it from the street, it looks like a house from the 1800s.”