“Old House Whisperer” to Speak in Atkinson Thursday about preservation work, appeal of older homes By Allison DeAngelis firstname.lastname@example.org Jun 13, 2017. A historic home sits on Main Street in Atkinson. Courtesy photo
ATKINSON — John F. Cole can determine the age of a home before he even steps through the front door. Cole — who has spent the last 50 years studying, researching and working with historic homes across the country and has built a business as the “Old House Whisperer” — gleans clues from the structure’s position to the road, the exterior brick or wood, the windows and other aspects of the home.
“For me now, it’s like looking at a painting,” he said.
But even in New England, well-preserved historic homes are becoming harder to come by, Cole said. The specialist has seen the public’s interest in classic homes decrease, though original features can actually increase a house’s value.
Cole began his career recreating Shaker furniture after studying history at Harvard University. He then studied under leading architectural historian Abbott Cummings before teaching at the Harvard School of Design and at the University of Arkansas Graduate School of Architecture.
Over the last few decades, he has helped many civilians, towns and cities across the country survey or preserve thousands of homes. To mark Atkinson’s 250th anniversary this year, Cole will speak at the Kimball Library about 20 homes built in Atkinson before the American Revolution.
“Residents will be able to relate to some of the houses every day that they didn’t realize were preserved,” said John Rockwell of the Atkinson Historical Society, which is hosting the event.
Several of the antique brick homes that Cole will speak about have unique stories behind them, including a ship captain and man who moved from Essex in 1768 because he didn’t like having a neighbor close enough that he could see the smoke coming from the chimney.
At one home in Groveland, Cole and his team uncovered a plaster bust of George Washington made in around 1800.
The mortar used on Cole’s own brick house, which was built in 1710, was made using seashells fragments that release a saltwater scent when it rains.
“You can never tell exactly what you’re going to find… It’s always an adventure,” said Cole, who also researches and compiles reports on the ancestry of homes.
People are very interested in unusual architectural features and the stories of people who lived in these homes, Cole said. But, more people shying away from homes that might need some work.
“I have to say, when I was getting started, there was relatively more interest in historic homes,” Cole said. “It’s a narrower band of people who have an interest in them.”
In the last six months, the Masiello real estate group has sold 50 “antique” homes in Atkinson, Hampstead and Plaistow dating between 1700 and 1950, according to realtor Barbara Brown. But the firm sold twice as many homes built in 2000 or later during the same time period.
“It’s a very specific buyer that’s open and responsive to antique homes. They’re kind of a different breed. You either love them or you don’t,” said Brown, who herself grew up in a house built in 1737. “I don’t think people realize the inherent charm and character that an antique has.”
Historic homes can possess many sought-after characteristics like hardwood floors, architectural details, fireplaces, wooden beams, built-in cupboards and more.
Upwards of 90 percent of a historic home’s original, unique features are inside, Cole said. But, they also may need new roofs and electrical wiring if they haven’t been kept up well, and often don’t have the open concept, high ceiling rooms that are driving buyers.
“The younger generation generally has no interest in doing any work on homes,” said Dave Deysher of the real estate firm Historic and Distinctive Properties, which has seen a decline in buyers.
The properties can be great investments, Brown said. Plus, all homes age eventually.
“A home that’s 20 years old, you’re going to have to do some of the same projects,” she added.
John F. Cole,”Old House Whisperer.” Courtesy photo Contact John: Oldhousewhisperer..com • 978-994-1693