Making a house a home again

By Sophie Kuijper Dickson

When Heather Rogers was showing her family home of 50 years to potential buyers, she was always sure to mention the secret room; the second-story space on the west side of the house that had but a window and a bench in it, and could only be accessed by either climbing up the TV tower or by crawling out the bathroom window and shimmying along the outside balcony. This was one in a handful of nooks and corners that Rogers and her brother Brian would tuck themselves into as children. 

Sharing anecdotes like these was an attempt to restore the house’s personality. While Rogers’ memories from her childhood growing up in the three story Victorian-era brick home are full of warmth, vivacity, and generous hospitality, by the time her family finally decided to sell the Shawville staple, it had been standing vacant for eight years.  

Rogers was transparent about how much of an undertaking buying the house would be. 

“I would say to buyers that it’s kind of a life time job. You can live in it, but you continually … there are things you can always do. You don’t have to do it all the first year, it will be a work in progress.” She wanted to be sure that the bones of the home that had raised her would go to somebody who knew what they were getting into, and who was prepared to give it the love and care that it had given her for so many years. 

The Mcnaughton house standing alone at the corner of Main and Campbell Streets not long after it was built in 1898.

Emma Judd was the only local to make a serious offer on the house. It’s reputation did not deter her. 

“I saw the house out of curiosity when I was still in college,” says Judd, who was studying business at John Abbott College in Montreal when it came on the market.

“I had known it as the house with the creepy porch on it, but still kind of romantic. When old houses are abandoned, they have a romantic quality to them. Everybody is paying attention to them.” 

At 18, Judd had not imagined herself in any place to be buying a home. Coming out of high school, she knew that she wanted to do something creative and entrepreneurial, but hadn’t yet landed on what it was going to be.  

“When I saw it first, it was a cold October day. The house was freezing, but I was wearing blinders. All I could see was pretty wood work, pretty fireplace. I completely ignored the mould on the walls,” she laughs.

What began as an impulsive visit evolved into a project that Judd had never imagined: opening a Bed and Breakfast in downtown Shawville. 

Three years later, as the late evening light disappears through the signature half moon windows on the third floor of 202 Main Street, Judd sits back in a mid-century modern Milo Baughman club chair. It is a dusty rose color, sits low to the ground, and is one of a pair that will one day be in the downstairs lounge. For now, they stand together, side by side, in what has become Judd’s private living room in the newly renovated attic. This space, that for so many years saw only cobwebs, bats and old dusty boxes, is her new home. 

While she’s only been officially settled here since June, she has been slowly bringing to life her modern-day vision of this 123 year old relic since the summer of 2019. 

At the onset of this project, she knew nothing of double-hung sash windows (hers are unique to the area), the intricacies of hand carved trim, end caps, plaster, dropped ceilings, or what the original builders did or did not do to control the way temperature and moisture were regulated in their homes. 

Now, these kinds of details are her every day meat and potatoes. While the larger fixes, such as the roof, the plumbing, the heating, and the electrical wiring, had to be contracted out, everything else is being restored or renovated by Judd and her family. 

Many would opt to replace the replaceable with new parts, but not Judd, who is dedicated to the original components of the home.

Twelve-inch trim and naked wood are what Judd is working to bring to life in the 19th Century Victorian home, soon-to-be Bed and Breakfast.

“You can’t get mouldings like this made. You can’t replace these kinds of windows. It’s just not the same,” she says, as reason for her undying dedication to saving whatever she can. 

Beyond the personality that these details offer, Judd maintains that this is also the most practical and self-sufficient route to take. 

“Old houses are built logically. That’s what I like about them. If you have an old window that breaks, glass, wood, rope, anything, you just fix it, and the rest of it’s fine.”

Currently consuming her is restoring the many windows of the home to be fully functional. In an upstairs bedroom at the back of the house, she has set up her window workshop. 

“I bedded the glass before you came,” she says, running her hand along a window resting across two sawhorses. “Issues with old windows are draughtiness, the glass rattles, and that’s pretty much it,” she explains. “Sometimes they stick but that’s because they’ve been painted too many times.”

The online world of social media has connected Judd with an international community of like-minded old home enthusiasts keen to share skills and support each other as they navigate the niche world of old home restoration. This has been an invaluable tool for her. 

“It’s kind of freeing to know how to do things yourself, instead of having to rely on other people,” she says. “Everything that has frustrated me in this house has been things I have to hire out.”

Her vision for this house is that it be a space where friends and family can come together, and feel at home, away from home. 

Every corner of the house will be brought back to life. The front eastern room will become a piano room. The delicate floral wallpaper will go, but she will keep a strip of it in the backing behind the bookcases. What was the original kitchen will become the dining room, and what was once the summer kitchen in the back of the house will become her permanent kitchen. What used to be the old vet’s office will be home to her office, her pantry, and the laundry room. Even the secret room, with no entrance but a window, will be given a door and used as a bathroom. Judd is adamant that every room have it’s own private bathroom.  

“I want the house to feel like theirs, and I’m just making it all a little easier for people to get together and have fun,” she explains. 

The enormity of this project is not lost on Judd. 

Emma Judd explains how she took the weights out of a window as part of the process of getting it back working.

“This isn’t a quick money maker, this isn’t a flip,” she says. She admits that there was a brief moment where she considered selling her home because the market was so good. 

“If I did not love this house so much, I would have listed it. It’s just, you get so deep into a project, I’m like, ‘I can’t give up on this now.’”

Hosting seems intuitive to Judd. Three summers in the kitchen at Pine Lodge and her ongoing work at her family’s winery, The Little Red Wagon, have given her a good taste for what it takes to create and run a space where people will feel comfortable.

She plans to do a big open house once she is ready to receive guests, as well as regular Christmas house tours. She gets excited about the idea of hosting wedding parties, particularly bridal parties, as well as girls weekends, for local women to escape with their friends without having to stray too far from home. 

“That’s what we’ve been missing too in pandemic times, getting together with friends that you haven’t seen in a long time.” 

While the genealogical lineage of what is commonly referred to as either the Rogers house or the McNaughton house is not entirely clear, what is evident from its history is that it has long been a gathering place for the community. 

Many of the old brick homes in downtown Shawville belonged to doctors who moved to the area at the turn of the century, and 202 Main Street was no exception. 

The residence was originally owned by Dr. McNaughton, who later moved to the site of Shawville’s first hospital, at the corner of Victoria and Lang Streets. 

Some documents report that the residence was built by a Mr. Cuthbertson in 1898. It is unclear how Dr. McNaughton and Mr. Cutherberston overlapped, but at some point it was sold to Arthur Smiley, who then sold it to Christopher Caldwell, owner of Shawville’s first hotel, the Pontiac House. After Mr. Caldwell, the Cowley’s took ownership. 

In 1950, Dr. Roly Armitage set up his veterinary practice in the building, building the addition onto the back of it to be used as his office space. 

“What drew him [to the house] was the barn,” says Mick Armitage, son of Dr. Armitage. “We would always keep a couple of ponies, and some horses that were being worked on back there.” 

Armitage grew up with three siblings, and most nights, this number was doubled, if they each had a friend over. 

“There was always a crowd and there was always food,” says Armitage. “It didn’t matter what time you came home.” 

Thursday nights would be operation night, when folks would bring in their cats and dogs to be spayed and neutered. Armitage remembers helping his father with the operations, and when he was out on the job, Armitage would take care of sales back at the office. 

His father was not just a business man. He wanted to see his community thrive. Dr. Armitage received the Citizen of the Year award in 1961 for putting together the Shawville Arena. He sat on council, and contributed his time to many other local service clubs. Armitage recounts how when he played a show at the Shawville Fair, more than one farmer made the point of telling him that his father had taught them more than might have been necessary for him to heal their animal. According to Armitage, that was just how the community worked during his childhood at the old McNaughton house. 

“If somebody was going by, all you had to do was stick out your thumb to catch a ride to wherever you needed to be,” he says. “Everybody knew everybody, and everybody helped everybody.” 

When Dr. Grant Rogers, moved from Belleville and bought the business in 1968, Heather Rogers was two years old. 

Dr. Armitage’s weekly surgery night became a daily affair for the Rogers, Fridays being reserved for small animals, starting at 6 and often running as late as 11 p.m.  

“He always really did care about animals, and so his prices were reasonable,” says Rogers, adding that her father would often accept meat in exchange for his services when his client couldn’t afford to pay the bill. “He really did want people to be successful in their farms.” 

Dr. Rogers was integral to the community. This meant that for the span of his 30-year career, the family home was a magnet for anybody who had any animal issues. 

“People would climb our TV tower and bang on the upstairs windows if you didn’t answer the door, and they would come any time of day or night,” remembers Rogers. “Dad and Mom often went to dances, and by the end of the night they’d be in the barn, because somebody had a sick cow or something.”

Regardless, Rogers thinks fondly of the community hub that her parents created, recalling how much they liked to entertain. 

“The house was really a home for us,” says Rogers. “It was a hopping place. We had a good life there.”

For larger events, such as Christmas parties, she remembers her mother, Anne Rogers, spending weeks preparing food. The first floor wood be filled with upwards of 75 people, in formal dressed attire. Parties like these would encourage a glamour accented by hot plates and large ice sculptures. 

“We would stay upstairs,” says Rogers. “I remember peaking through the railings and stuff.”

Her mother also hosted weekly 4H Homemakers meetings for the women of the neighbourhood. They would learn to strip furniture in the basement, or knit socks, or make jam. 

“In those days the girls did more homemaker things and the boys did more rough and tumble stuff,” explains Rogers.

Today, Emma Judd has her feet in both of these worlds, at once a homemaker and a business owner, teaching herself how to both strip paint off old wood and wire a socket. Nobody who walks through the chaos that is her labour of love could deny that she is waist deep in the rough and tumble. 

“It’s nice to hear from people who can remember their parents, especially their fathers, doing work that I’m doing,” says Judd. 

While somedays she wonders whether she’s in over her head, the support from the community has helped to affirm that she contributing something of great value to the area. 

“A lot of people who have grown up here and live here, they want to see the area do well, no matter what that looks like,” she explains. 

Judd thinks back to that cold October day, when she first set foot in the house.

“You could just tell that it had been a house that did have people who loved it in it, and had family or laughter or stories here. And that’s what I see every single time I picture the future.”

FREE ACCESS FOR EQUITY SUBSCRIBERS

This article is available free to all subscribers to The Equity. If you are a subscriber, please enter your email address and password below.

SET UP YOUR ONLINE ACCOUNT

If you are a subscriber but have not yet set up your online account, please contact Liz Draper at liz@theequity.ca to do so.

HOW TO BECOME A SUBSCRIBER

To become a subscriber to The Equity, please use our Subscribe page or contact liz@theequity.ca