By Marybeth Bizjak
Posted on October 24, 2006
Photography By Dave Adams
Some people like things that are shiny and new. Others prefer things that are old, even a little scuffed up—things with a history.
Janet Spalding falls decidedly into the “old” category.
Ironically, Spalding markets and sells new-home developments. But when it came to finding herself a bigger home, the longtime Sacramento resident yearned for something old.
“I wanted a house that looked old, felt old and incorporated old things,” she explains.
After searching for almost five years, without success, for an old house to buy, Spalding ended up building a brand-new house. This story, however, has a happy ending, for the house she built—a 4,000-square-foot farmhouse-style home with a sweeping front porch, situated on a sleepy, countrylike road in Sierra Oaks Vista—looks and feels authentically old.
Not a week goes by that somebody doesn’t knock on the door or slip a note in the mailbox, asking to see—and, oftentimes, to buy—Spalding’s new old house.
Visitors to the gracious, one-story house frequently compare it to old houses they’ve seen on their travels to places like Cape Cod, upstate New York, South Carolina or New Orleans. Spalding, however, was inspired by a rambling farmhouse she’d once visited in Loomis. The 19th century farmhouse—one of the oldest in town—had an enormous, light-filled central living space where the family could congregate. “I liked that idea,” she says. “It looked like Ralph Lauren might live there.”
The 1 1/3-acre property on which Spalding built her new farmhouse already had an old house sitting on it: a tiny English Tudor cottage built in the 1930s by famed Sacramento builder Squeaky Williams. She briefly toyed with the idea of renovating the dilapidated structure before deciding it was too far gone to save. However, she did manage to rescue some of the home’s charming old windows and V-groove paneled doors with leaded-glass insets for reuse in the new structure.
The new house has many hallmarks of an old farmhouse: walls of horizontal plank siding, whitewashed for a cottagey effect; wide-planked walnut floors; and fireplaces—five of ’em—in the living and dining rooms, kitchen, master bedroom and back porch. In keeping with the farmhouse theme, Spalding furnished the kitchen with simple painted white cabinets with old-fashioned latches, classic Carrara marble countertops and—what else?—a deep farmhouse sink.
During construction, Spalding began buying up antique chandeliers (most of them French), light sconces and other fixtures and furnishings from local antiques stores, eBay and other Internet sites. “I wanted a chandelier for every room,” she says. No kidding—even the rustic potting shed sports a chandelier dripping with crystals. Eventually, she had so much stuff, she had to rent a storage unit to hold it all. “I didn’t know where it all was going to go,” she explains. “On moving day, I just had a van show up and unload everything.” Then Spalding, who worked “without a net”—that is, without the help of an interior designer—found the perfect spot for each piece.
In decorating the house, Spalding was guided by the Shabby Chic philosophy—the trademarked style of author and TV personality Rachel Ashwell, who’s known for the way she mixes authentic vintage items with new-but-looks-old furnishings. For the dining room, Spalding found a long oval table—newly constructed out of hundred-year-old oak—and eight mismatched French carved chairs from the 1930s, which she painted in charming contrast to the dark wood table. A timeworn farm table with a metal top serves as a sideboard.
For the massive great room that serves as the heart of the house, she purchased overstuffed, down-filled, slipcovered sofas and chairs from the Shabby Chic store in San Francisco. “The linen slipcovers are so durable,” she explains. “They’re family-friendly, yet elegant.” Then she furnished the room with an eclectic mix of old tables, chests and commodes that look as if they’ve been accumulated over the course of generations. A fan of English country-house style, she decorated the room with old hunting prints, dog show memorabilia, even a pair of new lamps whose bases are reminiscent of silver hunting trophies. Underfoot, she placed faded Aubusson, Oriental and Indian rugs—the more worn-out, the better.
“When I go to sales, I’m the only one who buys the rugs with holes in them,” she says with a laugh. “That’s the Shabby Chic thing: Imperfection is beauty.”