Drew and Jeanne Barber thought they found a heavenly place to raise their two young children when they toured a 4,900-square-foot, four-bedroom home on 11 acres in Farmington, Connecticut in 2018.
A house from 1975 with a gambrel roof expanded several times offered plenty of space to spread out, manicured gardens, a cute stone pool house for the summer and – most importantly for Mr. Barber, an avid hockey fan – a large yard that can house an ice rink in winter .
But it also had something less desirable that the couple didn’t discover until it was too late: a thriving colony of mice.
After closing for $ 900,000 in August of that year, they moved in with their children Camden and Colette, now 8 and 6 years old, and were happy enough for the first few months. The interior of the house was dated, but Mrs. Barber, 36, the founder of Camden Grace Interiors, had no doubt she could freshen it up.
“Inside it was all the country, that’s not with us at all,” says Mr. Barber, 36, lawyer. But he trusted Ms. Barber when she explained how she could give her a more modern, eclectic feel with a few simple cosmetic changes. “It was fun to see it through their eyes and what it could be,” he said.
But just as Ms. Barber was starting the renovation plans, the uninvited guests came. “As the weather got colder, we began to notice feces and smells,” she said.
And soon rodents seemed to be almost everywhere. “The house turned out to be overrun with mice,” she continued.
It was then that Ms. Barber, who had no previous experience with rodents, discovered something about herself: she has an ingrained, uncontrollable aversion to mice. “If I go into the basement and see a mouse trapped, I scream like fucking murder,” she said. “I do not know what it is.”
So the couple put their renovation plans on hold and called pest control companies instead of contractors. “The schedule has been postponed to deal with the mice,” said Ms. Barber. “And to give me time to think about whether I could still live there at all.”
After about six months of trial and error with various companies, she contracted Catseye Pest Control to install a metal barrier where the cedar clapboard cladding meets the foundation around the perimeter of the house, blocking the rodent highway. By the time they finally got relief, and after a thorough cleanup that included replacing the broken insulation, they’d spent about $ 40,000.
With her walls and ceilings reassuringly calm, Ms. Barber returned for renovation last year, with a plan to make a number of room-by-room changes over time.
The biggest change was in the kitchen, which had a vaulted ceiling with pine cabinets and a beige tile back. Mrs. Barber tore everything down and pulled down a wall to open up a view of the courtyard and the traffic around a breakfast table. Then she installed Shaker-style cabinets painted in light gray in a new layout with a large island in the middle.
With the aim of visual warmth and character, she chose three types of materials for the counters in different areas: Nero Mist granite to tower over most of the wraparound cabinets; white Carrara marble for the island; and walnut, at a baking station. Then she added brass details: cabinet handles and lattice door inserts; the strapping of the extractor hood; and a vintage Italian stand found at an estate sale to hold glass canisters. Over their heads, she installed rough-hewn wooden beams recovered from a barn in Pennsylvania to match the exposed beams in other rooms.
In the rest of the house, she kept elements she liked while changing the look of each room with paint, wallpaper, and furniture that reflected her interest in design from different eras and locations.
“In my dream world, I would have a modern mid-century ski chalet and a truly traditional Palm Beach home,” said Ms. Barber. “But I don’t, so I wanted to mix styles.”
In the family room, she installed elegant vintage Lucite chairs by Charles Hollis Jones, which are upholstered in sage green fabric, around a platform table that serves as a multi-purpose station for folding laundry and playing board games. In the living room she placed a pink tufted sofa and an old rattan armchair with willow branches on a traditional Persian rug that belonged to Mr. Barber’s grandfather.
In the meantime, Mr. Barber, who used to play competitive hockey as a goalkeeper and now trains his son, has been working on his own dream projects: mastering the art of building a backyard ice rink and building an all-weather practice room with artificial ice in the basement.
The couple have so far spent about $ 200,000 on improvements and aesthetic changes, including another strategic change on the first floor.
“The previous owners had a lot of murals painted on the walls, including one in the wine cellar where a little mouse was painted on the wall,” says Ms. Barber, who prefers not to remember some of the house’s former occupants. “I said to the carpenter: ‘Do some milling over it.'”
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