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Romancing the stone

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This modest English-style limestone cottage was designed by Jeff Murphy


One way to celebrate historic architecture is by restoring an old building to its original form. Another is to reinvent the structure primarily using reclaimed materials, that together evoke the artisanal skills and charms of a by-gone era.

Set on the site of an early 1900s boys' camp, this building follows just such a design program. Faced with bylaws that meant keeping the existing shape, residential designer Jeff Murphy was asked by owner Patricia Newton to redesign the gatehouse as an English-look limestone cottage.

"The design has retained the L-footprint and foundations of the old split-log gatehouse, but everything else has changed," says Murphy.

"To achieve the right aesthetic, I studied traditional rural English design – considering everything from window patterns to the build techniques used before nails and screws were around to hold hefty support beams in place."

Together with the accurate proportions and classic detailing, it is the comprehensive use of reclaimed materials that give the cottage its rustic charm. The Platteville limestone was saved from a demolished bridge, the dog-eared shingles were repurposed from an old church – even the lintels had enjoyed a previous life.


On the exterior the only new pieces were the window frames, distressed for an aged feel, and the copper gutters and roof cap – patinaed to appear to have already stood the test of time. Beneath the roof eaves, hand carved wood pegs with timber lookouts reflect the craftsmanship inherent in the building's reconstruction.

"Beams used on the exterior corners and for internal support beams were sourced from a firm dealing in character woods," says Murphy. "Everything that contributes to the makeup of the cottage helps build a sense of prior history."

However, one way that the modest cottage does concede to contemporary times is through the open-plan layout.

Not only was the existing cabin in poor shape, it had also suffered from cramped rooms, low ceilings, no fireplace and a claustrophobic air. Removing most walls to create one large living-dining-kitchen space and having the bedroom in the short side of the L addressed this.

"Along with almost everything else, all the ceilings were removed, bringing added volume. The living room and dining area sit under the main vaulted ceiling, while the kitchen and airy breakfast nook at the rear of the cottage are tucked under a single-direction pitch roof.

"This demarcation was appropriate as the sloped roof gave the kitchen an intimate feel."

The lack of heating in the existing cabin was addressed by introducing a stone fireplace. The large slabs were mined locally and the interior of the firebox is lined with herringbone tiles – one of many elements collected by Patricia Newton over years and brought into use for this house.

"The log cabin had a negotiable crawl space which was retained for the cottage and we used this for the mechanicals," says Murphy. "This was a major plus in a house of just 860sq ft, where every last square inch is carefully utilized."

The house is as eclectic in decor as it is in building materials, featuring many of Newton's finds, such as French apothecary racks that not only flank the fire but helped dictate its size.

"It is the use of distressed textures and neutral tones that draw all the building materials and decor elements together," says Newton. "However, perhaps the most important aspect of this project was the skills of the team involved.

"Designer, stonemasons and builder all embraced the concept of showcasing artisanal design – and then reflected it in every corner."

Credit List

Residential designer Jeff Murphy, Murphy & Co Design (Buffalo, MN)
Owner Patricia Newton
Builder Bill Ziegler, Ziegler Remodeling
Stone masons Larry Bagge, Sean Bagge
Structural engineer Larson Associates
Siding Reclaimed Platteville limestone
Roof Reclaimed dog-eared slate
Doors and windows Wood windows by Marvin, custom wood doors
Flooring Reclaimed wood from Big Wood Timber
Wall covering Hand-washed plaster
Paint Linen White by Benjamin Moore
Lighting Existing, from owner
Heating Carrier from Ditter
Kitchen cabinetry Wormy chestnut
Countertops and backsplash Stainless steel
Kitchen sink Integrated Julien sink
Faucets Rohl
Cooktop, microwave Wolf

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