N.H.’s 1835 executive home restored
CONCORD, N.H. -- Ratty. Moldy. Neglected. Gross.
First lady Susan Lynch remembers being struck by the sad condition of New Hampshire’s official executive residence the first time she saw it a decade ago. But it wasn’t until last week that entering the house moved her to tears.
"I just started to cry because it was so beautiful," she said. "I couldn’t even imagine it could turn out this well."
Lynch, a physician, knew the first time she saw the historic home that she wanted to help restore it someday, though she had no idea then that her husband would become governor. Soon after he was elected in 2004, she launched a major fundraising campaign to transform the house into an elegant showcase of the state’s history and culture.
The project was completed this month, just as Gov. John Lynch prepares to leave office after four terms. The timing is a bit bittersweet, his wife acknowledges.
"It would’ve been wonderful to have this home to use," she said. "But even though John and I don’t get to use this as governor and first lady, we feel really good about getting this done so the state can have it."
Built in 1835, the two-bedroom, brick Greek Revival house located three miles from the Statehouse was the home of former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Styles Bridges from 1946 until his death in 1961. Eight years later, his family gave the home and its contents to the state to serve as the governor’s residence, though just one -- Republican Meldrim Thomson -- ever lived there. That was in the 1970s, and parts of the house reflected the era -- from the harvest gold appliances in the kitchen to the shag carpeting in the barn that was turned into a meeting room during his tenure.
The old barn was torn down during the renovation project and replaced with a formal great room, where large paintings of New Hampshire landscapes flank the fireplace. The room’s color palette combines deep gold with accents of midnight blue, and antique furniture reupholstered in silk adds to the sophisticated style.
Elsewhere, a porch was converted into a dining room and the kitchen was doubled in size. Curiously -- given that New Hampshire’s nickname is "the Granite State" -- the dark green granite countertops came from a Vermont quarry. New Hampshire materials and artists are featured extensively throughout the house.
In each room, designers were asked to draw inspiration from one or more pieces of furniture left behind by Bridges, who served as governor from 1935 to 1936 and as a senator for 25 years after that. In the master bedroom, it was a chest of drawers, which interior designer Cindy McLaughlin considered the "only nice thing in the room."
"This room, when I took over, was awful," said McLaughlin, of Upstairs Downstairs in Manchester. "It had this Mediterranean, king-size bed. It had draperies that were tied back with plastic."
But the renovations were more than cosmetic. A bathroom was added on the ground floor to be accessible to visitors with disabilities, the security system was upgraded and a new climate control system was added to protect the antique furniture. Before the renovations, rodents and bees were a problem, the porch roof leaked and the cellar was so full of mold that several antique chairs stored there disintegrated when they were picked up, Lynch said.
The Friends of Bridges House organization raised $660,000 for the project, and time and items donated by contractors and designer amounted to $300,000 or so more, McLaughlin said. Fundraising was a challenge given the economic recession, Susan Lynch said.
"A smarter person might have turned around then, but I had done so much groundwork and gotten so many good people together, I knew if I said we’re going to put it on hold, we’d never get it back together," she said.
Lynch hopes future governors will use the home as a quiet place to meet with business leaders interested in relocating to New Hampshire or as guest accommodations for visiting dignitaries. She also hopes the home will be the setting for tours, art exhibits, concerts and other meetings. In the immediate future, there is a series of tours and lectures planned, including a candlelight tour Dec. 15 and a "family day" Dec. 16 that will include Christmas carols sung around the grand piano in the living room.
"I see this house as an ambassador for New Hampshire," Lynch said. "I think it’s a place where, when you walk in, you should immediately get a sense of what’s special about New Hampshire, from its history, to its furniture makers and craftspeople, to its artists, to the modesty of the home itself, and the rural surroundings. It really depicts New Hampshire well."
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