The Farm Home is quintessential Vermont — white clapboard, wraparound porch, wavy-glass windows, coveted views of a winding river and white steeple against bucolic forested hills.
The interior is all neutral shades, “rustic chic meets industrial vintage,” owner Lisa Mara said. Burlap is tempered by fine linen; wood accents warm up white walls; vintage lighting brightens the airy spaces.
Also, there are mice. And chipmunks in the kitchen. And plants growing out of the floor.
Well, not any more. Lisa and her fiancé, Tyson Bry, are a year into a true labor of love — turning a historic house on the Mountain Road in Stowe into their dream home.
Tyson is a Vermont native from Pomfret; Lisa’s from Bedford, Mass. They’ve been together for about three and a half years, and will be married in the area this July.
They looked at other homes in Vermont, but “we kept finding ourselves saying, where are all the young people?” Lisa said.
On Labor Day weekend of 2015, they visited Stowe — camped at the campground, hiked Mount Mansfield, the whole nine.
“We had the best weekend ever, and we were just sold,” Lisa said. “That’s all it took.”
“This is pretty much all the amenities of a city packed into this tiny town in Vermont,” Tyson said. “It’s kind of ridiculous … where in Vermont can you get Thai, Chinese food, bagels, coffee, bowling, a movie theater, the hardware store, the dump, all in the same place?”
“It’s like an adult playground,” Lisa said.
They looked at houses throughout Stowe, keeping in mind a list of features they might want — including some land, and privacy. Their goal wasn’t necessarily to buy a fixer-upper, Lisa said, but when they saw 161 Mountain Road, something clicked for the couple.
“Walking through with Tyson, we both knew it was perfect,” Lisa said.
Their real estate agent, Meg Kauffman, “was like, this is nothing that you’re looking for!” Lisa laughed.
“It had nothing on our checklist, but when you see character. … The old character was there. It needed a ton of work, and a ton of money to put into it.”
Lisa and Tyson put an offer on the house in March 2016, and closed in late April.
Make it new, but keep the old
The 1,680-square-foot home, built in 1850, was owned for more than 60 years by the same family.
It’s a historic building, so Lisa and Tyson have needed to get town approval for some aspects of the renovation — removing the chimney, replacing a window with French doors, some exterior work.
“The house had good bones, but it needed a facelift,” Lisa said. “We’re trying to preserve it; we’re not trying to totally change it.”
“Phase 1 was inside,” Lisa said. “We needed to make it updated, livable.”
The plaster-and-lath house is on a three-quarter-acre lot, with four bedrooms, three bathrooms and a barn, plus a covered porch that’s currently populated with wood, boxes and tools.
“Every time we walk outside, it’s like Boo Radley’s house,” Lisa laughed. “Just a little creepy!”
The couple decided to do as much of the work as they could on their own.
“Tyson does a lot of his own contracting work, for his own enjoyment, not by trade; I’m not an interior designer,” Lisa said.
“We could see the character, and were getting ideas as soon as we walked in.”
The front door leads to the kitchen, which has gone through a major overhaul. The ceiling and three-quarter-story attic have come down, literally, to create a cathedral ceiling.
The former floor joists were made into the kitchen peninsula counter with a recessed sink; the attic floorboards were used for the kitchen’s new floor. Exposed beams were salvaged from a barn in Hardwick.
“Tyson was all the manpower, and we did all the floors together,” Lisa said.
When the couple talked to other old-house renovators, “we started to see a lot of common threads,” Lisa said.
The kitchen would often be the last room to be built, and the mismatched windows, “piecemeal” floor and dirt base — no foundation — supported that idea.
Lisa served as general contractor and main designer, earning the monikers “QC,” “hawkeye” and “eagle-eye” along the way. When she thought the recessed sink looked just a little bit “off,” it turned out to be just one-sixteenth of an inch out of line.
Waterbury-based Aaron Flint Builders helped with kitchen finish work, and the couple hired an electrician to install outlets. Tyson’s sister and brother-in-law, who live in Waterbury, were recruited to help, too.
They’ve stayed mostly on budget, choosing quality pieces over cheaper options that don’t “bring the charm” or fit with the 1850 house.
“You want to really be surrounded by things that you enjoy and bring you enjoyment,” Lisa said.
“Whether it’s antique or repurposing it … it feels like you’re not just throwing everything away in the trash,” she said.
Lisa has drawn inspiration from designers and browsing furniture and lighting stores, and does a ton of research before making each purchase.
The home is decorated with a mix of antique, repurposed and new items, and Lisa’s found a passion in antiquing.
“Part of what I’m tapping into is my new interest in meeting people,” she said — plus, she loves negotiating.
“The antiques have brought a lot of charm into making the house seem not too vanilla,” Lisa said.
The couple would eventually like to open up the home for guests to stay in, but for now, they’re hoping for lots of family visits.
“One of the lessons we learned going through the process … is if you have more of a blank palette that’s designed well with other areas, you can speak to more people,” Lisa said.
Two of the four bedrooms are finished, and they’re working on the third, which they’d like to build bunk beds in, and the master bedroom — now a total construction zone, with stacks of wood, sheetrock, saws and all.
“There were a lot of firsts on this house,” Tyson said.
He’s learned to create cathedral ceilings, replace sill beams, even install a toilet — “a big feat,” he said.
Making a house a home
“Every little thing you see picked out, it was picked out of our two brains together,” Lisa said.
“There’s a lot of things people want to hire out, but we wanted to make it our own,” she said. “It feels like our creation.”
She’s loved working with local businesses — Country Store on Main, Stowe Kitchen Bath & Linens, Stowe Hardware, Parker & Stearns — plus “literally all the restaurants in town that fed us for six months when we didn’t have a kitchen.”
“I’m a transplant, trying to tread lightly, and get out and try to support small businesses,” Lisa said.
She’s a small-business owner herself — she runs DanceWorks, a dance company for young professionals, with branches in Boston and New York.
The couple started a public Instagram account as a way to track their progress and keep a record of their work.
“You know how in Instagram world everything looks perfect? I’ve been trying to share some of the imperfection,” Lisa said. “There’s a reality and a genuineness. It’s not just like, I walked into this beautiful, modern farm home.”
There’s dirt on the floor, dust in the air, boxes being delivered constantly, “but it’s very rewarding,” Lisa said.
“The reality behind home renovation is that it needs to take a couple that both want to do it, and both want to be involved,” Lisa said. “It can’t be a one-sided project.”
A couple needs to be able to laugh when rodents run across the floor, Lisa said, even if only one person (hint: it wasn’t Lisa) is willing to take on extermination duty.
“Mice that have been here for 70 years. The generations!” Tyson said.
While renovating a house has presented challenges, it’s been “fun to jump in with two feet,” Lisa said.
“We’ve been really pouring our heart and soul into this.”
Peek behind the scenes on Lisa and Tyson’s Instagram @thefarmhome.