Abandoned Narragansett Victorian Gets a Fresh Start

Jeff Sweenor of Sweenor Builders on what went into refurbishing This Old House

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"I saw the house for sale and knew it would be a great This Old House project but there was no owner at the time,” recalls Jeff Sweenor, president and CEO of Sweenor Builders in Wakefield. Sweenor called the listing agent to discuss the Folk Victorian he spotted, located in Narragansett’s historic district. A true diamond in the rough, the home, then-known as the Daniel A. Caswell House, had a deteriorating porch and rotting roof but also boasted prized features like a sunburst detail at the front of the house, “rising sun” patterned clapboards, and an original decorative stained glass window, among other details prized by admirers of old architecture. “When they procured a buyer, I reached out to This Old House. They came to take a peek and knew it was a great fit for the show.”

For those just tuning in, 20 years before there was HGTV, there was This Old House. The PBS show truly launched a new television genre and four decades later continues to garner high ratings and empower home remodelers both pro and DIY. Sweenor explains that four years ago Tom Silva, a general contractor for the show, visited a Sweenor site for a brief tryout. “We built a custom curved deck with him. They filmed the segment and about a week later I got a call from the CEO. They said they’d like to incorporate Sweenor Builders!”

Known today as the Seaside Victorian, Sweenor relays that the first thing his crew did “was go around and document every little detail with photos, videos, sketches, and notes” of the house built between 1887 and 1890. The intent of these records is for reference, to keep the original home’s integrity on file and cite elements large and small, such as front gable rake, siding and trim detail, bay window bracket detail, and door roof overhang and bracket detail. “The list goes on, and we did actually bring certain items back to the shop to either repair or replicate exactly, but the documentation process allows us to look back at every little detail to ensure the home keeps
its historic architectural detail.”

Along with mindful restoration projects, the property was treated to new construction, including a garage with master suite above, with the middle of the home joined by a mudroom, bathroom, and hallway. The wraparound front porch was completely rebuilt and VaproShield, a barrier to the salty air, was installed to the framework; fresh cedar shingles, now painted in two contrasting shades of blue, cover the exterior. A new shed complements the Victorian architecture, the driveway was refreshed with cobblestone work, and there is an outdoor kitchen with a fireplace.

“We strive to incorporate the previous layout and exterior details whenever possible. In this case, we were aware there was a fair amount of rot, deterioration, and structural damage, but did what we could to preserve and restore everything possible,” says Sweenor. “It’s an honor to be able to showcase our company’s craftsmanship on national television for an iconic piece of Narragansett history.”

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