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Restoring the Spirit in Chatham’s Grey Ghost

JW Construction

When it comes to restoring New England’s Historic Treasures, Jon Wardwell, President of JW Construction, Inc. says his greatest challenge is “trying to make everything new look old again.” Currently topping Wardwell’s list of recently completed “dream” restorations is a turn-of-the-century private residence that sits high on a bluff overlooking the harbor in Chatham, Massachusetts. Aptly called, “The Grey Ghost,” it’s a rambling shingle-style home that was restored top-to-bottom starting in October 2010 by Wardwell’s team.

The Grey Ghost

“The Grey Ghost” got its name after being abandoned for forty years by the second family who owned it. During that time, it was inhabited by scores of homeless people who would wander through the house up to the top floor carrying candles and lanterns. When people in the street saw the flickering lights in the third floor windows, they assumed the house was haunted, and hence the name ‘Grey Ghost’ was born.

The Grey Ghost

A beautiful alcove provides ample seating an an unobstructed view of the Atlantic

The Grey Ghost

Originally built for the governor of Rhode Island in 1893, “The Grey Ghost” was purchased in 2008 by a family who had admired the property for years. Determined from the start to completely restore the historical landmark to its former glory while creating a relaxed, elegant retreat, the new owners carefully chose their collaboration team utilizing the skill sets of custom builder, Jon Warwell, and designer, Barbara Kotzen of Kotzen Interiors, LLC. “Jon was a fortuitous find for us,” says the homeowner. “I don’t think anyone could have recreated the beauty and grandeur of this home like Jon did because he really understands architectural integrity.” She adds, “Barbara’s been our ‘go-to’ designer for years, and it’s her singular goal to make you happy with your home. She has a gift for taking your thoughts and turning them into beautiful living spaces.”

The Grey Ghost

The home's entryway is elegant and inviting, with charming period details

The Grey Ghost

The dining room was elegantly restored and has built-in cabinets

According to JW’s Project Manager, Tim Connors, his biggest challenge was removing the modern framework of the house that was not in accordance with the period of the home. Connors credits Period Furniture Hardware in Boston for repurposing all of the original hardware in the house by taking every brass doorknob and hinge and stripping them down to a matte finish. They were dipped in a chemical solution that turned them a desirable bronze hue. A wire-wheel was then used to clean and polish each piece to a subtle sheen.

The Grey Ghost

The Grey Ghost

Kotzen reconfigured six third floor windows on the front of the house the give the house a nautical look. “No one liked the trapezoid-shaped window under the front roof peak, so I had it removed and designed a new window that looks like a ship’s wheel,” she says. Kotzen also designed the custom cabinetry throughout the house including all of the bathroom vanities, with the help of Stephen Terhune Woodworking.

The Grey Ghost

This third story guest room doubles as another hangout space

As any Project Manager will tell you, “We’re usually the first and last man on the job each day. I’ll never forget being the last one in the house at night,” Connors says. “I always made a point of closing all the doors on the third floor before I left so the wind wouldn’t slam them shut during the night. Early the next morning, I’d be the first one to get here and wouldn’t you know that every one of those doors would be standing wide open again.” Perhaps the legend of the “Grey Ghost” still lives on in the spirits of its previous cohabitants. And no one really knows when they may just stop by and pay homage to this magnificent home. 

Credits:

Built by JW Construction, Interior Design by Kotzen Interiors, Stone fabrication by Cumar, Inc., Landscape by R.P. Marzilli, Photos by Richard Mandelkorn, Text by Amy Merwin

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