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New W.Va. house has old-fashioned charm

November 28, 2013
Associated Press

BELLE, W.Va. (AP) — The house tucked into a family lot in Belle looks as though it came straight from Colonial New England.

Inside, furnishings are well worn and remind of a time when a family made do with what it had.

The older looking, the better, as far as owner Mike Spangler is concerned.

And while he certainly has some true antiques in his saltbox-style home, Spangler actually created much of the furniture and made it look lovingly weathered.

The house, built using plans from a Country Living magazine Spangler had for years, was completed in 2012 and was built, with the exception of the concrete pad and the roof, by Spangler and his dad, also named Mike, who is a retired builder.

"When he was building houses, I worked with him in the summers through middle school, high school and college," he said.

Spangler loves all things old and the house is a showcase for his efforts at recreating that. He and his dad scavenged supplies for the house with an eye toward Spangler's budget, which was strictly pay-as-you-go.

"That's why it took two and a half years," Spangler said.

The result is a home that is completely paid for as it stands.

"Being almost 50 years old, I didn't want to spend the rest of my life paying on this house," he said.

Spangler first became enamored by the style of home about 30 years ago when he first saw the buildings at Bridge and Loudon Heights roads in Charleston, which include a similar style of house.

"I just went nuts over it," Spangler said, "though technically, that is a Federal-style, not a saltbox."

A true saltbox is a square structure with a flat front and a deeply sloping, "cat slide" roofline that ends in one story on the rear of the house. It has a center staircase and a center firebox that provides fireplaces to rooms on both the first and second floors.

Spangler and his dad modified his plans for a 30-foot by 30-foot house to make it 34 feet.

"It's amazing what a difference 4 feet can make," he said.

"We wanted to do it in the old way as much as possible," Spangler said. Determined to track down 12-over-12 paned windows — sash windows with 12 panes of glass on the top half and 12 on the bottom — Spangler located a New England company that made reproductions, but balked at the $1,500-per-window price tag.

Instead, he found a Vermont salvage company that had the same windows from a home built in 1750.

"They were $50 each," he said. "I drove 14 hours to get them."

Some concessions were made for modern conveniences and practicality.

The house has two and a half baths. The fireplaces have gas inserts because the insurance adjustor said creating four or more wood-burning fireplaces through a center firebox would have caused the insurance to be exorbitant.

There are staircases both in the front and rear of the house because the narrow turns on the front staircase didn't allow much space to move large furniture upstairs.

A true saltbox would have had a wooden shingle roof, but for budget reasons Spangler opted for a metal roof.

The house is sided with hemlock from Pocahontas County and stained red. The floor looks like brick but is a poured concrete stencil.

The effect is rustic. Inside, utilities are tucked away. Ceilings are just 7 feet high on the first floor, with exposed beams. Lighting includes dim electrical candles, though Spangler added some additional lighting to boost brightness at nighttime.

Two front rooms house a living room and dining room. In the rear, there is a buttery, or cool pantry, and a large, eat-in kitchen.

Spangler furnished the house primarily with pieces he made. Not everything suggests the late 1700s. The refrigerator is hidden away behind a cabinet fashioned from an old refrigerator crate Spangler acquired from a family in Malden — they bought the first electric refrigerator in the area. An island sink was crafted from his grandmother's tin dishpan, a piece he fondly remembers her using.

Spangler said he made his own furniture out of necessity — antiques from Colonial times are way out of his price range. Instead, he studied photos and actual antiques, headed to his dad's workshop and taught himself to create new pieces that look old.

A wingback sofa looks ancient, thanks to the woven rope seat and covering of a tattered quilt. A kitchen hutch features rusty, beat-up hinges and weathered wood created by layers of paint and wax.

Even the wide-planked pine floors upstairs look old, thanks to the fact that Spangler left them unfinished during the construction process so that they'd be nicked up a bit. He also used rose head nails purchased from the Tremont Nail Company in New England, which has been making them the same way for 200 years.

Spangler said his desire to make the house look old frustrated his dad at times. Dad wanted everything square and neat; son wanted things to appear as though they'd been settling for a couple centuries.

That's why doorframes are a bit off kilter — on purpose. Minor disagreements aside, Spangler said he enjoyed knowing the house was built with his dad.

"It makes it all the more special to me," he said.

One room upstairs has been set aside for modern comfort, with comfortable furniture, a computer and television. Spangler said he took the advice of others who love the same old style of home.

"They say you have to have a room to live in," he said. A current project, a log cabin addition to the side of the house, will become a comfy family room.

Spangler's craftsmanship has caught the attention of experts in early homes and antique lovers. His work has been featured in five magazines, including the winter issue of Early Homes magazine. He's most proud of the mention he got in Judy Condon's recent book, "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year."

"I've been reading her books for years," he said.

Spangler's varied background includes working as a landscaper and garden specialist. He has planned weddings and events. He has volunteered his time building sets for local theater groups.

He recently started a business, Mike Spangler Folkart, which grew out of people seeing his handcrafted items.

"Facebook is a wonderful tool," he said. "It's amazing the range of the primitive community. I started making friends all over the community. They would see my stuff in pictures and would say, 'Where did you find that?'"

His work earned the stamp of approval by Linda Miller, who owns Miller's House of Antiques in Columbus, Ohio.

"She's the Martha Stewart of the primitives world," he said. "People call her to authenticate pieces."

Spangler now travels to regional events to sell his wares and has been stocking a building on family property in which to display furniture and accessories. He said it will be open by appointment "and by chance" to customers.

Spangler's house is located just feet from his parents' home, the workshop and his showroom. Most evenings find him out in the workshop, making something new. But he relishes hunkering down for the night in his house, too, cooking for friends or just relaxing.

"This time of year, I don't want to leave," he said.


Information from: Charleston Daily Mail,



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