Historic Carriage House Converted to Art Studio

The allure of an historic carriage house is hard to resist. This rare building conjures images of a bygone era – one with horses clip-clopping down the cobblestone streets, and a slower pace to everyday life. The reality of a 120+ year old carriage house is something quite different. Beyond dust and grime, there were crumbling floors and rotting wood to contend with. Fortunately for homeowners Mark and Nancy Jarzombek, the old carriage house on their circa 1910 Belmont property wasn’t beyond hope of restoration.

Half of the carriage house had previously been converted into a rustic library, although heating could not be added at that time. This area of the carriage house had originally been used for horse stalls.

Mark and Nancy, an artist, had already converted a part of the carriage house, originally filled with horse stalls, into a library more than 20 years ago. However, local zoning laws prevented them from adding heat and water to the structure. Fortunately for the Jarzombeks, Belmont’s zoning laws have been revised in recent years, now allowing for carriage houses to be converted into “habitable” space. With those changes, a new world of possibilities opened.

The Jarzombeks enlisted the help of Gallagher Remodeling, Inc., a Belmont-based Design-Build remodeling firm, who helped them explore the potential of the carriage house. “We spoke with other contractors, but they didn’t share our vision to create a year-round art studio. Roger understood that we wanted to preserve as much of the historic nature of the building as possible,” explained Nancy, who is an artist and book illustrator.  

Architectural drawings by GMT Home Designs illustrate the original space and proposed design studio.
The concrete floor was crumbling and needed to be completely dug out and removed. This side of the structure would have originally been used to store the family carriage back in the early 1900s.

Architectural plans were drawn up which closely maintained the original exterior of the carriage house, although it still took many months to gain approval from the town and receive the appropriate permits. Once those were in hand, work began in earnest. 

The original structure now rests on screw pile footings and a 12” pressure treated engineered wood sill that resists rot.

The floor was demolished and “screw pile” or “helical” footings were installed to support the structure. Screw pile footings offer many benefits over traditional concrete footings because they don’t require excavation and installation did not disturb the carriage house. After the footings were “screwed” seven feet into the ground, steel brackets were placed underneath an engineered wood sill to keep the historic wood off the ground and prevent rot.  

The original doors were beyond repair and were replaced with reproductions. Both sides open completely to allow the artist to enjoy nature as she works.
The new art studio. Mosquito netting can be pulled across the doorway to allow the breeze to flow in while keeping the bugs out.

After several months of site preparation and construction, the new studio was completed, using as many elements from the original barn as possible including beams and a sliding door. Today, it features plenty of space to work, store art supplies and even room to sit and relax. The new space is full of antique items, including reclaimed wood flooring and shiplap-style walls. 

The owners found a late 19th century mahogany countertop in an antique store and refurbished it for the space, matching it with a period vintage window.

The Gallagher Remodeling team designed the new space to include a wet room and bathroom, making it easy for Nancy to wash her paint brushes and materials. The sink and attached wood countertop are antiques sourced at Nor’East Architectural Antiques in New Hampshire and refurbished by a friend of the owners. The bathroom door is believed to have been an outhouse door originally with its built-in window.

In addition to the water needed for the kitchenette and the small bathroom pictured above, heat was added to the carriage house so that it is now usable year-round.

Between the “old” library and the “new” studio, there is some shed space the homeowners use for storage. But even that portion of the building has its historic elements. The Jarzombeks found an original “Payson Park Market” sign in the carriage house when they moved in. The restored sign now proudly hangs in the transformed carriage house. 

The shed area of the carriage house offers practical storage.

Today, this old carriage house has been gracefully restored. While horses no longer clop in and out, the library and artist studio still pay homage to the historic past of the building. Click here to see more photos of this project.