‘Our kitchen helps heal’: Bridgewater domestic violence shelter wins kitchen reno contest

At Harbour House, a 15-bed haven for women and children escaping domestic violence in Bridgewater, N.S., the kitchen is more than a room for cooking.

It’s where body and spirit are nourished, laughter erupts, and sadly, tears are shed.

“I think a lot of women and kids come into the shelter and their spirits and their bodies are pretty broken, and our kitchen helps heal that,” said Jennifer Gagnon, the shelter’s executive director.

But in this 160-year-old home that’s been a shelter for more than three decades, the kitchen needed a lot of TLC — especially the countertop. The laminate had seen better days.

Jennifer Gagnon is the executive director of South Shore Transition House Association. (Linked In)

“We did a little internal renovations a couple of years ago and tried to brighten it up that way, but it certainly didn’t shine,” Gagnon said.

So when the chance to win a new countertop appeared on Gagnon’s Facebook feed in late May, she started typing a nomination for Harbour House. The contest was put on by a local company, Stonewrights, as a way to show appreciation to customers for keeping their business afloat during the pandemic.

Of the five community groups in the running, Harbour House had the most votes, hands down, said Martina Groeger, co-owner of Stonewrights.

She’s glad the shelter was the winner because its work is close to her heart. Groeger is a former teacher and the past chair of the Lunenburg County Community Health Board. She said the shelter’s work was vital during the COVID-19 lockdown. 

“Part of my concern was what is going to happen to women and children that are actually at home with an abusive partner or parent because we know that exists,” she said.

The old kitchen had tired laminate countertops and electrical outlets in areas that made them less functional. (Martina Groeger)

A couple of days ago, Stonewrights finished sprucing up the large kitchen. Workers installed 66 square feet of shiny granite, a high-end, durable countertop worth $6,000. That gift kick-started a bigger act of charity and transformation.

Stonewrights added a new backsplash. It also paid for a new sink, while a local plumber contributed a new faucet and installation work. An electrician volunteered to move the outlets to create a more functional kitchen.

Groeger has heard the residents want to take care of the finishing touches — painting the room.

“The women and children who are at the house, they especially deserve something that makes them feel good,” she said. “If they feel good, I feel good.”

Gagnon says Stonewrights’s workers minimized disruption at the shelter during the kitchen overhaul. (Martina Groeger)

It’s hoped a donor will come forward with new flooring to replace the checkered vinyl tiles to complete the kitchen makeover. The big reveal is planned later this month.

Gagnon said it’s wonderful to have a new, gorgeous space that reflects the beautiful things that happen inside it.

“It’s pretty absolutely incredible,” she said, her voice trembling a bit. 

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Home to roost: A Bridgewater barn goes from chicken house to stylish business

The barn, initially built as a carriage house for a horse and buggy, was part of the 2-acre property in Bridgewater that Hoffman purchased 16 years ago. The main attraction was the 1882 Gothic Revival farmhouse, but it was the whole kit and caboodle that drew him. “The listing said ‘farmhouse with barn and two acres,’ ” Hoffman recalled. “That’s all I needed to know.”

Spurred by his expanding business and the barn’s growing disrepair — frost had recently caused its foundation to crack — Hoffman decided to renovate. He stripped it to the shell. Everything needed updating, from the compromised foundation to the rickety roof. Hoffman shored up the structure, built an entry addition to accommodate a new stairway to the loft, installed a new standing-seam metal roof, and pulled off old Cape Cod-style shingles in favor of clapboard siding similar to the original exterior cladding.

Hoffman also reinstated a pair of boarded-up windows after seeing a copy of a hand-drawn map from 1890 that included his property. “It showed windows on either side of the barn door, which weren’t there when I bought it,” he said. To top it, Hoffman designed a cupola with glass on all four sides, which he mounted on the roof at 45 degrees. “It reflects my style of looking at things from a different perspective,” he said. “It also shows we can do difficult things that require lots of math.”

Inside, Hoffman infused a fresh take on the barn’s antiquity while preserving its original character. “I didn’t want to lose the look of the 140-year-old raw, brown wood,” he said. Still, the building needed to be insulated. The solution? Hoffman insulated the underside of the roof with closed-cell foam, then enclosed it with rough-sawn pine that he stained to look old. “I came up with my own special sauce to antique it,” he said. His method involved applying the stain with rollers, as well as hand-rubbing it with rags — some before the boards were installed and some afterward. He also antiqued the new rafters and collar ties needed to ensure stability. “It’s respectably close to the existing wood,” Hoffman said.

For the walls, Hoffman reused the original pine sheathing boards he had pulled off the exterior. This is supplemented with rough-sawn shiplap sourced at Gurney’s Saw Mill Inc., a sixth-generation-run mill in Freetown. “It adds a small-town touch to this renovation story,” Hoffman said.

Although he’s generally of the “you don’t paint old wood” mind-set, interior designer Tracy Parkinson of Nest + Co., whom Hoffman engaged to help with the interior furnishings and finishes, advised him to paint some of the shiplap in the loft white. “Light bounces off the wall now and really brightens the office area,” Parkinson said.

Parkinson also persuaded him to put up a bit of wallpaper. “I just couldn’t envision it,” Hoffman said. “Wallpaper doesn’t belong in a barn.” But when she showed him her pick — a pattern with barn blueprints by Chip and Joanna Gaines’

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