04 August 2010

Welcome to Mid-Victorian Country Living

The National Post

Seven years ago, two couples harboured thoughts of buying a home in the Niagara Peninsula that would serve them well in their latter working years, then blossom as a magnificent retirement residence. They bought a run-down old red brick farmhouse near the brink of the Niagara Escarpment and, together,

began to create a vision of what it could eventually become.

Back then, real estate agent Chris Tew dropped by to take a look at the place. “I thought, they’ll never be able to do this,” he says.

Mr. Tew was wrong, and he’s delighted to admit it today.

Few 1860s-era farmhouses can boast a modern reno-job that remains so faithful to its origins as Beamer Falls Manor. From the cozy country kitchen, which is the undisputed nucleus of the old home, to the grandly proportioned reception rooms, the 11-foot ceilings, the gleaming and original pine floors, baseboard and trim, this grand home represents the best of mid-Victorian country living.

Add to that the setting within 21 acres of Carolinian forest, with vineyards, apple and pear orchards, steps from the Bruce Trail and Beamer Falls, the “old Beamer house” lies comfortingly snuggled amidst the best of the Niagara Peninsula’s natural beauty, yet just a five-minute drive to Grimsby’s amenities.

After considerable thought, the two couples came up with a joint vision for the manor, one they describe as “Scottish Victorian revival.”

They built a 3,100-square-foot addition to the old home, a modern augmentation that blends in admirably with the traditional and features a great room with cathedral ceilings, balcony and two loft bedrooms. The huge windows stand as a visual gateway into the surrounding woods. The addition’s lower level includes a self-contained staff or nanny apartment.

In total, the house contains seven bedrooms with ensuite baths. Outside, there is a pool house, spa, sauna and gym, with two more bathrooms.

Inside, the 28-foot-long dining room can easily accommodate a table for 20. And in fact it has done so on more than one occasion, according to Earle Metcalfe who, now in his 80s, fondly recalls his visits, as a child, to what was then the home of his grandparents. On a recent visit to the old homestead, Mr. Metcalfe expressed delight at its resurrection.

Leading a room-by-room tour, he enthuses: “It was such a warm family place. And it is, again.”

The heart of the home is its amazing 20-foot-square farm kitchen, featuring Elmira-built, period, top-of-the-line modern appliances.

Adrian Capes is one of the partners whose loving touch turned Beamer Falls Manor into a contemporary tribute to a mid-19th century lifestyle. The range is gas and there’s an electric roaster oven, he says. Yet the thoroughly modern appliances feature cast iron look-alike fa├žades that convey the character of the home’s era.

Mr. Capes points to the care they took with everything — right down to the kitchen sink. “The sink is custom-made Mexican copper,” he says. “Then we placed it in an old wooden cabinet we picked up at a local auction.”

“The kitchen elicits oohs and aahs,” Mr. Tew says. “No one’s ever seen anything like it.”

Mr. Capes describes the gargantuan effort it took to return the original floors to their magnificence. In the kitchen, for example, they tore up the layer of linoleum tile that stood on top of plywood, which in turn had been laid on top of more linoleum. Once they got down to the pine boards, they scraped away a layer of paint and a veneer of varnish before finally arriving at the original wood.

The home, originally christened Norwood, had been passed down through several generations of Beamers and related Metcalfe family members, before being bought by an unrelated family about three decades ago. The wiring was “minimal and primitive,” Mr. Capes says, and the floor sagged.

The new owners began by cleaning the building back to the studs and starting all over. A steel I-beam was installed to shore up the floor. “It was clear to us from the beginning this was a very solid home,” he says.

In 2008, the proud owners decided to share their creation with the world, and opened Beamer Falls Manor as a bed-and-breakfast. That way, the home could help sustain itself until they retired. But circumstances changed and now they’ve decided to sell and move away.

The home is furnished with antiques of the era and Mr. Capes says the owners are open to a buyer’s offer for them as well. “I would think it natural that a buyer would want them. They go so well with the house,” he says.

If you buy Beamer Falls Manor, you’ll find yourself a short hike through the 132-acre forested conservation area — land donated by the Beamer family — to The Point, an outcrop of limestone that affords a spectacular view of Grimsby, Lake Ontario and, on clear days, the CN Tower and other sky-scraping buildings of downtown Toronto, 50 kilometres across the water.

The Point is popular with birders who congregate here to observe the annual migration of hawks, eagles, falcons and turkey vultures. Birders marvel at the creatures soaring on updrafts from the verdant valley of the Forty Mile Creek.

Nearby, the creek tumbles over the escarpment brow in a double waterfall, known as Beamer Falls. Along your way to The Point, you’ll hike the trail that hugs the edge of the valley, and perhaps happen by the spot where younger trees denote where a Metcalfe matriarch operated a teahouse during the 1930s.

Beamer Falls Manor could serve as a family or corporate retreat, or a place large enough to contain a family business, too. Capes envisions a country inn, perhaps catering to a raw or organic food clientele, or being rented out for weddings, or maybe even used as a mini-winery. That would require replacing the current juice grapes, however.

“I could see the great room becoming a wine sales store,” he says, somewhat wistfully.

The house has modern heating and central air conditioning. It is listed by Chris Tew of Royal LePage in Grimsby, for $1.998-million, without furnishings.

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