How old is your home?
Susie Earls: The core of the house was built in 1720. A small kitchen addition was probably built in the 1950s. We purchased it from a couple who had lived here for fifty years as their summer house.
Where is it located?
SE: It’s in Southport. We’re not on the water, but we’re close to town.
Who lives here?
SE: We live here with Leif’s two children.
Leif Vik: Emily is thirteen, and Kristian is fifteen.
How long have you lived here?
SE: We’ve been here about three-and-half years.
What attracted you to this house?
SE: We were looking for a project because Leif is in construction and I’m in interior design. We wanted something we could make our mark on, and we also loved Southport.
What do you love about the area?
SE: The proximity to the water and the historic features of the town; it’s just beautiful. I grew up here, and it has a really cozy, family feel. We also love boating and have a boat, so we wanted to be near the water.
What did you think when you saw the house for the first time?
LV: My skin tingled—it really did. I’ve worked in construction my entire life, in many houses big and small, and I’ve never felt a connection like this. Tears came to my eyes.
SE: Leif’s father is from Norway and was in shipbuilding, so Leif has construction in his blood. His father was a custom builder as well, and that’s where Leif learned all of his skills. The house being in disrepair didn’t intimidate him at all; it was exciting to him to take this beautiful, historic gem and resurrect it.
What exterior changes did you make?
SE: We didn’t make any structural changes, but the house was a historic mustard color. Aesthetically, we took care of the outside and painted it a beautiful, crisp white. You could also barely see the house because it was completely buried by old, decrepit trees. Leif tackled all the big trees around the property himself, and by doing that, we opened up the property, and it became a sunny lot. We dropped about five or six huge pine trees, which Leif then milled. We’re going to use the timber to build our garage. We have a stack of beautiful boards in the back, really wide planks that match the floorboards in the house, and we’re going to side the garage with them.
LV: We have a foundation for the garage, which is all approved, and everything is ready to go. I also reglazed all the windows by hand.
The front porch looks really inviting.
SE: I love clean-edged gravel, so we used it to visually extend the front porch. We also rebuilt the wall on the side of the driveway and created a gravel terrace there and another gravel terrace out back.
Did you reconfigure the interior layout in any way?
LV: There were no structural design changes at all. Everything was kept intact.
SE: Part of our plan in developing this house was to preserve the historic core of it.
Did you incorporate any existing pieces?
SE: There are some vintage pieces and some pieces that I owned. The house isn’t huge, so I haven’t purchased a lot. We utilized what we had for the most part. We recovered some things, added a few touches and kept a black-and-white theme.
Did you ascribe to the mantra “The simpler the better?”
SE: Yes. That probably has something to do with some of the design choices. We wanted to keep the look simple, keep the historic flavor but also have a little bit of an edge.
What can you tell me about the flooring?
SE: When we moved in, we had to address the floors—there was no finish on them, and they were a bad brown color. In order to mask all the blemishes, we went with an ebony hard-oil finish. They’re superior because they’re hand-scraped. Some of these boards are extremely wide and very hard to find. They’re called king planks—they were illegal to have in residential homes because boards that wide were reserved for royalty. So we have these really cool twenty-inch-wide boards downstairs and upstairs.
Is that the original front door?
SE: It is, and the lock is original, too. The keys are enormous—they look like something you would enter a castle with.
That ottoman in the foyer is a pretty touch.
SE: As I was developing the black-and-white scheme of the house, Emily said, “There’s no color in here!” So I included that lavender ottoman for her.
What was the design concept for the living room?
SE: We wanted to keep it open and comfortable. We haven’t done an addition on the house yet, so we’re using the space as a living room and dining room. Our plan is to develop the house further, so we’re making use of the space we have right now.
What’s the story behind the bowl of mica chips in the living room?
SE: Leif and I found a big, beautiful rock when we were working on the outside, and we peeled these pieces of mica off of this one rock. When you look at the chips in the bowl, they’re a shimmery silver, but when you hold them up, they’re almost transparent. They’re just gorgeous.
Tell me about the kitchen.
SE: This is our working kitchen for now. Someday, we plan on turning this space into a mudroom/bar. With that in mind, we put in a concrete counter and integrated sink. Straight ahead is a pantry with a closet/mudroom. That’s where we keep our coats and things. We don’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen because it’s small and far too utilitarian at the moment.
What work needed to be done in the family room?
SE: Leif did a lot in this space. At one point, he had ripped all the boards out; you could see down into the basement.
LV: We also rebuilt the fireplace, and the whole wall above it was removed and replastered.
SE: And now we have a beautiful working fireplace in there.
The bathroom connects the family room and the office. How did you approach this space?
SE: The thought process was that because it’s a walk-through, we didn’t want it to feel like a bathroom, so we put in a concrete sink and a black Kohler hatbox toilet.
LV: At one point, the entire floor, joists and all, was removed down to the basement; it was a big, gaping hole. I removed four layers of flooring and exposed the original floors. I removed them, cleaned them, reinstalled them and stained them to blend with the rest of the floors.
Whose office is that?
SE: It’s my interior design office. The idea was to fit as much creative and aesthetic storage as possible because old houses don’t have much space. I wanted to keep it clean, fresh and modern.
And you certainly did! What do you love most about this home?
SE: Hmm…that’s hard to answer. Leif?
LV: You’re supposed to say you love the man that’s in it!
SE: It’s unique, which is what I strive for in my décor. I like the unexpected, and I enjoy creating something that you’re not going to see again. I’ve also lived in older homes most of my life. I love the quirkiness of them, their personalities and the craftsmanship they represent. That’s also what drew Leif to the house—the quality. We enjoy the challenge.
What’s your fondest memory here so far?
SE: Getting the fireplace in the family room to work. That was huge—when we lit that first fire, it was amazing.
LV: And it never goes out. It burns all winter.
SE: Leif did an amazing job. It’s so wonderful to light a fire in that room and watch TV on cold nights.
Do you have a favorite part of the house?
SE: We love sitting on our front porch—we spend a lot of time there. Since it’s an old house, it’s very close to the road, and it’s not a busy street, so people walk on it a lot. We have these amazing conversations with people walking by. It’s a very friendly atmosphere.
How does this home make you feel?
SE: We’re grateful that we found a gem in the rough that someone else might not have appreciated and actually could have torn down. People compliment us all the time. Everyone who walks by says, “Thank you. What a beautiful job you’ve done.”
LV: It’s like…wow. It’s amazing how many times we get that.
Any future plans?
SE: We’d like to add on a couple of bedrooms upstairs in the back and create a proper kitchen. Hopefully we’ll do that in a couple of years.
So you’re here to stay?
LV: I don’t want to leave.
SE: We originally thought we would sell the house as an investment property, but the longer we’re here, the more we love the house, our neighbors and the proximity to town. Now we’re starting to feel that we want to stay.
Interior design: Susie Earls, Susie Earls Design,
Southport; 203-218-4590; susieearlsdesign.com
Construction: Leif Vik, Leif Erik Vik Construction,