Traditional Building Portfolio




Following the Footprint

Project: The Shaker Table Restaurant, Canterbury Shaker Village, Canterbury, NH

Architects: Chirstopher P. Williams, Architects, Meredith, NH; Christopher P. Williams, AIA, NCARB, principal in charge; Sonya Misiaszek, AIA, project architect

By Martha McDonald

Founded in 1792 by the United Society of Believers, the original 4,000-plus-acre Canterbury Shaker Village in Canterbury, NH, is now a 604-acre outdoor history museum and a National Historic Landmark site. It was a prominent Shaker settlement for 200 years and during its height in the mid-1800s, approximately 300 people lived there in 100 buildings.

Many of these buildings have survived, but many have not. When Canterbury Shaker Village decided to build a new restaurant on the site, the plan was to follow the footprint of an original building and to be compatible with the rest of the village. The job of designing this building went to Christopher P. Williams, Architects, of Meredith, NH.

"This is a national historic site," says Christopher P. Williams, AIA, NCARB, principal in charge. "The Shaker Table Restaurant replaces the 1811 blacksmith shop that had an ox-shed addition. In the 1950s, the Shakers were low on money and they sold it and nobody knows where it is." Williams and his team worked closely with the museum staff and the State Historic Preservation Office to create a modern interpretation of the former building.

The new 7,400-sq.ft. Shaker-style restaurant seats 140 people, follows the footprint of the original building and also follows strict historic guidelines. It incorporates an expanded second floor and an interior style derived from other buildings in the village. The first floor is comprised of the two dining rooms, the show kitchen and a waiting area, while a service kitchen and other dining and function rooms are located on the upper level. The main kitchen, a dry storage area, coolers and the mechanical room are located in the lower level.

"Our main goal was to maintain the historical integrity of the site," says Roger Gagne, a trustee of the museum and chairman of the building committee for the project. "That was paramount, making sure that we maintained the traditional Shaker standards, no matter what modernizing we did. We were able to do that. If you walk into the restaurant, you won't see any modern conveniences, such as baseboard heating. Most modern systems are not visible."

The State Historic Preservation Office stated that the new building should be located on the site of the original building and that it should carefully reflect what was known about the original building. The first step in the design process was to conduct an archaeological investigation to determine the exact footprint of the original building. "When we did our archeological research, we ultimately concluded that the original hearth was the only relevant piece of the building that was still there," says Williams. "It was carefully documented and removed to storage. There were also some original stone walls that we rebuilt."

Historic photos were also a valuable source of information. Photos of the south, east and north sides were available, but only blurry images existed of the west side and there was no information about the interior. "The historic photos were extremely helpful," says Williams. "Also helpful was the fact that there are other buildings of this age remaining on site. In a Shaker structure of this age, for example, the window panes were 7x9 in. and the clapboard exposure was standardized at 3½-in. spacing." The research showed that the building had changed over time, including the roof.

The first challenge was fitting the program requirement into the building footprint. The State Historic Preservation Office and conservation easement allowed a 15 percent expansion in the building and the architects devised creative solutions to particular problems. For example, three walk-in refrigerators were put underground below what became an outdoor patio area, allowing program requirements to be met without impacting the appearance of the exterior.

One unusual aspect of this project was that the Canterbury Shaker Village acted as its own general contractor and tradespeople from the preservation and restoration staff at the village did all of the finish work. A great deal of attention was paid to the finishing of the interior, including extensive millwork and painting, to ensure that it was compatible with the historic village. "We used traditional building techniques, following Shaker standards," says Gagne. "We subcontracted out the framing, foundation and mechanical work, but we did all of the finish work ourselves. It was all done by the village crew." "One of our restoration carpenters, Jon Norling, served as project manager as well as designing the 'nuts and bolts' of the interior woodwork," he adds. "Some of the wood used for both exterior and interior finish came from our own wood lots. Then we had it random-width milled and let it air dry. We used square 'cut' nails as the Shakers would have as well. The stairwell to the function rooms upstairs, for example, is mostly lumber from the village acreage. It was milled to Shaker standards, with beveled edges. We also used a blend of Shaker colors, like Shaker red and yellow ochre, that are found in other buildings in the village."

"Working on the interior was quite interesting," Williams states. "We researched the other buildings in the village to pick and chose details to use, but we did not want to replicate a particular year. We wanted to pick up the flavor and style of the village.

"The Shakers used a lot of interior windows in their buildings, called 'borrowed light.' It let the natural light into all of the rooms, and we incorporated that into the building, on both levels. For example, there are two dining rooms on the main level, separated by a wall with interior windows. Ultimately we decided on three different sized dining rooms so they can accommodate different size groups."

The Shakers were also renowned for their semi-transparent wood finishes. "You could see the wood grain through the finish," says Williams. "We developed some techniques to get a similar finish without all of the layers they would have done. One thing the painters did was to put pigment into polyurethane to get the richness of the finish. They also did other experiments to match original colors. The workmanship on this building was museum quality."

Another issue was the kitchen on the main level. "The intent was that it was a show kitchen, so people could see food preparation. Food is an important feature of Shaker art," says Williams. The positioning of the tables in the restaurant was also considered. "Traditionally, men ate at one table and women at another and they had a very structured way of sitting," he adds. "We designed the restaurant so that Shaker style of eating could be simulated, but customers can also pull the tables apart to have some privacy."

The designers also sought to convey the sense of Shaker simplicity with the lighting. "Our goal was to replicate the Shaker simplicity with straightforward, but quaint and elegant lighting," Williams says. "In the main dining room, for example, we had custom-made wall sconces built to replicate the candles the Shakers used."

The exterior of the restaurant is clad in Shaker gray-painted clapboards with white trim. The windows are true-divided-lite wood windows, made by Kolbe Windows & Doors of Wausau, WI. "We wanted to make sure we matched the fenestration of the village," Gagne notes. "These windows replicate in modern materials the windows in the village. The main dining room sash are 12 over 8 and on the second floor, they are 8 over 8."

Planning for the restaurant took about a year, followed by a year of construction. The $1.3-million project was completed in 2004, and the Shaker Table Restaurant is a welcome addition to the historic village. "This was not a high-budget project," says Williams, "but the building is truly museum quality. The people in the village were committed to building something appropriate to the museum. One of things unique about Shaker architecture is its sense of simplicity," he adds. "That said, I would compare this building to a Porsche. To look at it, it's very simple, but if you open up the walls, it's very complex. A lot of planning and work goes into making it look very simple." TB

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