Antique collecting is more than a weekend pastime for Bob and Susan Detweiler. The Cambria couple has dedicated their entire home to their passion for Early American antiques.
Bob, a retired educator /administrator and former Cal Poly interim provost, developed affection for the era as a history professor at San Diego State University. Susan has been enamored with Early American decorative arts and folk arts for more than 30 years. During their 38 years of marriage, the two have amassed a large collection of Early American antique furniture, pottery, folk art and artifacts.
When the couple moved from Southern California to Cambria in 1998, they decided that the best way to showcase their collection would be to build a replica of a historic New England saltbox house. The center portion of the 2,900-square-foot home adheres to this style, with its boxy shape and rear sloped roof. The wings of the house were designed to look as if they were added on over time, a feature typical of many New England homes.
They hired architect Bruce Beery of Cambria and a local builder. Later improvements were made by Duston Construction, including a 2015 kitchen and bath remodel.
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Plans for the house began simply, with pen and paper. “Bob just started drawing a box floor plan and placing our antique furniture in various rooms,” said Susan Detweiler. They measured pieces, arranging the floor plan around their favorite items.
And it worked — most of the time. On moving day, they found that their circa 1780, eight-foot-tall robin’s egg blue corner cabinet was too tight a fit. Something had to give, so they took a saw to the ceiling, rather than the antique.
The simplicity of the saltbox house is a good match for the couple’s Early American antiques. The furniture pieces, which originate mostly from New England or Pennsylvania, aren’t fussy or dainty. They are sturdy, built to be used every day by ordinary people. For example, the Detweilers’ dining room furniture is both functional and handsome: a sturdy antique farm table, combined with comfortable Windsor chairs.
The Detweilers chose similarly utilitarian and sturdy materials for their house, such as their plain pine plank flooring that was installed with period hand-cut rosehead nails for a historically authentic look. Over the years, the floor has aged naturally. “We like the scuffed, primitive look which blends with our furniture finishes, and it requires no care,” said Detweiler.
The couple added numerous historic details to the house.
The mantels above their TV room and living room fireplaces are over 200 years old, as is the paneling in the master bedroom. They researched and selected an authentic Early American color palette. Many light fixtures are antiques. They chose true wood-divided pane windows to enhance the historic saltbox appearance of the house. The windows were expensive and are difficult to maintain, said Detweiler. But she considers them “one of the prices of authenticity.”
When the Detweilers remodeled their kitchen recently, they wanted modern amenities as well as a historic feel. So they chose honed granite counters that look like soap stone, a material used in period New England homes, but are far more durable. To give their cabinets an antiquated look, Bob hand-punched tin panels with an 18th century pie safe design, aged them, then tacked them into the cabinet frames.
With finish materials and furniture in place, the couple turned to the display of their other collectibles, in particular a collection of around 300 pieces of redware, stoneware, yellowware, mocahware, spongeware and spatterware. Most of it is kept in out-of-the-way locations such as cupboards, shelving units and bucket benches. But antiques have found their way onto nearly every surface of the house. Stoneware crocks line the edge of the kitchen counter. Apple baskets and Shaker pails hang over the kitchen island. Antique chess boards are mounted on the walls of their TV room. Antique duck decoys perch on each stair step.
Keen on seeing their pieces every day, the Detweilers have no desire to rotate or store any of their collection. They simply rearrange to make way for holiday decorations and frequently “discover a new way to display something,” said Detweiler.
She acknowledged that “living in a house full of antiques wouldn’t be for everyone.” However, she said that friends are often enthralled with their impressive collection. “As for us, it’s very functional and comfortable and we always enjoy re-appreciating the pieces.”
BUILT TO LAST: Not all antiques are fussy and delicate. Many Early American antiques were used by ordinary people in their daily lives and are therefore sturdy with a utilitarian beauty. Many Early American furniture pieces are brightly painted — a technique used to make simple pieces seem fancier.
OFF-THE-SHELF DISPLAYS: When displaying collectibles, think outside the cabinet. The Detweilers display antique game boards on their den walls, hang old baskets from a ceiling rack in their kitchen, and line their stairs with antique wooden decoys.
AGE GRACEFULLY: Instead of an artificially distressed floor, the Detweilers chose plain pine flooring, treated only with a light stain, that has become naturally distressed over time for a more authentic look of age. The only care it requires is cleaning. The Detweilers use only hot water or Murphy’s Oil Soap.