Originally created 06/27/04

Old home puts family in touch with the past



About five years ago, Rick and Rebekah Porterfield traded a home in a new subdivision for a two-story house in Johnston, S.C. It came with the character they wanted and a slice of town history.

A boys dormitory for the Johnston Academy once stood on the site. Some townspeople say the Porterfields' house was the dormitory itself, which was built around 1889. Others say the dormitory burned and a new house was built around 1904.

Government records are unclear on the dates. It depends on which story you listen to, said Mr. Porterfield, a government contractor and business consultant.

The house also was the home of Jacob Littleton Smith, a South Carolina state senator. His spinster daughters lived there until their 80s. The house was then sold in the late 1980s to the second owners, who renovated the kitchen and laundry facilities. The Porterfields and their four children are only the third family to own it, Mrs. Porterfield said.

Living in the house has been an experiment in adapting modern materials and methods to the needs of a century-old building.

Painting took on a new meaning in a house with plaster walls and 11-foot ceilings. The Porterfields discovered that primer was essential if they wanted the paint to cover. They gave one room a half-dozen coats of paint with little success.

"We kept trying to figure out what was wrong. Because the walls are plaster, (the paint) would just kind of soak in (without covering the old color)," Mrs. Porterfield said.

The house had heart pine flooring in some rooms and linoleum in others. When Mr. Porterfield pulled up the linoleum, he discovered gaping holes in the plywood.

"You could see clear to the ground," he said.

He found a mill owner in Edgefield with the 1-inch-thick pine floorboards he needed to restore the flooring. Wood standards have changed over the decades. The thicker, older cuts with their aged patina were a better match for the Porterfields' home.

The family also found that old materials can work in new ways.

Window panels once discarded in a shed on the property now hang from the ceiling of the back porch as objects of art.

"They have the original hardware on them," Mr. Porterfield said.

The kitchen fireplace mantel is original, but it now sports a mosaic made from Blue Willow china and joint compound, a technique Mrs. Porterfield found in a magazine.

"I thought, 'Wow, I wonder what it would be like to do the fireplace?'" said Mrs. Porterfield, who has collected Blue Willow for years.

Mr. Porterfield said: "She was in there with the hammer, and I watched her bust up these perfectly good dishes."

Near the mantel is an old cupboard with a new coat of red paint, smooth as lacquer.

"Rebekah wanted me to throw this away," said Mr. Porterfield, who liked the piece for its square-head nails.

The cabinet, left behind by former owners, had been weathering on the back porch. It was hard for Mrs. Porterfield to look past its peeling paint and rough boards.

"It looked so junky. It was horrible. He kept saying, 'No, we are going to keep it.' ... Then, finally he said, 'Let's paint it red.' We did and I loved it," she said.

A vintage wedding dress in the master bedroom stands against a backdrop of hydrangea blue, a custom-mixed wall color. The veil, which Mrs. Porterfield made to wear with the dress, hangs against its back. Sheer window coverings are tied in a way that complements the veil.

A fireplace is on the wall opposite the bed. Instead of logs in the fireplace, there are candlelabra with squat, white candles.

The wall color was based on a photograph Mrs. Porterfield found in a magazine.

"It was a real blue," she said.

The color turned out to be more purple than the couple expected, but they liked it anyway. Mr. Porterfield named it "Baker blue."

"That was my maiden name," Mrs. Porterfield explained.

At home with...

The family: Rick and Rebekah Porterfield and their children: Madison, 8; Spenser, 12; Sidney, 17; and Vincent, 19

The basics: 5,000-square-foot Victorian-style house with six bedrooms, and three full and two half-baths in Johnston, S.C.

It's a fact: The Porterfields are only the third family to live in the century-old home.

Reach Virginia Norton at (706) 823-3336 or virginia.norton@augustachronicle.com.