By Wendy Elliott
The owners of the Rayski House in Grand Pré were declared winners in preserving Nova Scotia’s built heritage by Heritage Trust of Nova Scotia recently.
They received the 2012 award at a special ceremony at Province House in February.
Rayski House, an elegant 1880-circa French Empire-style house, was winner in the residential category. Owners Wilhelmus (Wim) and Paulien Peters, and all of their seven children, worked on the renovation.
For over two years, the family did everything from digging out the dirt floor of the basement to lifting and stripping the old floorboards.
“You needed five different tools to take the paint off the tongue and groove,” said Paulien. Once treated, the boards were re-installed in the living room.
“Good thing we have five sons,” said Wim, who farms in North Grand Pré.
The Peters purchased old cast iron hot water heaters that were refurbished and run electric heat. They also have a backup wood stove to heat the house. There was originally no insulation.
Wim found beautiful doors he salvaged from nearby communities, re-used cast iron hinges and bought new hardware.
He made sure heritage elements were either conserved or replaced with materials in keeping with the period of the home. Necessary modern updates were done sensitively, such as the new en suite bathroom for the master bedroom.
Fine woodworkers, like Derek Wood, Johnny te Bogt and David Burton, were called upon for assistance. The house has a brand new, spacious country kitchen and a wide back deck.
They pointed out that when the family was working community members regularly stopped in at the Old Post Road property to see how the restoration was progressing.
“That was very encouraging,” said Paulien.
Collectively, they dug about 13 inches of soil out of the basement. Now the rounded arch in one beam isn’t required to be able to stand erect.
Wim says people find the basement space fascinating and look for signs of an Acadian presence amongst the fieldstone and brick. It boasts a solid concrete floor.
The house sits well within the boundaries of the newly-designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The first people known to have lived in it were the granddaughters of Nathanial Brown, a Massachusetts Loyalist.
The Peters knew the house and its previous owner for many years and seized the opportunity to purchase when it came on the market, despite its decrepit condition. The Rayski House is named in honour of the previous owner, Krystyna Rayski-Kietlicz.
Wim, who immigrated from Holland in 1976, said he had longed to fix up the run down house.
“I knew I could do a good job and I finally got a chance,” he said.
Having grown up in a Dutch house that dates to 1652, Wim was comfortable with both heritage properties and carrying out carpentry himself.
The house, which has been decorated and furnished with antiques, is being offered as a short- to medium-term rental, which was approved last week by Kings County.
The trust has been presenting Built Heritage Awards since 1989.
“This year’s winners exemplify the quality and diversity of restoration projects being carried out around the province,” said awards committee chair Elizabeth Burke.