Shakespeare’s story: saving more than 100 buildings from demolition

Mel Shakespeare has been reusing old buildings for decades, long before adaptive reuse became a phenomenon in the building world.

Now 82 years old, Cobourg, Ont. The resident is in the final stages of writing a book taking a look at abandoned 19th-century buildings that he has brought back to life over his 57 years in the field.

Shakespeare, who saved more than 100 buildings from a wrecking ball during World War II, says the large-format book, complete with 300 photographs of 26 reused homes and buildings, “gives testimony to the adaptive reuse that is more important now than ever.” “. His career.

His book features old log homes, post-beam structures made from pristine Ontario forests and even a few stone homes that have been rebuilt one stone at a time. Some of them, he says, were among the finest early homes in Ontario.

“This book is something friends and others have asked me to do for years but I haven’t had the time,” he says, adding that a first look at the yet-to-be-published book has received positive reviews from the Ontario celebrity. Historians.

Shakespeare, owner of Tradition Home, no longer builds homes but still provides historic logs and interior lumber/wood features and serves as a design consultant.

He began his business in 1967 after purchasing “a pile of century-old, two-foot-wide square logs under a snow bank.”

He paid $2,000, a price that would have sent many people away.

But Shakespeare, who was an art director for an advertising company at the time, saw something in those records that others did not.

With little building experience but great courage, he set about building the 30-by-22-and-a-half-foot house with his wife, Jane, and the help of a man with a crane to move and assemble the large hand. -Engraved records.

“It fit together like a glove because the matching corners were so well made.”

A carpenter helped him build the roof. Filling the spaces between the logs with mortar was difficult, a task that had been botched by the building contractor before Shakespeare and his wife took on the task, having learned some tips and tricks for mixing and applying historical mortar recipes from guide books.

A year after building the house, the couple furnished it with their collection of antiques “that looked like they were meant to be there all along.”

“I knew then that I could devote my life to bringing this beauty to other ancient buildings.”

One of his most memorable projects was converting what a farmer sold to him into a chicken coop.

“I was shocked when I opened the front door.”

Among the squawking egg-laying chickens, dust and feces, there was an early 1800s post-and-beam structure intact with original wood paneling, wide-plank pine flooring and fireplace surround…all in original paint colors.

“The farmer said if I was willing to pay him $2,000 he would put the chickens back in the coop. It worked for me, all I needed was a good cleaning.

Shakespeare received commissions for log houses from as far away as New Zealand. In one unusual assignment, he transported logs from Ontario to assemble a replica of a pioneer house that was housed at the State Museum in Austin, Texas.

Shakespeare’s book lists other new projects he discovered in rural Ontario over years of intensive research, often on old country roads.

“They were not easy to find, and some of them were not in very good condition, but they could be purchased for as little as $500.”

For about a decade, he built square log houses using new logs, but in a number of cases the wood warped and shrunk, creating gaps and ill-fitting windows and doors.

“We gave up on new wood after a while because of all the callbacks,” he says.

While most of his lots were period-matched reconstructions of the original building, Shakespeare wanted to design a house that was “more like a combination of old logs and stone to create a more modern look.

“I have all the materials for it. If I get a client, it will be a really special house. It may even be the last house I design.”

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