Transforming an Old Carriage House into an Artist’s Studio

by Nat Frothingham

The carriage house at VCFA being dismantled last summer.  Photo by Michael Jermyn

The carriage house at VCFA being dismantled last summer.
Photo by Michael Jermyn

Kudos to the Vermont College of Fine Arts. And congratulations and thanks to Nancy Schade — a painter and sculptor who lives in Hardwick.

Back last summer, when the College was laying plans to build the new Louise Crowley Faculty & Alumni Center building it became necessary to take down an early 20th century carriage house so that the new building could take its place on the site.

The best guess from historic preservation experts about the construction date of the old carriage house is early 20th century. That was back in horse and buggy days. But it long ago ceased to be a carriage house and in recent years, it had become something of a storage area and garage.

The Carriage House was moved to Hardwick and repurposed as an artist's studio. Photo by Michael Jermyn

The Carriage House was moved to Hardwick and repurposed as an artist’s studio. Photo by Michael Jermyn

The college might have simply taken down the old building and disposed of what remained of it to a landfill. But that did not happen. That didn’t happen because the college let it be known that the building was available to anyone who had a plan for making a new use out of it.

And that’s where the Hardwick artist became part of the story.

Talking to The Bridge by phone, Schade remembered a hot August day last summer when Beth Harrington, a friend of Sandy — her husband — told him that a carriage house on the VCFA campus might be available and suggest he might want to take a look at it.

“The next morning we visited it,” said Schade, who added, “I saw it was something that shouldn’t be thrown away.”

Her next step was to get a building permit from the Town of Hardwick. Then when the building was dismantled, it was taken down in sections with each section carefully numbered. Then it was loaded on a flatbed truck and taken to Hardwick.

Artist Nancy Schade stands in front of one of the paintings. Photo by Michael Jermyn

Artist Nancy Schade stands in front of one of the paintings. Photo by Michael Jermyn

For a while after it was taken off the truck at Nancy and Sandy’s place in Hardwick,  the building sections were laid out on a bank by the side of a hill. But soon enough — and step by step — the carriage house started coming to life.

“First we had to take the trees down. Then Rex Comstock, who is the son of builder Tom Comstock, arrived with what Schade called “a wonderful machine” and poured a foundation. Nancy and Sandy’s house has an orange metal roof and the newly reborn carriage house now has an orange metal roof.

“We had to get other windows. We went down to Vermont Salvage,” Schade reported. So the salvaged windows were bought and the building was closed in before winter came.

Now, a year after the building was trucked to Hardwick on a flatbed truck it’s beginning to look like the studio space Schade had dreamed of when she first saw the building on the college campus.

“It’s really about having a private space to get my work done,” Schade said. “I have a feeling I have some work to do. The older you get the harder it is to lug the work around and exhibit. I want to do the work. I don’t necessarily want to deal with being interrupted. I would use (the building) as an exhibition space, if people want to come,” she added.

Continuing in that vein, Schade said, “My business is called ‘Great and Small Creations’ — I’m not trying to be famous. I’m just trying to do my work. If it ends up on an auction block, that’s fine.”

Schade’s estimate is that the whole project, buying the building, paying for it to be moved, the insulation, the carpentry, the windows, — “I bought some doors,” she said — might have cost $60,000 in all.

When I asked her when the whole project with the building would be over and done, she said, “It won’t be over. What happens inside is the really important thing.”

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