The History and Evolution of Connor Mill-Built Homes By M. Connor "The beauty of understanding scale and proportion is that it adds tremendous value while costing nothing. You just have to know what it is." The Sarah Hampton House We’re often influenced by things that we are not aware of until we look back and recognize the circumstances that shaped who we are and how we think. I was born and grew up in rural New England, surrounded by the architecture of colonial America, and I often heard my parents and extended family and friends speak fondly of well-known Rhode Island landmarks like the “Appleby farmhouse” and the “Windsor Homestead”, always with an admiration for the beauty of each house, but also with an acknowledgment of the lives of the people who built them and lived in them. It was that early association of architecture and the lives that were connected to it that drew me in and caused me to make it my life’s work. One would think that an early fascination for historic architecture would have guided me differently in my educational choices, but I ended up a psychology major. Nonetheless, my fascination for early American architecture continued as I explored the many wonderful old homes that were nearby. Walking down Benefit Street in Providence was a walk through another period in time, and standing in front of and contemplating the workmanship of the renowned Hunter house in Newport with its exquisite Georgian detailing spurred me on to learn more. I wanted to be a part of preserving and understanding the architectural legacy of colonial America. Interior of The Sarah Hampton House My wife Linda, who would become an integral part of the history of Connor Homes, grew up in Southern California. Her interest in historic architecture similarly began at an early age and she recalls that after visits to historic California homes with her family, she usually spent the drive home sketching the floorplan of the house just visited. She witnessed the explosion of growth in that state, noting the clusters of look-alike homes built on hills flattened to create more and more building lots, and grew up with an appreciation for historic architecture which she saw as the antithesis of the housing sprawl she experienced in California. The first house I ever built was for Linda. She had pursued her dream to leave California and move to Vermont. and wanted her home to look like the old Vermont she knew from books and pictures. So, she designed a small (900 square foot) cape-style home with simple but authentically accurate detailing and hired my fledgling construction company to build it. To this day I can honestly say that she was the best client I ever built for, as she would show up at the end of each day and excitedly exclaim her approval of what we had accomplished that day. That first house was one of many to come as Linda continued to design homes with authentic historic detailing for the company. The frame of Linda’s house was built as a panelized home by a company in upstate New York. I was drawn to the idea that doing as much as possible in a manufactured setting for the construction of a new home just made so much sense. But now, Linda and I were both focused on building homes that looked like they were built in another era, and so we began an earnest pursuit to learn as much as we could about historic architecture. We made visits to many of the historic homes that were so abundant throughout our region. We learned Connecticut River Valley architecture at Historic Deerfield, Georgian period architecture at Strawberry Banke in New Hampshire, myriad period details from a host of other museum homes and what emerged from those visits was an appreciation of the one common thread that defined them all, scale and proportion. While distinctive architectural detailing was important, without appropriate scale and proportion, replication efforts fell short. And the beauty of understanding scale and proportion is that it adds tremendous value while costing nothing. You just have to know what it is. When we were designing our first Greek Revival house, we decided to find an old one that we liked so we could reproduce both the details and proper scale and proportion. We found the perfect example sitting beside a dirt road in rural Vermont, and we knocked on the door and explained our mission to the bewildered owners, who luckily agreed to let us set up our ladders and measure their house. I was high up on an aluminum ladder hollering down measurements to Linda on the ground below as a summer thunderstorm rolled in and rain began to fall. I recall seeing the owners looking out at me from a second story window and I wasn’t sure if they were trying to warn me to get down, or if they were curious to see just what happens to an architectural detail fanatic soaked in rain standing on an aluminum ladder in a thunderstorm. Original inspiration for The Sarah Hampton House We survived and carried away the research we needed to create our own Greek Revival Farmhouse, the Sarah Hampton. Our company continued to use panelization in a factory setting for all our frames, but we added a new twist that was unique to the industry. Knowing that many of the architectural details that we were now designing into our homes were labor intensive, we began to create architectural elements in our mills as well. Indoor conditions, precision equipment, dedicated craftsmen, and factory efficiencies allow us to produce sophisticated architectural elements of superior quality and reduced cost. We take great satisfaction in applying twenty-first century technology to create eighteenth century architectural details. For thirty-five years, we continued a robust general contracting business while instituting more and more factory techniques to the building process, until finally in 2005, we stopped all local general contracting so that we could focus entirely on our burgeoning home manufacturing business, now located in our present 50,000 square foot facility in Middlebury, Vermont. Our early and extensive general contracting experience allowed us to experiment with various manufacturing processes and methods until we perfected them. And to this day, our hands-on contracting experience allows us to converse with our customers and builders about every aspect of a new home. The Sarah Hampton House Today our business has broadened its design portfolio and introduced a host of manufacturing technologies to our process, but always with the philosophy that we build beautiful homes as defined by those who came before us. Our knowledge in how to create and build sophisticated historic architecture has allowed us to build many beautiful homes that often are mistaken for antiques. My hope is that perhaps a home that we built will someday inspire someone else to wonder about the people who lived there and what ties they had to the architectural detailing that would define the place they called home.