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  • D. Maurice Kreis

Mr. Breyer's Neighborhood

Rule No. 1 of being an architecture critic in northern New England is: Don't trash anyone's house. Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont are just too small for that sort of thing, and we value our privacy too much. Getting to write about anyone's home almost inevitably means being a guest in someone's home, and guests should be gracious.


Here is the exception that proves the rule. The New Hampshire architecture story of the year will go down in the annals of McMansion history.

For a mere $1.59 million -- assuming you, like every other real estate buyer these days, are willing to pay the asking price for whatever you're purchasing -- you can own 100 acres of New Hampshire history, the crown jewel of which is a 7,500 square-foot 'mansion' that is sprawling to the point of bloated and ugly to the point of monstrous.


Kudos, I guess, to daring real estate flippers Peter and Sharon Farnum, identified in the

Valley News as the folks who had the audacity to purchase the Plainfield complex once owned by the notorious Ed and Elaine Brown for $315,000 and undertake a top-to-bottom renovation of the place.


Mega-kudos to the author of this little nugget of real-estate sales pitch: "Straddling Tuscan and Italian influence and Traditional New England building styles, this home boasts large bedrooms and abundant gathering spaces, and an observation/viewing tower that crests high above the home."


I would imagine that, back in the day, folks in Tuscany knew a thing or two about designing the sort of residential fortress that could hold off well-armed federal authorities. After all, the conflict between the Guelphs and Ghibellines during the 12th and 13th centuries created quite the struggle among Tuscans back in the day. Then came the Black Death in 1378, wiping out 70 percent of the population.


In any event, where once Ed and Elaine Brown held off the feds for nine months in an armed standoff that grew out of a tax dispute, today one finds (again according to the Valley News) such new amenities as "granite countertops, walk-in closets, a steam room, artist studio, and four fireplaces."There are also "new windows, a redesigned kitchen, and hardwood floors throughout."


Plus you get Steven Breyer as a neighbor. His summer home is nearby -- although, given his failure to retire in June from the U.S. Supreme Court as demanded by progressive activists, it looks like the folks in Plainfield won't be seeing too much of him.


It's the kitchen of the renovated New Hampshire counterpart to the Branch Davidian compound that really gets me. You could play a touch football game in there, which means it's a ridiculous space for actually preparing meals. On the other hand, if you want plenty of room to build a pile of explosives and semi-automatic weapons, the better to hold off U.S. Marshals while your lampredotto is slow-cooking, this is the place for you.


By the way, it was Neopolitan rather than Tuscan cuisine that did in Ed and Elaine. They were tricked into surrendering by pizza-bearing 'friends' who showed up on their porch in October of 2007, ending the siege.


Moreover, I must quibble with the realtors' characterization of the stylistic influences on the design of this high-end property. I suppose I buy the connection to Tuscany, but where they see "traditional New England building styles" I see "Federal Bureau of Prisons." The turret resembles nothing so much as one of the guard towers at Alcatraz, Fort Leavenworth, or ADX Florence, the federal supermax prison in Colorado.


Of course adaptive reuse has a long and noble history in New England architecture. I hope Ed and Elaine's former compound makes some new family a very nice home.


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