By Cindy Hoffman, Staff Writer
(May 11, 2023) Two times the charm for Matthew Amey, owner of 8 Jefferson Street in Berlin, a house built in 1900 that he and his wife, Lisa Tossey, bought in 2015 for their home and workspace.
Amey has gone before the Berlin Historic District Commission twice to get approval for the front facade of the house. The commission sent him back to the drawing board last month, saying the building needs to be more cohesive and suggested getting a professional design.
That assistance came the next day in the form of architect/urbanist Dhiru Thadani, who happened to be at the meeting the night before.
“I think he felt sorry for me,” Amey said.
“We discussed how the house presented to the street and how historically it would have been designed like a temple. It’s a typical three-bay temple facade. Temples have three equal segments and normally the middle section is the entrance, but you can use any of the three chambers as the entrance.”
The next day, Thadani provided a sketch of his suggestions to Amey.
That sketch was met with rave reviews by the members of the Historic Commission, who unanimously approved his proposal.
He has also received a facade grant from the town of Berlin that will reimburse him for 50 percent of his costs up to $11,500, contingent on the successful completion of the facade redesign.
He has 12 months to finish the project but hopes to get it completed before then.
Amey has been doing most of the work himself, with help from his friend, “Jungle Jim” Coltellino, an electrician.
Construction has been ongoing since he and his wife purchased the house nearly eight years ago.
“We have been living in it and doing construction the whole time,” Amey said.
“We gutted the house, tore it down to the studs, and replaced the electric wiring.”
Amey found out the house had structural issues that led to plumbing and water damage.
After three months of tearing everything out, we looked at all these cans of worms we found in these cans of worms,” Amey said.
But they were committed to the money pit, so they kept going. They replumbed the whole house, rebuilt the structure, opened up the ceiling, and rewired the house.
They opened their business, Wooden Octopus, an art gallery/shop in 2017. Amey, his wife and other family members are artists. The goal of the house is to have a home/workspace to live in and sell their art.
“We have a lot of friends overseas that live above where they work,” Amey said.
He and his wife liked that idea. His wife stumbled across this house, and Amey said the price kept dropping. That might have been a sign.
“We did not expect to take on such an arduous task. But some mornings I wake up and I say, ‘This is nice, I like what I have built here.’”
Now that the Historic Commission has signed off on his design, he expects to get the facade finished by the middle of the summer so they can reopen the physical gallery in the fall.
“Ultimately, we are trying to get the gallery back open because we like making work. Everything is made by someone in my family. We have a family of artists, and this is our outlet.”
They closed the gallery during covid and have operated online since then at https://woodenoctopus.com/.
“Berlin is actually busier in the off-season, in the fall going into the holidays. Once we get the front porch done and accessible, we intend to open.”
Amey sculpts, paints and makes jewelry. He plans to bring some ceramics into the gallery now that he has a pottery wheel and kiln on site. His wife is a photographer and digital media specialist.
Both Amey and Tossey grew up in Salisbury. They love that Berlin provides them with the opportunity to live their dream of living and working in one location.
“This is a nice little oasis,” Amey said.