With the announcement that some 3,700 U.S. Post Offices are at risk of being closed for good, a little slice of Americana fades with every shuttered storefront. But we're not the only ones choked up about the closures. While many may fall by the wayside, some decommissioned post offices are being restored and repurposed by history buffs all across the country. So in honor of that great American shrine to consistency ("Neither snow nor rain ..."), we're featuring one of our favorite post office home conversions from This Old House.
For a peek at life inside an American institution, click the gallery below, post haste!
Post Office Home Conversion in Kentucky
First-Class Home Conversion: Live in a Post Office (Gallery)
Sure it's a fine place to visit, but who would seriously consider making a former government building her private sanctuary? Well, Sarah Belhasen, M.D., for one. And she's no eccentric. She is, quite to the contrary, a family physician, a student of history, an inveterate collector of Americana, and a practical-minded native of Paintsville, Ky.
The sturdy Colonial Revival–style building was filled with family memories. With its all-brick exterior, its thick concrete interior walls, and its underlying steel skeleton, the old structure was, and still is, solid as a rock. When Sarah was a student at the elementary school down the block, children were instructed to hunker down in the basement of Paintsville's P.O. in the event of an airborne attack.
Sarah Belhasen's handy relatives worked demolition: scraping off faded blue paint, lifting decrepit flooring, and blow-torching stubborn glue. Along the way, they found scraps of undelivered mail and a stack of chilling artifacts: Cold War-era "safety notification postcards," which people fleeing an air raid were supposed to mail to inform loved ones of their whereabouts. Those paled in comparison to the weirdest structural detail of all: secret passageways that let the postmaster scuttle unseen within the walls, spying on employees.
On one side of those cabinets is the former lobby, now an entry parlor and formal living area. On the other side, the cavernous mail-sorting room would be sectioned into zones housing the family great room, and a new kitchen and butler's pantry.
A massive island anchors the 20-by-20-foot kitchen, once part of the mail-sorting area at the old Paintsville Post Office. Glimpsed though the pastry case is a Sub-Zero fridge wrapped in cabinetry that's modeled after a vintage oak icebox. The Wolf range tucks into a tiled, arched niche.
Belhasen worked with Quality Custom Cabinetry in New Holland, Pa., to create a kitchen that could fit her large extended family as well as her antiques. Here, the additional cherry built-ins maximize kitchen storage without blocking the sunlight that streams through the old lobby's grillework.