Cleanly Colonial: Renovating a 20th-Century Farmhouse, Toxin Free

Suffering from chemical sensitivities brought on when she helped build a log home, Linda Mellen and her husband, Peter, take an early twentieth-century farmhouse back to its nontoxic roots.

| March/April 2002

Linda Mellen can tell you exactly when her troubles began—though at the time, those hopeful months of 1992 foretold joy, not pain. Side by side with her new husband, Peter, Linda was building a 3,000-square-foot log house in Massachusetts. It was a house so dramatic that friends teased them about its imposing size; a house so grand, Peter describes it as a palatial Adirondack lodge.

And it was so full of toxic materials that over the next several years it would render Linda deathly ill.

At first, her symptoms were vague, leaving her with a general sense of ill health. Then came the migraines, so debilitating they nearly blinded her. “I thought I had a brain tumor,” she says. Once a runner, Linda could barely walk a few city blocks without feeling faint and dizzy, and visits to the mall left her with earaches.

Doctors couldn’t tell Linda what was wrong with her, and her symptoms worsened. Finally, several years after she first became ill, she visited a doctor in New Mexico who diagnosed her as suffering from multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS). It was the first step on a long road to wellness.

Today, Linda, who also suffers from a chronic autoimmune illness, believes the MCS was triggered by an overdose of toxins from the stains and sealers she and Peter used to finish the log house—a task they completed in the dead of winter with windows and doors firmly shut. “The day after I did the staining, I would be in bed. I couldn’t get up,” she says. “Then when we went to Hawaii in the winter, as soon as I got there, I felt better because I was outdoors all the time.”

The Road to Charlottesville 

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