Renovation: a 10-year plan
• by Rebecca Long Pyper •
WHEN TOM AND TERESA BATES bought their house 10 years ago, they were sure of a few things.
They knew they were buying the worst house on the best street and that it takes lots of money to revive a neglected century-old home. They knew they loved this style home, with its steep roofline and ample lot, and wanted to bring it back to life. And they knew that although this was their first home purchased together, it could be their settle-down home, not a stepping stone to where they wanted to live someday.
But it smelled like cats. When they walked through, it felt like a time warp sucking them through different decades as they passed room to room. It was a hodgepodge house, with a former student rental upstairs complete with built-in plywood desks and a second stairway in the back.
Maybe they didn’t know it would take a decade to get the house to where they dreamt it could be, but they’re almost there now.
Three years ago Tom and Teresa got intense about remodeling. And while they were at it and living through it, they found a beam in the floor with the words “May 1913” written on it. The beam was one of their only clues about the age of the home and when another remodel had happened. So as a favor to homeowners of the future, they rolled up a current newspaper — the issue detailing Whitney Houston’s death — and secured it in the stairway’s newel post.
They’re trusting the work they’ve done will be around for a long time — after all, they’ve taken their time to do things right. Here are some of their recommendations for others taking on a historic fixer upper:
1. Save money by doing demo yourself. The Bateses hauled 50 to 60 loads to the dump, and though that took lots of time, it saved a bundle versus renting a dumpster. They suggest buying an inexpensive trailer and running to and from the landfill instead.
2. Do what you can on your own, but know when to say when. To get the character just right, the house needed millwork — and Teresa did it. No, she hadn’t done trim before, but she bought a how-to book and got started. She said it’s not perfect, but to a guest, you’d never know it was a job done in house. Their son-in-law did all the tile; their daughter helped with paint. “We’re just all do-it-yourselfers,” she said.
What they didn’t do themselves were the biggies like sheetrock, plumbing and electrical. Don’t skimp on those, they said.
3. Hire a contractor that sees your vision. Sometimes the Bateses would suggest an idea outside the box; they appreciated that their contractor was willing to take the path less traveled with them.
4. Cash flow the project. To secure financing would have been tricky anyway since it would cost Tom and Teresa more to fix the old house than to build new, but “we don’t care because we don’t want to sell it. We want to be here for the rest of our lives,” Tom said.
5. Move in and get settled before you start knocking down walls. “You need to live in a house for awhile to figure out what you really want,” Teresa said. “If you’re a clean freak, you can’t do it. You have to have a lot of patience for that because it’s dirty and messy.” But because they took their time, they knew just where to put bathroom fixtures, just which finishes they wanted in the kitchen and just how special eight-foot French doors would make their family room feel.
6. Respect the neighborhood and the history of the house. The couple replaced windows but kept the sizes the same when they installed new. They salvaged the original, now-wavy glass and had it made into transoms over the interior doors — “that was one way to keep a little bit of the old house,” Teresa said. Floors, though new, are hardwood like they were originally. Vintage dressers bought online make for mismatched but complementary vanities in the master bath — one with straight lines for him, one with curves for her. And fixtures like a trough sink in the kids’ bath upstairs nod to the age of the home. In all their decisions “we wanted to try to stick to the spirit of (the period),” Tom said.
The long-awaited result of their work is a home with the feel of Restoration Hardware and the appeal of a transitional residence — old where it ought to be and new where it needs to be. Whether original or not, the house is a sum of its parts, and all of them well thought out features. After all, “that’s why I love an old house — the details,” Teresa said. And that’s precisely what they got.