Queen Anne Victorian
The 1886 Queen Anne Victorian.
"Great!" The This Old House creator and director and I agreed. "Finally, a paint-and-paper job--we'll be into the finishes in no time. Viewers will love that." Standing outside homeowners Christian Nolen and Susan Denny's newly purchased home in Watertown, Massachusetts, we were as smitten as the most love-blind old-house lover, willing to dismiss that large patch of peeling paint in favor of the beautiful slate roof, that thicket of overgrowth in the backyard for the potential garden spot it could become, that hopeless rabbit warren of a floor plan inside for the original woodwork gracing each room. Like an aging lady, this grand old Queen Anne Victorian, built around 1886, had a beguiling way of hiding the toll of the years and putting her best face forward, and we fell for her on the spot. It was easy to understand why Christian and Sue had fallen as well. Refugees from the ruinously overheated real estate market of next-door Cambridge, they had found in this part of Watertown a combination of relatively reasonable prices; fine old homes, many of them largely untouched by clumsy renovation; and quiet, wooded streets with large, mature yards. Their street had homes that had recently sold for around $1,000,000 and many of the other houses were either recently renovated or undergoing significant upgrading, so the $670,000 they paid seemed like a safe investment. Certainly, a lot of paint and paper could be applied for the estimated $300,000 budget they had in mind. The truth, of course, is never kind, as viewers will discover. As plans progressed to clean up the tangled floor plan, it became clear to the architects, the homeowners, and the This Old House team that the building's three stairways presented an insurmountable roadblock to smooth flow within the building. The solution? Well, suffice to say that it is big job number one, with paint and paper nowhere in sight. Then came the discovery that our subterranean neighbors the termites had come a-calling, repeatedly. The extent of damage was unknown until the siding was peeled back. More work, and still no paint or paper. Lurking beneath the backyard jungle, a boggy soil condition turned out to be more than just a bother. It needed correction, as the yard seemed to be the collection point for the entire neighborhood's storm runoff. How to deal with unwanted water is every homeowner's question, but no one should have to do what Christian and Sue did. Crumbling chimneys. A grossly inefficient heating plant. Lead paint so thickly crusted on the exterior that scraping to bare wood might cost as much as $30,000. What was happening to our fair lady? As each new surprise comes his way, Christian, as cheerful as anyone could be in such conditions, has started to turn to me in private and say, "Hey, at least it makes for good TV." Pretty magnanimous for a guy who still hasn't gotten to pick out any paint and paper.
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