Front exterior of this queen anne home before remodel
Photo: Tria Giovan
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Strings Attached

But then there was that magical tower, holding eight-sided rooms on all three floors. A friend showed us a picture of the house taken just four years after it went up, and we knew that with new siding and a restored porch, it could once again stand proud.

Though Merle was fairly new to the world of home renovations, I'd fixed up several places, most recently a 1920s house in the same area of upstate New York, while working as a musician. Of course, making this place livable was going to be a real challenge, and the only way to afford it was to do the work ourselves.

A local bank agreed to lend us the full purchase price plus the cost of renovations, but with a sobering string attached: We would have just six months to make any major structural fixes and get the plumbing and electrical up to code.

Our plan, which our friends immediately deemed crazy, was this: I'd ignore my other work and do the demolition and electrical and structural repairs full-time while Merle would log hours at night and on weekends scraping off wallpaper and pulling up carpets and linoleum. We'd hire a carpenter to restore the main porch, using the 1891 picture as a guide. And because Newburgh requires plumbing and roofing by town-licensed pros, we'd get help there, too.

Shown: The front exterior before renovations. Homeowners Merle Becker and Chris Hanson in front of the house after the crumbling first- and second-floor porches came down.
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