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The Belmont House

The restoration of this 1907 Shingle-style Victorian included the removal of asbestos siding and overhaul of a kitchen.

In the fall of 1993, after sifting through nearly 200 proposals, we joined with homeowners Lauren and Dean Gallant for one of our favorite projects: the renovation of their 1907 Victorian in Belmont, Massachusetts.

Two things made this one a winner. First, the original beauty of the Shingle-style building emerged dramatically from behind bad foundation plantings, gray asbestos siding, cooked asphalt roofing, clunky replacement trim, corroded triple-track storm windows, 1950s kitchen cabinets and dull wallpaper. Cliche as it may sound, this truly was a case of the ugly duckling becoming a swan. Second, the Gallants pitched in with untold hours of sweat equity and an enthusiasm, backed with careful research, for their house's heritage and original look. Their hard work not only saved them money, but put their stamp on the job.

There was drama from the project's earliest moments. We'll never forget the moment that hundreds of carpenter ants cascaded out of the cellulose insulation as Lauren and Dean gamely demolished their old kitchen. Then came the men in white suits and respirators to remove the off to a special hazardous-waste landfill. Rolling out the first, gorgeous roll of reproduction Victorian wallpaper began the transformation of the first-floor rooms from dark to dazzling, and an historically appropriate exterior paint job, along with a new cedar roof, made the place look better than it had since the beginning of the century.

The project featured several products and services that were new to us and which have proven to be perennial favorites with viewers:

  • the window-conversion system that refitted old single-thickness windows with insulating glass while preserving the original frame and sash.
  • macadam paving with an old-fashioned look, laid down the old-fashioned way—a compacted base, a liquid asphalt binder coat and crushed stone overlayment.
  • an inexpensive plastic drywell that, when installed beneath the back patio, helped solve a serious drainage problem near the house's foundation.
  • the historic color advice of building conservator Andrea Gilmore, who has continued to advise the show over the years.
  • exquisite reproduction wallpaper, handmade in California, which also went on the ceiling, a first for the show.
  • real linoleum, a hard-wearing, authentic, "green" material that is enjoying a remarkable comeback in this country.
  • rich wool carpet, made as it has been for 200 years, on narrow looms in England.

In the end, fans of the Victorian style everywhere got to see a beautiful house emerge from beneath years of neglect and misguided improvements. We hope at least a few of them were encouraged to do the same with their old houses.