2008 Reader Remodel Contest Winner: Texas Queen Anne
You saw their hard-earned home on thisoldhouse.com, then gave their Queen Anne redo top honors. Meet the Wade family—and see how they put the shine back on this Texas find
My wife, Sharon, has been in love with old houses since we were high school sweethearts, and I'm in love with her, so when she fell for this house, I quickly caved.
We found the once-grand Queen Anne an hour south of our Dallas neighborhood. By some weird stroke of luck, we came across it while driving around the small town of Corsicana, about five minutes from a lakefront building lot we'd just purchased.
When Sharon got a look at the old place, she oohed and ahhed over the ornate carving on the front gable and the clustered, fluted columns supporting its wraparound porch. It was practically gift-wrapped for her, with a banner hung on an outbuilding advertising a house mover available to relocate it. While Sharon peeked in through the grimy windows, I rationalized taking the leap. For the money we'd spend building a new log cabin, we could park this house intact on our scenic spot, and get some real lakeside charm in the process.
That night I phoned the house mover to track down the owner. In yet another lucky break, she was a nice, preservation-minded woman who'd bought the house to save it from a bank that wanted to build a drive-through in its place. She agreed to sell it to us for $15,000, plus guide us in the house-moving process, which she'd been through when she moved another old house to her own property.
Our luck ran out the minute we handed her the check. The structural movers broke the news that the house would have to be sawn in half if we wanted it to go anywhere at all. Apparently, you can't always transport a 3,900-square-foot house intact. Sharon and I watched anxiously as the home we were trying to hold together got hacked in two. Opting to slice off the top floor and have it rebuilt later was another bleak concession.
But moving a shorter house was the only way to avoid the extra $20,000 the town charges to move overhead utility wires in its path.
We consoled ourselves with the fact that, inside, we'd only lose an unfinished attic and a sleeping porch rotted beyond repair. But we reeled as each new step added on to the eventual $35,000 in moving costs. By the time the house-bearing trailer broke down en route, blocking traffic for 3 hours, we were buying the officers escorting us cheeseburgers for lunch and pledging $250 to the Policemen's Benevolent Association to take the sting out of so much overtime.
With the move behind us, new troubles began to brew. "You're ruining my life!" shouted our then 14-year-old son, Spencer, just a month into the project, as we were planning another weekend work-a-thon. We're pretty traditional, and, as naive as it sounds, Sharon and I were counting on Spencer and our daughter, Lindsay, then 9, to be our built-in renovation crew—supplemented by friends and contractors—even though none of us had wielded more than a hammer before, never mind renovated an entire house.
But Spencer routinely rebelled against the weekends of stripping paint and carting out debris to stay in Dallas and play football and Nintendo with his friends. Lindsay mostly went along with our plans, as long as she was occasionally allowed to bring a friend to help.
Then, before we had a chance to reunite the house's two segments and put on the roof, record rain soaked the exposed interior. Protective tarps were no match for the winds; after nailing them down one weekend, we'd return the following Saturday to find them wrapped around the trees.
Shown: Stripped, sanded, and repainted, the wraparound porch features fluted, scroll-top columns and lake views. The historical paint scheme highlights the exterior millwork, including the paneled front entry and benches.
But by month three, finally seeing the two halves of the house married on our site raised our spirits. It was all there: a long center hall and stairway, with a parlor and dining room on one side, the master bedroom and living room on the other, and a guest bedroom and the kitchen in the back.
Shown: A fluted column is grooved on three sides to receive pocket doors that close off the dining and living rooms from each other and from the front hall. The doors used to scrape the oak floors before we repaired their original slide mechanisms and installed new headers.
As we took inventory of details salvaged from the old location, even the kids grew excited—with a little cash incentive. After a while, I started paying Spencer and his friends $5 for stripping corner pieces of door and window trim, and $10 for 8- to 10-foot-long borders. Lindsay and her friends accepted trips to the mall or movies in exchange for hours spent removing nails from flooring.
Shown: Brackets on the dining room's plate-rail wainscot are new. Water-damaged beams in the original coffered ceiling were covered with melamine and painted. New egg-and-dart crown molding replaced original trim that was also damaged by leaks. The 1920s glass chandelier was an eBay find.
While we were initially disappointed to lose the roof when we lopped off the attic, starting from scratch allowed us to build a full second floor. New rooflines allowed for higher ceilings and two modern-sized bedrooms, a room for the pool table, and a TV room. Setting the house up on a raised foundation created a 32-inch crawl space that we used to house new ductwork too thick to wind through the cross bracing between floors.
Shown: The original oak fireplace mantel in the first-floor master bedroom had never been painted. Its tiled, cast-iron propane insert is new but made to look like an old coal-burning version.
Sharon's exhaustive Googling of renovation topics such as "repairs to pocket-door mechanisms" and "ways to remove rust on hardware" were paying off. And the stained-glass transoms, beadboard, column capitals, and plate rails emerged from under layers of paint that she and the kids stripped off. It took only two scorched door casings before Sharon mastered the heat gun to strip them expertly.
Shown: Relocating French doors to where a walled-up window had been in the master bedroom turned the sunroom into a private sitting area. This stained glass transom came from an antiques store.
Sharon's extensive salvaging also saved a good deal of money. Flea-market doorknobs for $16 apiece certainly beat $100 reproductions. Submerging the old hardware in buckets of molasses, a rust-removing tip she learned on an automotive-repair site, was her secret weapon.
Shown: Sharon bought the pristine 1950s Chambers gas range on eBay and had it retrofitted with a shut-off safety valve for $700. The durable gray granite countertops mimic the look of period-appropriate but more nick-prone soapstone.
The old kitchen had beadboard on the walls and ceiling but no remaining cabinetry. This built-in cupboard, which was original to the pantry, set the tone for the new Shaker-style cabinets—as did pages torn from TOH's June 2003 issue featuring a kitchen-remodel story titled A Dream Come True.
Retro details like the built-in plate rack, glass-front doors, bin pulls, and cabinet latches maintain the spirit of the old kitchen.
Subway tile halfway up the walls and 1-inch hexagonal floor tiles connect the master bath to the 1913 cast-iron tub that came with it. The cabinet is an antiques-store find that was built into the wall to serve as linen storage.
The main floor's layout remains as it was, with a few small exceptions. The kitchen was enlarged by annexing an existing pantry, and a closet was converted into a hall bathroom. The five doors and three windows that had lined the four walls of the master bedroom were also reworked.
Since the roof and attic had been removed to meet height requirements for the house move, the second story is entirely new.