2009 Reader Remodel Winner: From Forlorn to Refreshed
Meet the $5,000 grand prize winners
We never dreamed we'd end up with this house. Yes, we had moved to Bowling Green, Kentucky, for its small-town lifestyle and loved strolling down streets lined with charming old homes. But Elaine and I had already renovated an 1880 Italianate nearby for our film company's offices and were happy living in the plain-vanilla house where we raised our two kids. We were busy with work; Elaine had decided to run for mayor. Another grueling renovation wasn't on our to-do list.
The trouble was, we had become attached to the house, which we could see from our office windows. Built in 1896, the scaled-down Queen Anne had its original turret but lost its detailed porch—swapped for an all-wrong Colonial Revival one in a 1914 renovation. The house had been rented to college kids, and when it went on the market we worried about it being cut up into apartments. After reminding ourselves of all that we had learned from our previous renovation, we decided to sell our house to save this one. We could live in our offices while making needed repairs.
I assured Elaine that we'd move in before Thanksgiving. I just didn't say which Thanksgiving.
Shown: A careful renovation, based on the original architect's plan, brought back the gabled entry—and the home's charm.
Early on we were thrilled to find a literal blueprint for restoring many original details in a reprinted 1890s catalog of house plans by George Franklin Barber, a well-known architect at the time. There was our house: Design 23, Plan 2. Now we had a vision complete with pictures, starting with the gabled entry porch, its glorious sunburst spandrel fronting a barrel-vaulted beadboard ceiling.
Shown: The turreted 1896 house, minus the “remuddled” front porch, had been rented for years to groups of college students.
Luckily, the original layout was largely intact, and the inside mainly needed cosmetic work. The front stairs led to four small bedrooms and two baths; downstairs was a front parlor, dining room, 1970s powder room, kitchen, and an enclosed back porch. Outside, the original Barber-designed carriage house was long gone.
Shown: With the original house plan as a guide, the owners uncovered a lunette window buried in plaster. Wallpaper pro Jennifer Chiles, armed with an X-Acto knife and wheat paste, helped them piece together the 11 patterns in the foyer. They spent over 100 hours refinishing the door.
Stained-glass window: Salvage One
At first the house seemed plenty big for us, but with no family room, no garage, and no master bath, we soon decided to add on. By lopping off the back bedroom and back porch, we figured we could fit an addition that would hold a family room and garage downstairs, with a master suite and a rental apartment above to defray costs. We brought in local architect J. David Bryant Jr. to work out the addition, based on a Barber carriage-house plan. General contractor Montie Brown who built it also helped update the heating, wiring, and plumbing in the house, and he added central AC. We found a carpenter to reproduce Barber's porch, using factory-made millwork, and a paint consultant who could put together a period-appropriate palette.
Shown: Based on a carriage house designed by the home's original architect, the addition has a garage accessed via a ribbon driveway that mimics 19th-century carriage tracks. The box bay is part of a rental apartment put in to defray costs.
Ribbon driveway: Mick-Murf Construction Inc.
Garage doors: Holmes Garage Door Co.
Stonework: Matlock Masonry
Mountain stone: Lee Brick and Block
That left plenty of work for us—and our son, Evan, and daughter, Erin, who were home from college on summer break when we began work. Soon Evan was scrambling up scaffolding out front to scrape paint, while Erin set up inside to strip wallpaper and repair plaster.
As the rooms' original elegance emerged, we became particularly attached to the front parlor. Realizing it would be the perfect place to curl up with a book, we added shelves and restored the fireplace to working order.
Shown: During the home's days as a student rental, the front parlor served as a bedroom. Dorian and Elaine turned it into a library, keeping the original pendant light and adding shelves built with the help of a carpenter.
The kitchen, which was basically gutted as the addition was grafted on, ended up being our biggest hands-on project. By the time we were done, I had learned how to make cabinet doors, and Elaine had mastered putting down hexagonal ceramic-tile flooring.
Shown: A circa-1920 gas- and wood-burning stove became the starting point for a vintage-style kitchen with marble counters, a tin ceiling, salvaged pendant lights, and a reclaimed heart-pine floor with a ceramic-tile “rug” in front of the range. The wainscot was inspired by beadboard
in an existing pantry.
We knew custom materials would cost a fortune, so we scoured architectural salvage shops for the back-stair balustrade, baseboards, flooring, and French doors for the new spaces. Armed with every dimension at all times, I found a window frame in one far-flung shop that became the surround for a wooden sunburst in the porch ceiling and the missing stained glass for a window in another.
Our lowest moment came 22 months into the redo, when we were adding tin to the kitchen ceiling and found joists above it sagging half a foot under a 600-pound claw-foot tub. It seemed like we'd never finish.
Shown: The fireplace was restored and refinished, adding a graceful note to a room “back dated” with period-style wallpaper.
The Eastlake-style balustrade came from a salvage shop. I built the doors for this built-in; Elaine and Erin recut old windowpanes for the glass fronts. The black walnut counter was made with lumber milled from a tree in the backyard.
The eclectic upstairs bedroom in the addition has a vaulted ceiling and an 1883 Gothic window, which we found online. We salvaged the doors and hardware from a local teardown.
Using the original 1896 house plan, we rebuilt the porch, which had been replaced with one in the Colonial Revival style in a 1914 renovation. The colors here are based on a traditional Victorian palette.
Wood finials, post, spindles, and spandrels: The Wood Factory
We were in by Thanksgiving, as promised—just three years later—and three years after that we are still adding finishing touches. Elaine is now the town mayor, and I've become its crusading preservationist. We also have our perfect empty nest. Only problem is, from my favorite chair in the library I can see another house we've taken on directly across the street. It's an 1860s Italianate, and it needs a lot of work.
Exterior color consultant: Bob Buckter, Architectural Color Design
Iron cresting: Architectural Iron Co.
Roofing, shingles, and siding: CertainTeed
Metal-roof ridge rolls: Berger Building Products Inc.
Exterior paint strippers: The Silent Paint Remover
Exterior door hardware: Preservation Station