Return of a Southern Beauty

Uncovering the original details in an Arts and Crafts bungalow

1 ×

 

No strangers to monster projects, Kara O'Brien and Paula Rose have been hobbyist house restorers for seven years, turning fixer-uppers into handsome homes and "flipping" them. But when they took on a rundown bungalow in Kirkwood, a section of Atlanta experiencing a revival, they knew no amount of resale profit could make them give it up.

For five years they had walked past the house in their tree-lined neighborhood, thinking it had potential. So when the property went on the market, they took a peek.

Built in 1912, the 4,000-square-foot Arts and Crafts home had five bedrooms—three downstairs and two upstairs. And although it was filthy and neglected, details like five-panel doors and handsome period hardware were still in evidence. Off a central foyer/living room, the smoking parlor contained one of a pair of stained-glass windows in a tulip pattern (the other was MIA), and in the dining room a triple bay contained a larger stained-glass window with a wisterialike motif. "When I walked into the dining room, I didn't need to go any farther. Despite all the grunge, the sun came through the 'wisteria window' and I was hooked," Kara recalls.



The big cover-up
Indeed, every room needed attention. For starters, the wisteria window had been pierced by a bullet sometime in its life. Warped fake-wood paneling hugged nearly every wall. Garish orange paint covered the built-in sideboard, plate rack, and other woodwork in the dining room. A somewhat more acceptable color of paint was flaking off the exterior, and some of the clapboards were rotting beneath it. Neither the electrical nor plumbing had been updated in 40 years. Oddly, the place had acquired two kitchens, back-to-back, with brickwork encasing even the cabinets. More brickwork covered a wall in the living room. "There was a mason living here, and I think he must have had a lot of time on his hands," Kara says.



Unfazed, they snagged the place for $180,000 and began undoing the damage. Seven Dumpsters later, Paula, a marketing analyst and self-taught designer, drew up the plans that would bring the home back to its 1912 glory. "Our goal was to make this house old again," says Kara, a writer. "And the more we worked on it, the more the house revealed." Not that this was always good news.

No strangers to monster projects, Kara O'Brien and Paula Rose have been hobbyist house restorers for seven years, turning fixer-uppers into handsome homes and "flipping" them. But when they took on a rundown bungalow in Kirkwood, a section of Atlanta experiencing a revival, they knew no amount of resale profit could make them give it up.

For five years they had walked past the house in their tree-lined neighborhood, thinking it had potential. So when the property went on the market, they took a peek.

Built in 1912, the 4,000-square-foot Arts and Crafts home had five bedrooms—three downstairs and two upstairs. And although it was filthy and neglected, details like five-panel doors and handsome period hardware were still in evidence. Off a central foyer/living room, the smoking parlor contained one of a pair of stained-glass windows in a tulip pattern (the other was MIA), and in the dining room a triple bay contained a larger stained-glass window with a wisterialike motif. "When I walked into the dining room, I didn't need to go any farther. Despite all the grunge, the sun came through the 'wisteria window' and I was hooked," Kara recalls.



The big cover-up
Indeed, every room needed attention. For starters, the wisteria window had been pierced by a bullet sometime in its life. Warped fake-wood paneling hugged nearly every wall. Garish orange paint covered the built-in sideboard, plate rack, and other woodwork in the dining room. A somewhat more acceptable color of paint was flaking off the exterior, and some of the clapboards were rotting beneath it. Neither the electrical nor plumbing had been updated in 40 years. Oddly, the place had acquired two kitchens, back-to-back, with brickwork encasing even the cabinets. More brickwork covered a wall in the living room. "There was a mason living here, and I think he must have had a lot of time on his hands," Kara says.



Unfazed, they snagged the place for $180,000 and began undoing the damage. Seven Dumpsters later, Paula, a marketing analyst and self-taught designer, drew up the plans that would bring the home back to its 1912 glory. "Our goal was to make this house old again," says Kara, a writer. "And the more we worked on it, the more the house revealed." Not that this was always good news.

2 ×

Return to glory

 

Return to glory

cabinets
Photo by Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn
Custom-built cherry cabinets topped with black granite provide a contrast to the original white pine floor (liberated from three layers of linoleum) in the kitchen. The island, topped with white marble, sits on wheels. Recessed task lighting supplements a central schoolhouse globe.
When they peeled off the fake paneling they discovered not only a bunch of 1970s rock posters still plastered to the walls but the reason someone had covered them up: The walls were in terrible shape from water damage. Further evidence that the roof was shot came one day when a cloudburst produced "interior waterfalls all over the house." In the basement, a 20-inch-wide beam was eaten through by termites; they replaced it with several laminated veneer lumber (LVL) beams. What's more, the house was underbuilt—"It was a miracle that the upstairs hadn't collapsed," says Kara. So they beefed up the ceiling joists with more LVL beams.



Yet they found plenty to inspire them. A lot of stripper and sandpaper revealed beautiful heart-pine columns in the dining room. Entombed behind three courses of brick in the living room were a full-size fireplace and a built-in bookcase. In another happy surprise, the mantel in the smoking parlor (now used as a study) turned out to be a hand-carved delight with an Arts and Crafts tile surround. As Kara and Paula worked their way through the house, they uncovered boarded-up windows in the foyer, tore out acoustic ceiling tiles in some of the rooms to reveal the old 11-foot ceilings, stripped paint-covered heart-pine doors, and took layers of paint and years of tarnish off original brass window hardware.



And then there were the stained-glass windows. Local glass artisan Tom Marr patched the bullet hole in the wisteria panel on-site. He then took the tulip-patterned window out of the smoking parlor to create its twin in his shop. Marr also redid the caming on several leaded-glass windows and a newly installed leaded-glass front door that came from a historic Philadelphia home.



3 ×

Grand finale

 

Grand finale

plans
Illustration by Ian Worpole
The floor plan of the house has been restored nearly to the original, though a spacious new master bedroom suite was created by knocking down the wall between the sunroom and a first-floor bedroom. And what is now the study was once a smoking parlor, while a new deck replaced a crumbling porch.
Intrepid antiques hunters, Kara and Paula found in a salvage shop the perfect pair of 100-year-old oak columns to divide the new master ­bedroom suite—comprising a former sunroom and downstairs bedroom—into separate sleeping and sitting areas. Their carpenter, Atlanta?based Patrick North, added built-in bookcases underneath, which echo a similar feature in the living room.



Scouting architectural gems was a breeze, however, compared with their quest to restore the terrazzo floors in the first-floor guest bathroom and on the porch. They set about mixing bags of portland cement and marble chips, only to discover they needed not four bags of chips but 35. After weeks of polishing with a diamond-disc grinder—which rents for $150 a day—they had beautiful honed-finish floors, but the newly painted house was covered in a fine gray dust.



The room that changed the most dramatically was the kitchen, which mixes modern and vintage elements. They chose Mission?style cabinets in natural cherry to contrast with black granite counters. And they splurged on a cherry-paneled double-drawer dishwasher because, Kara says, the idea that you could "wash dishes on top and store them in the bottom appealed to the lazy part of us."



They still shake their heads over unsolved mysteries like the rampant brickwork in the kitchen and living room, and the bullet hole in the stained-glass window. There were plenty of rev- elations, including one they didn't expect: After starting to plant grapes along the property's wrought-iron fence, Kara realized that the "wisteria" window actually depicts a grapevine. As with so much of the house, it was not quite what it had seemed—but maybe even more charming.

 
 

TV Listings

Find TV Listing for This Old House and Ask This Old House in your area.