Top Tips for Tackling a Period Fixer-Upper
Our reader remodel winners share their secrets for success
TOH reader Elaine learned the painstaking arts of paint stripping and wood refinishing, seeing the fine details of Victorian-era doors and trim re-emerge.
Homeowners Dorian and Elaine Walker won our 2009 reader remodel contest. See their tips for taking on the historic home you've had your eye on in your neighborhood.
1. Look for Savings Where You Can. We love Bradbury & Bradbury wallpaper—it's hand-printed based on historic patterns. But a roll can cost $200. So we chose a family of patterns we liked called Anglo-Japanese and asked the company to send us a list of “overages” destined for the surplus bin. We custom-ordered some rolls but were able to purchase many at a third or half off.
2. Barter. Dorian wanted to build our cabinets but wasn't sure how, so now that he's known around town as a passionate preservationist, he traded services with a local tech school. Woodworking students used a computer-assisted program to design the cabinets, then built the frames; in return, Dorian gave a series of lectures on local Victorian-era architecture.
3. Scout for salvaged goods. Salvage and reuse played a huge role throughout our renovation and helped keep the cost of our kitchen below $7,500. We carried dimensions with us at all times and kept our eyes open. We found Carrara marble pieces for the counters in a salvage shop and bought the working circa-1920 Peninsular stove for $250 after spying it in someone's garage. A nearby teardown provided us with the kitchen's heart-pine flooring, and we cut the panes for the cabinets' glass fronts out of old windows. Much of the tin we used for the ceiling came from a friend in town who was renovating and had leftovers. That helped keep the cost of the ceiling to about $425.
4. Turn to pros at critical junctures. We've renovated other homes and like to think we have a pretty good sense of color, but we knew we needed a pro when it came to the exterior palette because so many different architectural elements were involved. For about $500, a color consultant we found on the Web gave us the 11 colors you see, along with a paint-by-numbers scheme.
5. Stay true to your vision. There are so many times during a renovation when it would be easier to just make do with something readily available. But we learned how satisfying it can be to track down the real thing. We started with books and magazines devoted to historic architecture and also drew from the Web. Then we found a reprinted catalog of designs by the Victorian architect George Franklin Barber. At first we didn't recognize our house since the front was so drastically changed, but we reached out to architectural historians and through word of mouth found an expert in Knoxville, Tennessee—Barber's home base—who confirmed that our house was in fact Barber's “Design 23, Plan 2.” That single connection guided much of our work.