Picturesque Monterey Square is often regarded as one of the prettiest of the 21 squares in Old Savannah’s downtown historic district. With blooming magnolias and Spanish moss-draped trees, its scenic old houses make visitors feel welcome and locals feel right at home. What better location for This Old House to take up winter residence and help renovate Mills and Marianne Fleming’s Italianate Victorian row house.
“When we heard that the producers of This Old House were searching for their new project in Savannah, we actively pursued them to help us fix up our house,” recalled Mills. “We’re like a lot of other young couples in Savannah who are really committed to moving into the downtown area and bringing it back. There’s always been a battle between whether you have a living, breathing historic district or a museum—and we sought out the show’s help because we knew that they really encouraged ‘living’ historic preservation.”
The Flemings’ three-story house is located in Savannah’s National Historic Landmark District, directly across the street from the Mercer House mansion, one the hottest tourist attractions in town thanks to author John Berendt’s national best seller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. When the Flemings’ house was built in 1884 by housewright Augustus Schwaab, it made local headlines as one of the city’s costliest new buildings and one of the first to feature an indoor bathroom. Despite having several different owners over the years, the home’s original structure was in good condition when they bought it. This Old House joined up to help update and expand the home to accommodate their needs as new parents.
The renovation’s main focus was the rear elevation of the house. We demolished its rotting two-story porches and replaced them with a 420-square-foot addition that expanded the existing kitchen, baths and master bedroom and gave a facelift to the house’s garden-level rental apartment. The addition was designed to preserve the period details and architectural integrity of the original structure right down to the materials used, including “Savannah Greys,” a type of native brick used to build most of the city’s classic old homes.
To ensure that the changes had minimal impact on the existing character of the house, This Old House enlisted some of Savannah’s finest restoration experts, among them contractor/builder Jim Turner of J.T. Turner Construction Company (and his remarkable site supervisor Mark Fitzpatrick) and designer Jeffrey Verheyen of J.W.A. & Associates. A major challenge they both faced was how to preserve the home’s original plaster moldings and ceiling medallions while a state-of-the-art, energy-efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning system was installed throughout the three-story residence.
Other major repairs and improvements included rehabbing the glorious 12-foot floor-to-ceiling windows; squeezing a powder room under the main stairs; repairing the ancient terne-metal roof with a high-tech acrylic system; revealing and restoring to their original glory the heart pine wood floors; and gutting and refurbishing the garden level, which was being used as a radiologist’s office. The renovation’s final touch was the replacement of the front railing with a hand-wrought masterpiece by one of Savannah’s most accomplished craftsmen. When the dust finally settled, the Flemings’ house was ready to assume its place among the other lovingly restored old homes that line Monterey Square.