Our Victorian House
October 23, 2003 11:12 AM   Subscribe

Craig and Yvonne are in the process of renovating their 1891 Victorian House. Progress can be followed on their site. Be sure to check out the before and after pics, which are pretty impressive.
posted by Ufez Jones (34 comments total)
and it just wouldn't be the internet without some begging...
posted by victors at 11:20 AM on October 23, 2003

I prefer House in Progress, which doesn't seem to have a begging page.
posted by GaelFC at 11:26 AM on October 23, 2003

"and it just wouldn't be the internet without some begging..."

That's my favorite part, victors. Imagine owning a house in which there was a "Bill Gates memorial bathroom".
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:29 AM on October 23, 2003

When I bought my 1938 cottage in French Place on the east side of Austin a few years ago, it also had those horrible ceiling fan/lamp things from the 70s/80s. It's nice to see the world being rid of such eyesores, one house at a time.

I'd have a hard time living with that wallpaper, though.
posted by divrsional at 11:29 AM on October 23, 2003

Ufez, great link, thanks for posting this.

We own a 1913 Victorian-style kit home that needs heavy restoration, and during my adolescence my mother bought and sold a number of historic homes in need of serious refurbishment (infected with the 1970's as Craig so aptly says), including her last (and current project) - a dual-chimney center hall Federal c. 1790, which she purchased for $5000 from the fire department.

What strikes me most about Craig & Yvonne's story is how much unnecessary demolition he's done, especially on ceilings. A ceiling that is curved is not necessarily a ceiling in need of repair (although I can see why he would want to flatten the parlor one out to install the tin ceiling). The hallway is an excellent example of this. I'm also very impressed by the care he's taken in retaining original moldings, cornices, etc.

I hope he's been in touch with his local historic preservation society - they can direct him to great free resources to help him avoid unnecessary work and also do more actual preservation and less replication.
posted by anastasiav at 11:31 AM on October 23, 2003

And divrsional, I love ceiling fans.
posted by mr_crash_davis at 11:33 AM on October 23, 2003

Oh Gawd! Do you have any idea how much work it takes to do that kind of refurbishing? I spend 10 years in my Victorian trap, working on it the whole time, and sold it as a work in progress. I'm impressed with both their progress and their budget :-)
posted by ahimsakid at 11:43 AM on October 23, 2003

The wall paper sucks.

For anyone doing house restoration work, lead paint is a major issue. Most don't learn about the hazards and just go ahead without more than a face mask. Lead dust is highly toxic, even in small amounts, as is lead fumes from heat guns. I see it all the time folks restoring houses without proper hazmat training. The end result is a nice house and a lifetime of heavy metal poisoning ie. brain damage. It is not just kids eating chips it effects adults too. The old houses in particular the nicer ones are the worst because lead paint was expensive and mostly used on upper-end homes sometimes containing %50 or more lead in the paint and even invisible dust you can't see just from opening doors is enough to cause health problems. More info
posted by stbalbach at 11:46 AM on October 23, 2003

Impressed with their budget, indeed.

A few months earlier I had a new mantle hand carved out of mahogany made

I usually enjoy this kind of site but I just can't identify with these homeowners.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:47 AM on October 23, 2003

and it just wouldn't be the internet without some begging...

That page seems more of a lark than anything, to me at least. The way it's written seems very tongue-in-cheek. And it certainly isn't any worse than a tip jar on a blog (something I dislike immensely, but not enough to not read blogs that have them), and it's certainly not even in the same area code as Karyn.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:53 AM on October 23, 2003

And be careful, or I'm certain to say certainly again.
posted by Ufez Jones at 11:54 AM on October 23, 2003

I'm especially jealous of Craig's arcade.
posted by jpoulos at 12:12 PM on October 23, 2003

This is neat and all, and I have a soft spot for Victorian homes and all -- having grown up in one -- but to put it in perspective: How much do I really need to know about how millionares live? Lately, fixup Victorians have become yet another venue in which to make consumption conspicuous.
posted by majick at 12:34 PM on October 23, 2003

So, what's so great about Yvonne Craig redoing her house? She never got another job after "Batgirl..."
posted by Perigee at 1:12 PM on October 23, 2003

I say we all chip in and buy a room for mathowie:

"The Math Owie Second Floor Water Closet"

Could there be a greater tribute?
posted by briank at 1:13 PM on October 23, 2003

All of the mouse over pics don't seem to work for me. I can see the after but the befores are all busted.

And, anastasiav, where does your mom live that they sell houses for $5K?

That's not even enough for a broom closet out here in California.
posted by fenriq at 1:16 PM on October 23, 2003

All of the mouse over pics don't seem to work for me. I can see the after but the befores are all busted.

I had that problem too (Mozilla 1.5), but if you click on them a couple of times, the mouseover works.
posted by Ufez Jones at 1:23 PM on October 23, 2003

And, anastasiav, where does your mom live that they sell houses for $5K?

We're in Maine, but understand that she bought it from the Fire Department for $5k. It was in awful shape, and the FD was going to burn it down as a training exercise. At the time she purchased it (mid 1980's) it had never had water, electricity or central heat installed. It hadn't been painted in at least 60 years. It had been used as a boarding house from just after WWI until the mid-1960's ... when the last owner died, she left the house to the final boarding house tenant, who lived there until she died with an assortment of dogs, cats, and chickens that she never let out of the back section of the house. The front wall of the house had actually come unattached from the side walls and the foundation, so if you leaned on it, it would swing outward 12-18 inches, with the 'hinge' being the point where it attaches to the roof.

My mom basically brought this great Federal House (What is Federal Style?) Revolutionary war-era house back from the dead. Its now a show-piece, completely restored to its 1800's appearance, complete with hand-made windows, wall stencils, painted floors, you name it -- but the journey was slow, and sometimes frustrating, and required a lot of dedication and elbow-grease on her part.

You don't have to be made of money to refinish one of these houses - I'm in the process of doing one, and I have to say that a "hand-carved mahogany mantle" is not outside our budget, and we're fairly ... well ... certainly lower middle class. You just have to be familiar with the resources (like architectural salvage companies) that are available to you, be willing to live with your house in chaos as you get things finished, invest heavily in some high-quality basic tools, and be patient. Its taken my mom 15+ years to get her house mostly-fully restored, and the high-cost work was done slowly, over time, rather than gutting the house all at once.

FYI, I don't think you could by an actual house in Maine today for $5K, even in as bad a shape as her's was. When we were looking 5-6 years ago, the cheapest we saw for true "fixer-upers" was $25K - $50K.
posted by anastasiav at 2:34 PM on October 23, 2003

wow, this is an unbelieveable amount of work...I'm quite impressed. especially with all the fine detail work, which is always the hardest part for me to get finished on my house

i wish i had the motivation just to put up this extensive of a website, much less take on that much remodelling work..wow
posted by jacobsee at 2:41 PM on October 23, 2003

And re: the Maine housing market, if you want that $25K-$50K house you better be prepared to live in the middle of nowhere with some scary ass Appalachian-style neighbors, and I hope you can hang on to that well-paid telecommuting job, cause everyone else in town is unemployed.

Houses in Maine where people would normally want to live are $200K and up. Way up.
posted by rusty at 2:49 PM on October 23, 2003

Lately, fixup Victorians have become yet another venue in which to make consumption conspicuous.

I take some issue w/ that, being both conspicuously poor and involved in 'restoring' an old Vicky myself right now (*ahem*). Here in Richmond, a good portion of these houses aren't in neighborhoods that attract money (drug violence, etc). We're in it to keep a potentially beautiful house standing and to maybe add something to our block and neighborhood.

And -- you can do this yourself for as little as $1.
posted by john m at 3:22 PM on October 23, 2003

anastasiav, thanks for the great explanation. Sounds like a labor of love and I'm sure its just beautiful.

And John M, thanks for the great link. I Googled them for California and came across a bunch of sites that might actually help me buy a home! And if that happens as a result of your link then you have a permanent welcome mat at our house!
posted by fenriq at 3:59 PM on October 23, 2003

They are the two halves of TV's Batgirl.
posted by MonkeyMeat at 4:59 PM on October 23, 2003

"And -- you can do this yourself for as little as $1."

That one dollar home would go for about $250K here, if it were completely dryrotted, haunted, filled with empty crack vials, tilted at a 19-degree angle, riddled with fresh bullet holes, and actively on fire. Combine that with the necessary $250,000ish to make it livable, and I'd still say kicking down half a meg qualifies for the "conspicuous" category, even if the end result would go for more like $800,000 on the open market when the murder rate declines.
posted by majick at 6:09 PM on October 23, 2003

p.s. to john m: Those floors are going to look amazing when you're done... nice pad!
posted by majick at 6:11 PM on October 23, 2003

It's funny how home renovation is hell, but somehow worth it in the end - deeply satisfying and a good investment. A co-worker of mine had to begin her home reno by arming herself with a water pistol - the better to chase hundreds of bats out of her attic, which had been sealed up for 40 years.

What WAS with those ceiling fans from the 70s? I have one in my condo's dining room, but then perhaps I shouldn't complain - it's not as ugly as the stubby phallic-style pendant light hanging in my kitchen. And neither are as bad as the paint job inflicted on my apartment - I was hours scraping paint off doorknobs, mirrors, ventilation grills - you name it. Also the previous owner seemed to think duct tape was a great way to fix anything. Home ownership = learning a lot of very practical skills very quickly. I'm now working on learning stained glass making, figuring I can thereby replace my horrible light fixtures with something really special and yet affordable.

My big regret is not taking "before" pictures - I'll definitely take a complete set the day I move into my next place.
posted by orange swan at 9:07 PM on October 23, 2003

crash: to clarify, i like ceiling fans too. It was the horrible old ones with lights that I took out. I replaced them with simple, groovy ceiling fans, doing what they're supposed to do. And floor and table lamps, doing what THEY're supposed to do.
posted by divrsional at 9:15 PM on October 23, 2003

My parents bought a fixer-upper 30 years ago for under $10K. It isn't yet done. My mother still remembers features promised by my dad that were never completed.

In the 70s it was fun to have ersatz furniture: telephone cable spool for a table; concrete block for a back porch. My dad even used a cast-iron tub for a backyard fountain. Maybe we're just all older.

I still remember the thirtysomething house. Every episode had a different part under construction.

Also, ceiling fans are particularly suited to high-ceilinged Victorian homes, especially when they no longer use natural air circulation for heating and cooling. But they shouldn't be sore thumbs, like the ones in the 'before' pictures.
posted by dhartung at 11:44 PM on October 23, 2003

The preservationist in me twitches when I see things like this complaint:
"External heating pipes. During the early part of the century when the heating system was added the only way to get heat to the second floor bedrooms was to run the pipes up the walls. During this time it was actually considered somewhat fashionable to show off your 'modern age' heating system.  But now they are just plain old ugly!"
on the same page as a remark about needing "historically correct hardware" for the windows. Do they only want "historically correct" if it's pretty, too? I agree that some of the things people liked 100 years ago don't look good to us today, but with a historic home I think we have the responsibility not to do any further damage that future owners will have to undo. The pipes are in the corner, anyway... I don't see any reason to hide them.
posted by litlnemo at 12:23 AM on October 24, 2003

Fair point, litlnemo, which occurred to me too, but these people have to live in this house, and the rescue work they're doing more than entitles them to add some touches of their own. How is it that different from changing the look of fireplaces, taking a single door back to the original double, etc.?

Also, if the house has been changed in piecemeal fashion over 110 years, which period is the 'historically correct' one? The heating pipe was added decades after the house was built, so if they're wanting to go back to Victorian style it's reasonable to remove it. Just as it would be reasonable for someone with different tastes to keep a mixture of features from different periods.

I was raised in a federation home (Australian term for late-Victorian/Edwardian) in a continuous state of renovation, so this is fun to see - thanks, Ufez.

I liked this: Most important is the time capsule. I always try to leave a little something future renovators to find if they open up the walls.
posted by rory at 2:26 AM on October 24, 2003

I thought the pipe was original to the house. Surely the radiators were original? But I could be wrong; I didn't go through the entire site since our net connection was slow tonight so the site was just loading too darned slowly. It's different if the pipe isn't original, of course.

Like I said -- "further damage that future owners will have to undo." Some of what they are doing is replacement of things that are not salvageable, and I think that's OK. If something can't be repaired and made livable you have to replace it. That's not "damage" as long as the repair job doesn't cause damage itself. (For example... if the bathroom sink isn't salvageable, then I think it's fine to put in just about any sink... a sink can always be replaced later with a more historically correct one. But, say, knocking out walls, replacing perfectly good old windows with vinyl, etc. -- that's something that actually damages the historic house.)

Of course it depends on your perspective. Should every old house be preserved strictly? I don't know; I just don't want to do anything that future owners will curse me for, like I curse the previous owners of our house for destroying the front windows by replacing them with two non-opening butt-ugly windows.

Good point about the continuous changes that such a house might have. Our 1911 house has a beautiful 1930s light fixture in the dining room. Even though we are restoring to 1911 the things we can, we aren't removing that fixture. It's historic as well, and isn't really jarring in the context of the room. But we removed the 1980s ceiling fan, and the pseudo-Colonial sconces... I suppose in 100 years people will gripe about the 1980s-vintage fixtures that were thrown out. :)

self-link if anyone wants more house pics to look at... you'll see what I meant about the windows.
posted by litlnemo at 5:47 AM on October 24, 2003

I think the point of their renovations (if such a thing exists) is that they are living in a Victorian home, and they like the Victorian aesthetic. They're not trying to do a "faithful" restoration that you can show off to children on fieldtrips. Where the Victorians lacked the right technology, they'll gladly accept a modern alternative (the heating pipes, for example), but want the style of renovations to be in keeping with the house itself. I see nothing wrong with that.

For instance, insulating the fuck out of the walls is a fantastic idea for sound and heating. Just because you're living in a relic doesn't mean you have to freeze your ass off like your great-grandparents did.

Also, I LOVE the wallpaper! Did you even check out the link to the manufacturer's website? They hand silkscreen those designs, and they're all authentically researched. Plus, the installation is perfect. Look at the corners! They actually match up the patterns with the corners! I'm impressed to all hell with his effort (sustaining that kind of effort over so long is just amazing), as well as his moxie (doing as much work as possible alone to reduce costs).

Websites like this give me hope; I don't know anything about putting down floors or installing tin ceilings, but I've always thought that I could probably learn given the time and reason (and patience). This couple is the same way: they didn't let their ignorance stop them from learning and then doing.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:55 AM on October 24, 2003

I know a couple who are doing a similar project in Massachusetts, and they are by no means millionaires. They've got a website similar to the House in Progress one -- it's here. There's a blogroll of other house diary-type sites, as well.
posted by acridrabbit at 8:31 AM on October 24, 2003

Yeah, the wallpaper is good Victorian style. It looks really loud to us now, but that's what they liked back in the day. But so were those pipes. ;)

I'm not that fussy, really... well, maybe I am. I can't help it; owning an old house can do this to you.
posted by litlnemo at 3:33 PM on October 24, 2003

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