Meet The Fixer-Uppers Restoring This 1928 Farmhouse in Hickory, North Carolina
In 2010, when Katherine Mull and her husband, Stuart, were newlyweds in their mid-twenties, they began the search for their first home in Hickory, North Carolina, a town of just over 40,000 people east of Asheville. On his lunch breaks, Stuart drove around town, lingering whenever he saw properties for sale.
Down a dead-end street near his office, he came across a farmhouse built in 1928. It was snow white with a whimsically steep and generous roof, and the two remaining shutters were embellished with half-moon cutouts. He loved the lot, its huge front yard secluded and shaded by massive old oak trees.
"It wasn't in great condition," says Katherine. But they'd recently been students living in dorms or makeshift apartments. "By our standards at the time, it was move-in ready!" she says.
When the Mulls put in their offer to the only family who'd ever owned the farmhouse, they included a letter stating that they wanted to restore it. And they kept their word. Young and inexperienced, they spent four years teaching themselves the ropes so they could work on the house in the evenings and on most weekends.
"All the plumbing and lighting was original; the bathrooms were original or close to it," Katherine says. "Every room needed something, and most needed everything." The Mulls had the floors professionally refinished before they moved in, but they did much of the rest of the work themselves.
They fixed the living room ceiling where there was a hole from a plumbing leak and resurfaced the hearth of an existing fireplace with Carrara marble. They installed new crown molding and baseboards, painted, and created a bathroom.
"I tiled the floor, having read DIY blogs," says Katherine, who worked for a historic foundation at the time. "Or I'd watch a YouTube tutorial. I thought, ‘These people are doing it, and they're not contractors!' I'm not trained, but I look at design magazines, books, and blogs. I know what I like." Stuart, a CPA, put up a beaded-board wainscot and installed new toilets and sinks.
The Mulls hired a contractor to complete the more challenging work, including revamping the electrical and plumbing systems. By 2017, they'd had two children and found a bigger, older home, so they sold the 2,315-square-foot farmhouse to another young couple. The Mulls understood at that point that while they worked hard on a house, it worked on them as well.
"We realized that we have such love and passion for older homes," says Katherine. "That wasn't the case before. And now I can't imagine moving into an older home where all the work has been done. We enjoy being part of the creative process, even if we hire out the work."
The couple who bought it—Molly Gross (an attorney) and her husband, Jonathan (a physician assistant), who are 28 and 29 respectively—are just as smitten by it as the Mulls and plan to continue renovating. They decided that for them, it's important to live in a house for a year or two before making substantive changes.
"There are all sorts of things that need redoing, including a giant crack in the plaster ceiling of our bedroom," she says. "But the kitchen is where we will start. We don't even have a dishwasher. We have a 1950s stove—with a pie oven."
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The pie oven is only one of the house's many quirks—all part of its charm, according to Molly. The kitchen cabinets, for instance, are lined with a foxhunting-themed wallpaper that probably hasn't been changed in 40 years. And after a year living in the house, they realize it's official: Their bedroom door will not close all the way in any weather.
"Almost all of our keys are skeleton keys. There's a season when the whole house is full of ladybugs. Two squirrels fell down the chimney, making our dog insane, and we had quite a time getting them out. We've had all these interesting, happy discoveries and events. It's kind of like getting to know somebody," says Molly.
"I'm a lawyer, not a designer or an architect," she says. Molly is now pregnant with her first child and plans to hire professionals to make careful improvements. "I feel like we are stewards of our home, and I want to make sure everything is done in a way that honors the house. I plan to be here my whole life, but I don't think I'll be the last owner. It has a place in the history of this neighborhood and this town," she says.