The Secrets to Renovation Success in Older Southern Homes
Young people are generally buzzing with energy and enthusiasm. Still, it’s rare to watch them fall in love with dilapidated historic houses and willingly take on the hard work, uncertain expense, and ongoing babying these old structures require. (How much easier is it to find a home or condo that’s up to snuff and go on living life without endless DIY projects hanging over one’s head?) Three couples and one single man, who are all under 40, encountered neglected old houses that stopped them in their tracks, activated their imaginations, and captured their hearts. Despite choruses of naysayers, they persisted. Demonstrating bravery, resolve, flexibility, good humor, and impressive constitutions, they all tackled saving these imperiled houses, which otherwise might have been lost. Not one hired an architect. Instead, they used their brains, got their hands dirty, and tested their limits. Those who hired skilled laborers did so mostly for tasks that were truly beyond them. In the process,
they learned just how much can be achieved through willpower and vision. In casting their lots with soulful old architecture where the past coexists with the present, they found their true homes.
The Family Steward
At the age of 22, Sidney Collins Freeman decided to restore her family’s 1832 mansion. Filled with childhood memories, she wasn’t ready to give up on the house she grew up in.
The Historic Preservationist
When Ian Crawford found his forever home in 2016, the 1840s Greek Revival mansion needed a lot of work. While the almost 5,000 square feet of projects might deter some, Ian was willing to roll up his sleeves and get to work.
The Farmhouse Fixer Uppers
As newlyweds, Katherine and Stuart Mull bought their first house in 2010. It happened to be a 1928 farmhouse that was almost all original and needed a lot of work to be updated. After seven years, they had outgrown the house and found the perfect young couple to continue their work.
Research, Research, Research
“You can find a tutorial for pretty much anything on YouTube, but they can get pretty long. My favorite place to find them is actually younghouselove.com,” says Katherine. Ian recommends the “How-To” section of oldhouseonline.com. Even if you don’t intend to do the hands-on work yourself, it’s always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the subject matter.
Know Your Limits
All agree to leave any sort of electrical, plumbing, and foundation work to the experts. You can end up doing more harm than good. Ian strongly recommends leaving gutter repairs to the pros too. “One mistake and you can cause a bigger water problem than you were attempting to solve,” he says. That’s good advice for anyone, particularly those living in a frame house.
Do Your Own Demo
Stock up on sledgehammers and crowbars, because you can really save a mint if you’re willing to do the dirty work yourself. “It’s also helpful because you learn how your house is constructed,” says Ian. “Before you take down any walls, check with a professional to be sure they aren’t structurally important,” cautions Sidney.
Patch, Paint, and Pressure Wash
Looking to study your home’s architectural details more closely and appraise the paint condition? Ian recommends pressure washing it yourself and then tackling as much painting as you can safely do. He also handled as many roof patches as he could. “I was able to stop any ongoing leaks immediately, and I got to know all the quirks of my roof,” he says. Similarly, Sidney sand-blasted years and years of old paint off her home’s tin ceilings and woodwork before she repainted them.
Yes, You Can Do Carpentry
Sidney did a lot of her own floor refinishing. “I watched a tutorial online (howtosandafloor.com) to learn which
supplies to get, but really it was mostly a trial and error process of figuring it out,” she says. Katherine and Stuart installed all of their beaded board, shiplap, and board-and-batten themselves. Ian tackled his own millwork (including sanding and repairing all the moldings and door surrounds throughout his house) and even enlisted a kind friend to rebuild all the fences on his property.
Know Where To Shop for an Older House
Finding pieces that match a historic home’s character is like searching for a needle in a haystack—unless you have these renovators’ favorite websites at your fingertips.
For window and door hardware:
“Van Dyke’s Restorers has pretty much anything you could need,” says Sidney. Ian vouches for House of Antique Hardware for everything from doorknobs to skeleton key replacements.
For plumbing fixtures:
“Signature Hardware offers a curated range of sinks and faucets,” says Katherine.
“Now there are affordable period-looking items, particularly at Schoolhouse Electric & Supply Co., Pottery Barn, and even Lowe’s or The Home Depot,” says Katherine.