Richard Day knew that restoring a 1916 Tudor Revival home to its original glory wouldn't be easy, especially when it had been carved up into a boardinghouse. But he and his wife, Rosemary Bourne, were willing to try.
With two small boys in tow, the former Woodland Heights residents often circled this Forest Hill neighborhood gem by car. Then, in January 2004, the "For Sale" sign went up. They closed on the house that July. "It was completely uninhabitable, says Day, a mortgage lender. "But we had watched it for so long. We just couldn't pass up the opportunity."
Structurally, the 4,100-square-foot house was sound. "The story is that a couple bought the house in 1979 but then got divorced, so the woman took in boarders to make the mortgage payments," Day says. "It has five bedrooms, and there were five boarders. You can still see where there were padlocks on some of the doors to rooms that were off limits."
When Day and Bourne bought the house, there was a 5-by-6 area on the living room ceiling that was stained and falling down. The downstairs bathroom floor was falling into the basement below. The house had impractical hot water radiators that had to be replaced. There was an octagon-shaped medallion made of plywood that held up the entrance hall chandelier, and the kitchen featured an island made of plywood and unpainted bead-board paneling, complete with a Formica top. A hole had been cut in the wall to fit the refrigerator, and the washer and dryer were right in the middle of it all. The laundry list of problems goes on. But the house had quite a few positives.
From the front, the stucco house is almost perfectly symmetrical. The front door has a transom above it and is flanked by a pair of paned windows. This pattern is echoed on the second floor with a centrally located pair of French doors. Typical of an English Tudor, the house has exposed wooden framing on the second story, which the couple plans to paint brown in order to emphasis the half-timbering. There is a wraparound porch, sun porch and upstairs sleeping porch. There are eight working fireplaces, six in mint condition, and a working counterweighted elevator installed by J.A.Umlauf
"J.A. Umlauf built a number of elevators in the Richmond area including at the Jefferson Hotel and the University of Richmond," Day says. "This may be the only working Umlauf elevator in a private residence left in Richmond."
After beginning the process for state and city historic tax credits, an extensive restoration began. The couple took a nearly century-old house and made it energy efficient in every way they could without sacrificing the historical integrity of the structure.
Old Home, New Twists
Day and Bourne began with the items one can't see. They insulated the home's entire perimeter and put in all new electrical and plumbing systems. Marty Felps, president of Delta Temp Inc., installed a WaterFurnace geothermal heating and cooling system. The system uses the earth's temperature as a starting point to heat or cool the house. "The earth's temperature is a constant 60 degrees," Felps says. "It's easier to take 60 degrees [Fahrenheit] and heat to 68 degrees than it is to take 30-degree air and heat to 68." Installing the system consisted of digging two, 250-foot trenches in the yard and placing 6,000 feet of piping underground around the perimeter of the house. Day says his energy bill would be about twice as much without this system.
Dixon Kerr, a Richmond-based contractor, took on the task of window restoration. Every double-hung window was taken out and reglazed. New brass pulleys and chains were added so that the windows easily open and close. Swedish-made weather-stripping was added for energy conservation." A lot of modern products made for old houses seem to be coming out of Sweden these days," Kerr says. "I also used Speedheater, an infrared paint stripping tool from Sweden, to take off the old paint and glaze. Traditionally, heat is used to do that, but it can crack the glass." The result is beautifully restored and practical old windows.
Kerr is still replacing hardware on some of the more challenging windows. The upstairs sleeping porch and the sun porch are enclosed with wooden multi-pane casements. "The casement windows all needed sash adjusters, surface bolts and locking mechanisms," Kerr says. "I found most of the old hardware at Caravati's [in Richmond] or from Crown City Hardware on the West Coast."
The family also had the home's energy efficiency rated by Conservation Strategies, an energy contractor that also works with Elder Homes. It tested highly energy efficient, even without storm windows.
A Blank Canvas
The interior of the house was left intact as much as possible, however necessary repairs were made to the living room ceiling and downstairs bathroom floor. A family room wall was knocked down and replaced with columns for support and aesthetics. The original wall dated the interior. It had contained three small cutouts added in the 1970s "This was the only structural change we made to the house," Day says.
Because the home had been made into a boardinghouse, it had no remnants of a design style to work around. The boys' upstairs bathroom remained untouched because it had been updated in the 1980s. But the other two bathrooms were gutted, as was the kitchen.
The couple drew the kitchen layout themselves based on pictures they had seen in magazines. Shaker cabinets are painted white, appliances are stainless steel and the island bar is honed granite. The old hardwood floor was replaced with new.
Though having the washer and dryer in the kitchen was odd, they didn't see any alternative space for the appliances, so their contractor built and installed cabinetry to hide them within the space.
Fireplaces were also refurbished as needed. While shopping in Baltimore, the couple found a wooden mantel with stained-glass cabinet doors for their family room — the hub of the home, which is outfitted with overstuffed furniture, an entertainment system and shelves of books. But the mantel didn't quite fit the oversized fireplace. Kerr happened to have a 100-year-old piece of brown oak that matched the mantel perfectly and used it to fill the gap.
Many of the lighting fixtures are original to the house. Bourne found art deco sconces at an antique fair for her bathroom sink, but she hasn't found complementary ones for Day's sink yet. Because the bathroom is small compared with today's mega-baths, Day found sinks modeled after English maid's sinks at Home Depot. They sit on opposite walls.
Ready for Its Close-up
After 10 months of restoration, the family moved into their Tudor in April 2005. They opened their home for the Forest Hill Neighborhood Association's "Country in the City" house tour this April and proudly showed off the house's many unusual features. And through a stroke of good luck, they had vintage photos to show their guests, thanks to a Realtor who came calling.
In October 2004, a Realtor knocked on the door with photos of the house in the early 1900s. An out-of-town client of the Realtor had inquired about the house, knowing it once belonged to her grandparents. She knew it was in Richmond, but didn't know much else about the property. It took some time, but he eventually found the house on the South Side.
When the Realtor knocked on the door to ask how much Richard and Rosemary would sell the house for, the answer was simple: It's not for sale.