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A favorite room is the parlor, where tufted white arm-chairs and a Victorian-style sofa practically beg guests to enjoy a cup of tea and good conversation.
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The curiosity cabinet’s top shelf displays artifacts the Shebaylos found during the renovation — antique nails, bottle caps and even a shoe from the turn of the century.
If you ask Tess and Dan Shebaylo what it cost to transform their 100-year-old Church Hill home from an unlivable shell to a highly personalized expression of themselves, they're likely to respond, "A year of our lives."
The couple had been searching for a house to rent in one of Richmond's historic neighborhoods. What they found instead was a number of structures for sale that were in dire need of attention. They started to wonder if the treasure at the end of their hunt wasn't a house to rent after all, but a home they could rebuild from the ground up, customizing along the way.
"We actually didn't end up doing what we started out to do," says Dan, an electrician by trade whose experience with construction originally gave him the idea that the couple could flip houses damaged by smoke or water — or simply decades of neglect. But soon after the Shebaylos took the plunge and began work on the first house, a three-bedroom Victorian on a spacious corner of Church Hill's Clay Street, their plans changed.
Dan found that he was putting much more time into each detail than his initial schedule allowed. Between jobs, he made projections based on his construction experience, but, despite working days, nights and weekends with Tess' help, the house just wasn't coming along as quickly as the two had hoped. They attribute part of the delay to a first-timer's learning curve, but it started to become clear as time went on that Tess and Dan were actually building a house for Tess and Dan.
"We never had a conversation about it," says Tess. "It just happened organically as we realized that since we were picking out things we liked, the house was becoming so very ‘us.' " From the ornate custom molding framing the doorways and windows, to Dan's handmade newel posts, to the new pine floor distressed and painstakingly stained jet black, the house was obviously turning into the dream home of two history-lovers with a fondness for the gothic.
They discovered that love makes this kind of work take twice as long as it should. Certainly the Shebaylos dealt with frustration along the way. It wasn't easy for Tess to leave a busy day working at Tumblr just to be faced with the seemingly insurmountable challenge of building a staircase from scratch. And Dan had to learn how to do time-consuming tasks like cutting and installing countertops in order to keep to their modest budget. Then, once the structure was in place, there were walls to be painted, appliances to be chosen and endless hardware options to sort through.
But the more they fell in love with the house, the more the little details became matters of great importance.
"I hate cutting corners," says Dan. "Everything I've done in this house has had no corners cut whatsoever." He proudly points out meticulous bathroom tilework, a distressed mantelpiece and a wall that he built to create a naturally lit dressing room. Tess sorted through their mutual accumulation of furniture from all over the vintage map, and together they made a commitment to stay within certain time frames. Now, their furniture pays homage to the French Revolutionary and Victorian eras with a couple of more rustic pieces thrown in.
Putting the whole of their lives into one specific project caused Tess and Dan to reassess their priorities. Once they had their perfect space — what next? "We've been trying to figure out how to contribute something meaningful, and since we're probably not going to cure cancer anytime soon, we decided we would focus our energies on opening this house up to our friends," Tess says. While the front porch is cozy with artfully mismatched benches and chairs, and the parlor is set up for good conversation with nary a television set in sight, it's the dining room that really showcases the couple's hospitality.
The light from the black-painted chandelier hanging over an expansive farm table (built from a 19th-century church altar by Staunton's Concepts Created) makes the red-stenciled walls glow and liquor decanters gleam. "I want you to be able to come in here, ask for a drink and get the drink you asked for," says Dan of his fully stocked bar, complete with beer on tap.
An inexhaustible supply of ideas makes the design process an ongoing one for the Shebaylos, who affectionately dub their house the "Good Ship." Dan's new historically minded renovation company, Porchlight Development, will use the knowledge the two gleaned from their own experience to help others with their homes. Perhaps soon there will be a fleet of Good Ships anchored in the city's historic areas — rundown houses restored by families (with Dan's help) who intend to live long, happy lives within their walls.