March 14, 2013

‘Abused’ century-old house needed overhaul

Contractor and architect teamed up to turn shingle-clad dwelling into comfortable family home

GRANIA LITWIN
Victoria Times Colonist

This house had a bad case of the shingles when Joan and Robert bought it seven years ago. It was painful to look at. Asphalt roofing shingles had been tacked onto the walls of the century-old southern Vancouver Island house, a common beautification strategy in the 1930s and 1940s, and they were crumbling and falling apart. “The whole exterior was covered and it was pretty ugly,” recalled contractor Tim Schauerte, who said the home’s interior wasn’t much better. Architect Brian Morris concurred, saying it looked as if the house had been “abused.”

But today, the family home has a new look, inside and out, and the transformation is so attractive and appropriate to the original era that it won gold at the 2012 CARE Awards, in the renovation and restoration category. Owners Joan and Robert (who asked that we publish only their middle names) were able to look past the damage and see the possibilities in the rundown property, which boasted a lovely Oak Bay location and had a large backyard.

It had been converted into a duplex — one suite up, one down — and for the first few years after they bought it, the young couple lived on the main floor and rented out the upstairs. Once they started a family and decided it was time to renovate, they called Schauerte and Morris. Their aim was to restore the home to its former glory as a 3,500-square-foot single-family house and, while they were at it, to expand the upper floor to accommodate three children and a large master bedroom.

“When the house was divided into two, the stairway wall and banister were buried,” said Schauerte, who specializes in restoring older homes. One of the first things he did was reclaim that area, which opened up attractive view lines through the middle of the house, enhanced by a large new skylight at the top of the stairs and a much more open kitchen. “We very much like the arts-and-crafts style and wanted to retain as many of the original features as possible,” said Joan, who noted that upstairs, they took the rooms down to the studs.

“Our builder, Tim, really cares about the character of an older home and tried to be true to the era, whether adding wooden shingles on the outside, interior mouldings or replicating what was here before. He is a really good communicator and was always readily available.” Massive improvements were made to the home’s energy efficiency and, for their efforts, the owners received a grant from the ecoEnergy Retrofit program. “We received close to $5,500 and the energy rating went from a seven before the renovation to a 76 after,” out of a possible score of 100.

Removing an old chimney gave them the freedom to redesign a large portion of the main floor. A large, full bathroom was torn out and a new, smaller powder room built away from the kitchen, with extra storage behind it, accessed from the den. Incorporating a former sun porch into the kitchen enabled them to create a large, bright dining area and even more storage. The owners were able to reuse the cabinets, but decided to collect them all on one side of the kitchen, using the opposite wall for a large coat closet. Now they enjoy a large kitchen island and spacious seating area with french doors opening on to a new deck.

They found fir under the kitchen lino, but there were large gaps in the flooring because they had removed two walls and expanded the eating area. So matching planks were scavenged from upstairs, under what had previously been wall-to-wall carpet, Schauerte said. By raising the back roof and rebuilding most of the back wall, he was able to add a large dormer and dramatically increase the second storey’s living space, since low and sloping ceilings had previously restricted the rooms.

“We put in a big beam and lifted the roof, adding about four extra usable feet to all the backrooms. We blitzed it all out, added new flooring, but recycling all the doors. “We also opened up the stairs and added more headroom at the top, because people were much shorter 100 years ago. “We reshuffled and reused as much as possible,” he said, noting the dining room was kept intact, “but we reworked it by installing another set of pocket doors between it and the kitchen, to match those leading to the front room. People had much bigger formal dining rooms a century ago, but we wanted it to function for the way people live now.”

The two little girls’ bedroom, a former sleeping porch, was reconfigured and given more light through additional windows, but the owners stayed with wood because it is in keeping with the rest of the house. “Yes, it costs more, but it makes the difference between a house that looks like a hodgepodge and something special and original,” Schauerte said. “Some renos, you look at and swear there must have been five different people working on it — but not this one,” said the general contractor, who explained his crew did all the demolition, construction, finishing work “and everything in between,” except electrical and plumbing.

Architect Brian Morris was happy they were able to squeeze in a fourth bedroom on the second storey and add a big skylight over the stairs. “These older houses [can be] pretty dark inside, and by adding the skylight, we brought light into two levels as it washes down the wall. We also added more windows across the back, where previously there had just been one.” He said another big success was creating an enclosed area under the original back porch and using the same footprint to create a large exercise room for a treadmill and rowing machine.

“It freed up space for living rooms, and kept that use separate from the rest of the house, while also creating a playroom for the kids.” The space is accessed from outside the house, “because it didn’t make sense to cut open the foundation, and also that area was where we needed to bring the sewer line down and across.” Morris said it was a project that required a lot of imagination and vision.

“I would have to give a lot of credit to the owners, because most people wouldn’t take this on. When they bought the house, it almost looked as if it had been abused. It was very neglected. Alterations had not been done with quality materials or craftsmanship. We saw things like windows that were two small for the openings, and the gaps filled with spray foam that was left exposed.

“In several places, two-inch-diameter holes had been drilled into the siding, as if they were thinking about bringing in gas at some point, but just left it like that.” Morris said he and the builder have worked together before on such houses. “Tim is meticulous. He has a background in this kind of thing, and a personality that can handle it. These are not easy jobs for contractors. The bones of the house were still there and good, but you had to look past the neglect to really see the original house. It was very interesting and challenging.”

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