How one home lured a buyer with its nostalgic cottage details
When Marie Michaud drove to work every day, the tiny green Craftsman-style cottage set amid the mature Australian silky oak tree always managed to catch her attention. The exterior was quaint, to be sure, but it was the enclosed porch that tugged at her heartstrings. Her grandmother had a porch just like it, down to the nine-paned glass windows.
Marie was renting a room from a homeowner just a few blocks down at the time. She had never owned a home before, and thoughts about buying weren’t yet on her mind.
“I was not sure I knew what I was looking for,” she says. “I wasn’t looking to find a historic house—or any house really. But one day the ‘for sale’ sign came up, and it was like fate. I realized there was no certain kind of house I was looking for, it was just this house.” She took a leap of faith, and seizing on the timing she became the proud owner of her very first home.
As charming as the outside appeared was as dilapidated as the interior was. The list of disconcerting issues read like a laundry list of home-improvement nightmares: 1940s electrical with cloth insulation that needed to be replaced; galvanized water piping that was just shy of being fully clogged; a rotten bathroom subfloor; peeling, worn and scratched linoleum floors; garage-style fluorescent lighting in the kitchen; poorly installed acoustic tile sub-ceilings and dingy carpet throughout. Marie decided to take two months to repair the major hazards before moving in.
“The first thing I said when I walked into the house through the kitchen for the first time was, ‘Oh my God, those lights have got to go,’ ” she recalls. “That was the very first thing I wanted to change, and it ended up being the last thing we did.”
For budget reasons, the kitchen overhaul had to wait. Marie’s new husband, Ron, was just the person to help keep the budget on the rest of the repairs down.
“We laugh when we retell the story of when I think she decided to marry me,” Ron says. “I was over at the house, and she had mentioned the bathroom toilet was leaking. I told her I could probably fix it. So I replaced a few parts, installed a new floor ring and resealed the joinery, and she looked at it and exclaimed, ‘Wow, you did fix it!’ I knew then I was a keeper.”
Ron and Marie replaced all the molding throughout the house to better match the home’s period. The cozy sofa and well-edited accessories help create the home’s casual, clutter-free style.
The couple that renovates together…
While this appears to be an original built-in bookcase, the area is actually comprised of two separate pieces: a desk set and cabinet. They were both obtained at a local flea market, refinished, repainted and—with the help of a carpenter friend—set into place and joined by a custom-built bench. The bench top lifts for additional storage.
Ron and Marie made their way around the house for the next year, tackling projects that brought the home closer and closer to comfortable—and safer—living. The major issues, such as rewiring and re-plumbing the whole house, were given to contractors. Ron and Marie spent their evenings after work and all day on the weekends fixing closet floors, painting, putting up shelves in the closets and changing out mismatched architectural features that were the result of bungled remodels that likely took place mid 1970s to ’80s.
“There were hardly any pieces of molding in the whole house that were the same—sometimes none in the same room,” Ron says. “The ceilings were either redone in awful, office-like acoustic tiles or popcorn. The bay window was refaced with wood veneer paneling.”
One by one, the couple took on an area at a time replacing the poorly done elements with something better suited to a 1919 home. Marie even enrolled in a woodworking class at the nearby adult school to help boost her skills and Ron honed his abilities with each project, building his tool collection and patiently reworking projects until they turned out just right. Marie would design certain features and Ron would execute her plans. Marie would spend tireless hours sanding old furniture and Ron would repaint or refinish them and slowly but steadily the duo began to beautify the space.
Marie stumbled upon a set of four vintage doors in the trash in a nearby alley. She lugged them home herself, stripped and repainted them, and used them throughout the house. The original glass knobs were dingy and paint smeared, however Marie stripped them by soaking them in vinegar for a few days and re-polishing them to look like new.
A Fly in the Ointment
While the house plans progressed as the months rolled by, the work wasn’t without its stalls. For one, though the couple interviewed seven different contractors before settling on one, they soon found that the person they hired didn’t understand period-sensitive renovations as well as they thought. The last straw was when they’d found out he had thrown out some period architectural pieces. They fired him even though he was in the middle of pulling the electrical through the walls throughout the entire house.
When the hardwood floors were revealed underneath the shabby carpeting, the couple hired a refinisher to sand and refresh floors; however, he soon informed them the floors had been sanded so many times they wouldn’t stand up to much more sanding. But because the couple has no children and a no-shoes policy in the house, they were able to get away with one last light sanding, and the floors should last them a few more years.
Ingenuity and Invention
At just 923 square feet (the detached garage is bigger than the house), Marie and Ron needed every inch of the two-bedroom, two-bath home to work for them. With a few clever tricks, Ron has modified certain features to work better for the small space and to help keep their period look in the interior. For one, he installed a push-button activated light in the closet. “It was originally a pull-string light, but the string kept breaking,” Ron says. “So I had an idea for something that would work this way, and went to Lowe’s and found someone who was able to help me order a product that would make it work.”
Tired of breaking the pull string on the closet, Ron devised a clever solution whereby the light was activated by the opening of the door.
The couple replaced the rotted subfloor in the bathroom and installed vintage-style hexagonal tiles. The sink was made by converting an antique table into a vanity sink.
In one of the bathrooms, the couple dismantled an oversized medicine cabinet that had been placed over the original recessed cabinets during one of the home’s past re-muddles. After they restored the cabinet they had the idea to install more recessed storage—this time using a framed stained glass artwork as a cover to disguise a small cabinet they carved into the studs in the wall, which hides more bathroom necessities. Small tricks like these have allowed the couple to maintain a look that is neat and clutter-free.
The stained glass wall art conceals a small medicine cabinet in the bathroom.
Enjoying the Results
The couple found this antique fixture at a local flea market for $40. It was later appraised at $200.
Five years later, the couple has weathered the storm of living in a home under a constant state of construction. They’ve gone from ducking below exposed pipes and beams, and doing the dishes by garden hose to shopping for finishing decorative touches and enjoying leisurely Sunday mornings reading the paper on the sunny front porch—the room that started it all.
“The whole idea of the house was to try to keep it era-specific; we wanted to create what could have been there in 1919,” Ron says. “We have a few more goals to hit, but we’re happy that when we look around we stayed true to that philosophy.”
By Jickie Torres
Photography by Mark Tanner
Styled by Hillary Black