Lessons in restoring a Craftsman
Kristen and John McPherson knew it was the one. The couple got as far as the front door and knew they had found their dream home: a 1926...
The Seattle Times
Kristen and John McPherson knew it was the one.
The couple got as far as the front door and knew they had found their dream home: a 1926 classic Craftsman in historic downtown Snohomish.
"It was a gut instinct," John McPherson said of the house the couple bought in 2002. "It had this incredible comfortable feel," she added.
Finding the two-story home with a basement on the corner of Avenue F, in earshot of Snohomish High School, was the result of a thorough search for an old home that the couple could restore.
An affinity for things of the past — the couple are, fittingly, history teachers — and the desire to find a house with character and a story behind it drew them to Snohomish, a bucolic town revered for its antiques shops and beautifully constructed old homes.
"We loved Snohomish," Kristen McPherson recalled. "During a drive through town we said, 'We're going to live in one of these houses one day.' "
With the purchase of the home, the couple understood they were about to embark on new experiences as nascent, do-it-yourself restorers.
Here are some places around the Puget Sound popular with Snohomish residents restoring their homes:
• The RE Store: With stores in Ballard and Bellingham, the nonprofit RE Store specializes in sustainable practices and used building materials at discount prices. For more information, visit www.re-store.org. To contact the Ballard store, call 206-297-9119; Bellingham: 360-647-5921.
• Seattle Building Salvage: This is a popular go-to place for DIY home renovation projects. With stores in Everett and Seattle, it specializes in pre-1940 fixtures and miscellaneous "house parts" from doors and windows to bath fixtures and hardware. Shoppers can also purchase items online at www.seattlebuildingsalvage.com. To contact the Everett store, call 425-303-8500; Seattle: 206-381-3453.
• Old and Elegant Distributing: Located on Main Street in Bellevue, it sells cabinet knobs and pulls, door hardware, sinks and faucets and more. For more information, visit www.oldandelegant.com or call 425-455-4660.
• Home improvement stores: Lowe's and Home Depot carry a range of antique-inspired faucets, fixtures, lighting, even paints that create an old-home feel. Both chain stores also regularly offer how-to clinics on renovation projects, from installing wood flooring to placing crown molding. For locations, visit www.lowes.com or www.homedepot.com.
Before selecting paint or refinishing floors, the McPhersons did what most history buffs-cum-teachers would do: homework.
With no prior experience with restoration, they began researching the provenance of the home to get a sense of the period. They learned the house was built in 1926 by Joe Aprill, who taught at the high school.
Through newspaper articles and photographs, the couple got a feel of the home in its original state. A Sears catalog from the mid-1920s generated ideas for interior design and decor.
The home was sturdy and livable when the McPhersons bought it, and mostly in need of cosmetic work.
"It was the victim of neglect," John McPherson said.
Snohomish Old Homes Group
The couple got restoration ideas and tips through friends and neighbors, many of whom are members of the Snohomish Old Homes Group, a collective of Snohomish homeowners who meet socially every month to network and discuss their restoration projects.
Keith and Windsor Vest started the Old Homes Group in 1993 as new homeowners in town. As the Vests went about restoring their own house, built in 1887, they wanted to meet their neighbors and collaborate on ways to fix up these old homes.
At that time, they knew eight couples in the area and invited them over to talk shop.
"Everyone was working on their house and everyone had some skills to contribute — one person knew plumbing, one was especially talented at wallpaper hanging," Windsor said.
She said they all pitched in and helped each other and shared resources as they found them.
"It grew quickly and became something of a welcome group for newcomers living in old houses in Snohomish," she said.
The Snohomish Old Homes Group is now 65 households strong. There are no members dues, and the group is open to those who own homes in Snohomish built no later than 1950.
For John and Kristen McPherson, it helped to connect with other homeowners to get a feel for the nuances of restoration and to learn different ways to approach projects.
It wasn't long before they knew the best places for antiques; where to get a deal on salvaged house parts, such as door knobs and lighting fixtures; and practical restoration tips like how to remove paint or refinish floors in homes that require a careful hand.
Room by room
From the outset, the McPhersons set out a plan to tackle restoration projects room by room and make necessary upgrades without seriously compromising the integrity and charm of the house.
Working with a budget meant careful planning to prioritize which rooms to renovate.
And with plans for a family — they have a 3-month-old daughter — the couple knew they would eventually add on to the home.
Here's a look at a few of the rooms that underwent significant renovations:
Bathrooms: The first room to get a makeover was the bathroom. They painted, put down vinyl flooring, laid tile for the back splash in the shower and installed a new sink.
The McPhersons transformed what was originally a small bedroom, before the addition, into a spacious bathroom with cheerful yellow walls, vintage-inspired framed prints and refinished wood floors.
The warm color scheme and floors blend well with the rest of the rooms.
Kitchen: Though nearly complete, the renovations to the kitchen are still in progress. The couple retained the integrity of the space, keeping the cozy and charming breakfast nook with built-in seating intact.
They whitewashed the cupboards, painted the walls, installed a new sink and tile counter top as well as new vinyl flooring.
The renovation will wrap with the installation of a dishwasher and custom-made lower cabinets.
Master bedroom and family room: Earlier this year, they finished adding a master bedroom and family room to the house.
While the McPhersons did most of the restoration work themselves on the rest of the home, they hired contractors to build the addition.
The result is seamless. The family room abuts the kitchen, and the master bedroom is done in color schemes and with wood floors that blend beautifully with the other rooms.
Educational with a few surprises
These do-it-yourselfers found the nuts and bolts of home restoration educational.
"We had no idea about the salvage world," Kristen McPherson said.
But they also found it unpredictable. One of the couple's main challenges during the months of renovating was finding the walls of the bathroom lined in cement.
They also picked their projects carefully.
"We look at restoration as a capital investment in our house," John McPherson said. "We're very pragmatic that it is going to add worth to the home."
The couple advises others taking on home restoration to first:
• Determine the scope of the project.
• Consider hiring out certain jobs, such as plumbing and electrical.
• Be mindful of a budget — and realistic that it will likely run over.
• And know your objective.
"Do you want your home to be a museum, or do you want to live in it?" Kristen McPherson said. "We're not trying to do a museum."
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