Updated: Aug 18, 2019
The renovation was off to a smooth start. Unfortunately, there wasn't much to save and preserve. We kept what we could: Doors with 5+ layers of lead paint, original glasswork in the windows, hardware, and miscellaneous woodwork. Like many older homes, updates were made throughout the years. In addition to this, the home's knob and tube wiring had caused a fire many years prior. Parts of the first floor were burned, so a significant amount of the original features were replaced with things like vinyl windows and linoleum... Womp womp. The original hardwoods were soaked with pet urine. After many treatments and refinishing attempts, we came to terms with the fact that the floors weren't salvageable. That was a hard pill to swallow.
We received our permits and the demo and framing began. My design wheels started turning thanks to the blank template and disappearing urine smell (although, I must say that it was months before it disappeared for good). All was well.
Beginning an Uphill Battle:
The biggest challenge we faced revealed itself at an early stage. As our contractors began to rip the vinyl off of the exterior of the home, we discovered the original cedar siding.
Vinyl Siding Original Cedar Siding
Hooray! Although the picture isn't necessarily pretty, we were excited about the potential and idea of restoring the home's original siding. Unfortunately, the feeling was temporary. It didn't take long until one of our contractors almost fell through the side of the house while pulling off the vinyl siding. The original cedar siding was so dry-rotted that his ladder punctured a large hole into the side of the house. We quickly hired professionals to assess the status of the remaining siding to see what we could save. They reported that the vinyl siding, that was installed over the cedar siding, was installed incorrectly and had incapsulated ongoing moisture for the past 30+ years. This created dry rot and mold. Well, there goes that idea... The siding had to be replaced. Again, another hard pill to swallow.
A Historic Headache
The issues continued to reveal themselves. Our contractors had pulled off the majority of the original siding when a friendly neighbor called: "You know you need approvals to pull off original siding, right?" Uhm, What? Apparently, you can't do anything to the exterior of a historic home without additional approvals through the city... Whoops. Although we knew the home was historic when we bought it, we didn't understand what that truly meant. After all, our past experience was centered around newer homes.
Long story short, we were a bit late to discover that the city had additional rules and guidelines on historic home preservation. There was a significant learning curve for all of us and we quickly found out that these additional required plans were not your typical builder permits. Not only did we have to recruit and meet with a new architect who specialized in historic homes, but we also attended meetings with the neighborhood's historic district design review board. When we were finally done with the plans, it was time to submit them to the city. Just to give you an idea- The plans and documents ended up being more than 20 pages long... So kudos to our amazing architect. The plans were finally submitted... Let the waiting commence.
From start to finish, the historic approval process took approximately 5 months. Five additional months that we hadn't planned for. Since we were unable to add the new cedar siding before we received the approvals, our home was exposed to the unpredictable Portland weather... For a long time. With no siding or windows, we also couldn't get started on the inside either... Wonderful.
Little did we know, this was just the beginning. Like all renovations, this one came with it's fair share of headaches and surprises along the way. When we purchased the home, we naively thought that we'd be living in it 6 months later. With connections in the "builder world", how hard could it be? Well, six months came and went and our house still didn't have electricity. There were some really low moments throughout the process. I can recall the times when we were even convinced that the house would remain vacant until the market took a downturn again. After all, coming across reliable contractors was another obstacle we'd face.
Aside from the historic challenges that arose, I'm not even sure that I can accurately determine how many contractors walked off the job soon after starting. We lost track. At a time where new construction is poppin', the last thing contractors want to do is work on a house that needed this much specialized work and attention. Preserving doors and other features of the house was a headache for them... New construction was easier. On the flip side, most companies who specialized in historic homes were far too expensive. It was a lose lose situation. We openly admitted to our buyer's regret to our friends and family. There was even a time when my mom, the optimistic home lover who finds the silver lining in all situations, had to come to terms with the reality.
It's easy to reflect and appreciate all of it 17 months later. Our family has been moved in for 2 months, we're enjoying the summer, and our baby girl is on cloud nine. I laugh at the fact that we took on a complete historic renovation one month before having our first child. I mean... Really? What were we thinking? I'm forever grateful for the guidance that both of my parents provided us in the process. Their knowledge, connections and support ultimately got us through.
Stay tuned for more details on our renovation and subscribe at the bottom of the page.