A few months ago, while visiting Tucson, Arizona, I had the chance to photograph my brother Tom’s home. It’s a sweet little bungalow, built in 1915, in an architectural style reminiscent of the Craftsman bungalows that are so common in Seattle. Tom bought the house in 1994, for $32,000. At that time, it had been a rental property for decades, and was largely in a state of disrepair.
Over the course of the next 20 years, Tom gradually renovated his house. With spectacular results! It feels new in all the ways you’d want a house to feel new, yet at the same time, the original character of this century-old house is fully present. It is both modernized and historically intact. Not a bad combination. I recently asked Tom to tell me about the house and the renovation.
‘It's a 101-year-old one-story bungalow. The particular style is ‘California bungalow’. A lot of the residential architecture in Arizona is derived from California styles of architecture. In typical bungalow fashion, the front door opens into the living room. Two doors lead from the living room to each of the two bedrooms, with the home’s single bathroom connecting the two bedrooms. When I bought the house, nothing had been done to it except lots of bad paint jobs and rolled roofing.’
Tom estimates that he did about 70% of the work himself, and subcontracted about 30%. ‘I did what I’m good at, and let others do what they’re good at. For example, I subbed out the fine brush paint work. I did the roller work, but I’m no good at the brush work. All of the sub-contractors that I worked with, by the way, were one-person shows.’
‘The built-ins in the living room are original. All of the hardware in the house – on the doors, the windows, the built-ins – is original as well. I removed it all, stripped off the many layers of paint, and clear-coated it with a clear sealer. All of the windows are the original double-hung windows. I disassembled them and re-tied all the window weights (4-lb or 10-lb weights, depending on the window size), using nylon cord to replace the original cords. I then restored the window frames and reinstalled the windows. There was some glass breakage, so a handful of the panes had to be replaced.'
'The trim throughout the house was all saved and restored. The trim around the doors and windows, the baseboard, and the picture rail trim (which is hung at 8 feet; the ceilings are 9 feet 3 inches) is all the original wood trim. It required a massive amount of sanding and spackling. A 6-foot section might have 40 different spackle repairs. The house had seen some very hard wear over the years.’
‘The original floors were fir. But they were too damaged to repair, so I laid new red-oak flooring. I laid it myself, over the existing fir floor, running it cross-directionally, for strength. Laying the floors throughout the whole house took 40-50 hours. The installation itself was easy, but doing the refinishing work was a whole other thing…I didn’t want to re-invent that wheel, so I paid a sub to refinish the floors.’
(To be continued next week...)