Before a preview tour earlier this month could highlight a restoration-ready Victorian cottage, the property needed serious prep work. So down came the leaning shed and several view-blocking treelets. Tidied was the overgrown yard. Cleared was the crawl space below the structure. And up went a new wooden fence.
The 1895 vintage home then opened up for preservationists and others curious about the pending transformation particulars – or the painstaking process to achieve them.
Located on a corner of Sabine and Shearn streets in the High First Ward’s Historic District, the faded-but-surprisingly sound structure will be another project – number 13 – by FW Heritage’s Dominic Yap and Lin Chong, who specialize in respectful restorations of older and historic properties. Several of their projects have earned recognition from Preservation Houston. Their Woodland Heights home is a 2017 recipient of a Good Brick Award; they are among those to be honored at the organization’s 2017 Cornerstone Dinner on March 3.
While proud of that recognition for previous work, the couple is looking forward to the project ahead, expected to take six or seven months. Despite its age, the home has had few owners and few updates from its original condition and floor plan.
To find an older property with intact elements is unusual, Chong said. To find one almost entirely intact is “a Mission Impossible. It’s wonderful. It’s shocking.”
And it’s enticing. “Every home is different. Every home is special. Every home has a history,” she said. “The house will always tell us the story if our eyes and ears are open enough to see and hear what it’s telling us.”
FW Heritage materials attribute the home’s origins to Frederick Cornelius Bammel and wife Caroline (Carrie), who lived in it until her death in 1938 and his in 1944. Other Bammel brothers also built in the area, which is considered one of Houston’s early neighborhoods.
Among the outstanding features awaiting the project team was the ornate front door. Brightly painted and accented by colored glass, the door’s Eastlake-style woodwork carries unusual etched details that ring a bit Bavarian.
Tall, wide windows and oversized doors capped by transoms helped air circulation long before slight modifications for a few a/c window units.
Since woodwork throughout most of the home hasn’t been layered in decades of paint, trim detailing runs deep, said project architect David Jefferies of Grayform Architecture.
Despite a sagging front porch, the gingerbread trim, railings and finials are intact, as are sturdy wainscoting in the entry hall and fretwork above an archway’s portiere rod that indicates an old time transition between the more public and private parts of the home.
The renovators had opened up small sections of walls and ceilings to assess what lies beneath or above, so previewers could see a few early alterations to the floor plan. A kitchen update, possibly back between the World Wars, left evidence of an earlier window and a pair of back doors, and hinted at an attic fire long ago.
Eons ago, the back of the home gained a laundry room addition or revamped porch (or perhaps both). Other tweaks converted the butler’s pantry into the bathroom and retrofit a wall of closets between the two original bedrooms, previously linked by a door.
Jefferies said the project ahead will keep what’s solid and what’s special, particularly at the front of the house, and replace sections of the home that were not original (and haven’t fared as well). The new floor plan repurposes some of the original rooms toward the back to accommodate a master suite, bathrooms and kitchen.
Given the home’s location in a historic district, its street-facing front and side elevations cannot not be altered, he said. Ultimately, the footprint will end up about the same. Ditto the size: 1,751 square feet.
Working within historic property guidelines is not a problem. Chong said. Yap was part of a group that spearheaded the district’s designation and guidelines.
CLASS IN SESSION
One family on the tour mentioned their efforts on a similar renovation over in the Fifth Ward. As they checked out what such an effort might entail or encounter, they also challenged their children to notice different features, wonder what prompted changes indicated by altered trim, note construction techniques and consider an earlier lifestyle.
FW Heritagers do that as well in their restoration work, which seeks “to respect what was but also have function for today,” Chong said.
But there is a race against time for older properties to save in the First Ward, she said, since the area has passed the tipping point of re-development.
Although “knockdowns are everywhere,” she said, there are also restoration opportunities. Don’t underestimate what can be accomplished “with love, vision and tons of elbow grease.”
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