In October of 2010, my brother and I invested in a two-family home located in The Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. The home, originally built in 1900, was neglected by its owners and tenants and in terrible condition when we closed the deal.
Dirt and grime covered the doors and trim. Holes were in the walls. Broken windows had been repaired with duct tape. Mold had spread on the bathroom ceilings. Hardwood floors were stained and discolored. Walking into the house for the first time, I wondered how people could live in these conditions.
Over the course of seven months, and with the help of craftsmen, family, and friends, we deconstructed and restored the property.
This following photos are the result of hard work and patience.
The front doors had been covered in a layer of dirt giving them a dark color and rough texture. I spent a weekend hand scraping and sanding the dirt from one of the unit's doors until the surface was smooth once again. After filling the nicks and dents with filler, applying a coat of primer, and then three coats of paint, the door looked like new.
Also note the dirt stains on trim (left), a consistent problem throughout the house. It took a thorough cleaning and repainting to restore all the trim. The walls in the entry, stairwell, and upstairs hall are painted an off-white. Just enough contrast for the trim to pop (right).
The living rooms of each unit were in fair conditions, relatively speaking. There were sections of the wall where paint and wallpaper were chipped and peeling (instead of removing the wallpaper, the previous owners painted over it). We had spent many of the initial weekends steaming and scraping the existing wallpaper from both units. After completing this tedious task, we decided never to put wallpaper on the walls again. Ever.
One of the living room's ceilings was unrepairable, so we had to tear it down and start over. Our contractor put together the new ceiling which added character to the room (top right).
Once again, note the stains and dirt on the walls and trim (bottom left). A result of neglect by the owners.
There were hardwood floors throughout the house, though, like everything else, they were in rough shape. We hired a sander to come in, sand, and re-coat the floors. In just a few days, the floors went from dull and dirty to warm and bright.
One of the living room's had water damage from a leaking radiator upstairs (left photo, center of photo). After scraping the wallpaper from the wall, patching the damage, and replacing a ceiling tile, the problem was fixed.
All ceilings, walls, and trim were repainted in both unit's living rooms. The walls were painted a neutral light-beige color.
Like the living rooms, the adjoining dining room needed new paint on the ceilings, walls, and trim.
Again, more wallpaper (top left). We counted two layers while scraping in the dining room.
There was good natural light in both units. Something we aimed to keep when doing reconstruction. The old sash-weight windows were replaced with new, energy efficient windows. Hello, tax credit!
When we purchased the house, the kitchen had a walk-in pantry (top upper-left, bottom upper-left). We decided to tear it out, which both opened up the kitchen and let more natural light into the work area. Turns out smashing walls with a hammer is a great way to relieve stress. I highly recommend it.
The vinyl floor, which had already started to peel (bottom lower-left) was torn up and replaced with tile. We did the removal of the old floor on a weekend and our contractor handled the tiling during the week. New cabinets, countertops, and appliances were also installed by our contractor.
Going upstairs leads us to each unit's bathroom and three bedrooms...
A good indicator of just how dirty the house was is the ghosts left behind by the missing picture frames in the stairwell (left).
It took an entire afternoon for our contractor, my father, and I to build the banister in one of the units. Measure, cut, drill, level. Repeat 18 times. My brother finished things off with some staining and a coat of polyurethane. Many hours were spent on this small feature of the house but we were happy with the result.
By far the worst rooms in the house were the bathrooms. They had never been cleaned. Surface mold covered the ceiling (top left) and floor under the bathtub (middle left). The condition of the toilet and area around the toilet (bottom left) was vile.
My brother and I removed everything from the bathrooms (tub, sink, toilets, ceiling, walls, and floor) and completely started over...
... One of our goals was to keep or enhance the natural light throughout the home, but due to the small size of the bathrooms (roughly 8x8), we decided to block the windows. To maximize space, our contractor constructed a built-in shelf (top right) and we installed radiant heat flooring under the tile. A great feature, especially in the cold New England winters.
Each unit has three bedrooms (two regular and one master). When we bought the property, each one had its own unique character. Some had been spray painted (top upper-left). Some had holes in the plaster walls (top lower-left). Some had water damage in the ceiling (bottom lower-left)
We removed the sections of the wall with holes in it and our contractor put up new drywall. He also built a new ceiling in one of the bedrooms (bottom lower-right).
All bedroom ceilings, walls, closets, and trim were repainted. In one of the units, we had to paint all eleven of the original doors due their poor condition. This was a time-consuming task but allowed us to keep the original solid wood panel doors.
...though I'm in favor of letting your kids express themselves artistically, this seemed like it went a little too far...
One of the unit's master bedroom wall was completely torn apart (top lower-left). The other master bedroom (bottom left) was in much better shape and only required repainting of the ceiling, walls, closet, and trim.
Though the process was long and hard, it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Not many people can say they rebuilt a house with their own hands and I was lucky enough to share the experience with my family and friends.
Thank you to everyone who helped save this house.
(Additional photos are available on Flickr.)