Restoring an Old Home to its Former Grandeur

Before and After Sequences

BEFORE This home was the ugly duckling in the neighborhood...all cement and peeling enamel exterior (!) paint, '70's era aluminum windows
BEFORE This home was the ugly duckling in the neighborhood...all cement and peeling enamel exterior (!) paint, '70's era aluminum windows
Beautiful now, clean and shiny with a cute little garden.  We found the original windows, repaired them and installed
Beautiful now, clean and shiny with a cute little garden. We found the original windows, repaired them and installed
I love natural wood but this was in horrible condition.   It felt dark and depressing
I love natural wood but this was in horrible condition. It felt dark and depressing
Partial view.  We found columns at "Urban Ore" in S.F. Bay Area..to replace the ones which were obviously there originally
Partial view. We found columns at "Urban Ore" in S.F. Bay Area..to replace the ones which were obviously there originally
We found period lighting to replace the '60's, '70's travesty that was there.
We found period lighting to replace the '60's, '70's travesty that was there.
View into bath - removed wall separating the "mud room" from the original bath to double the size of the bathroom
View into bath - removed wall separating the "mud room" from the original bath to double the size of the bathroom
Bath afterwards
Bath afterwards
Another view of bath "during"
Another view of bath "during"
Another view
Another view
Kitchen stove/corner before
Kitchen stove/corner before
Baking bread in the restored kitchen.  This is where I stay when I return to Napa to care for my obligations.
Baking bread in the restored kitchen. This is where I stay when I return to Napa to care for my obligations.
Wedgewood stove - works perfectly
Wedgewood stove - works perfectly
Back of house before the deck
Back of house before the deck
View of back of house with deck and reclaimed railing
View of back of house with deck and reclaimed railing
Back deck with reclaimed railing from several sources
Back deck with reclaimed railing from several sources
Working on the original paned front windows before installation
Working on the original paned front windows before installation
Entry way before
Entry way before
Entry way after
Entry way after
Another view of the bath
Another view of the bath
I thought I'd turn this home into a B&B so I decorated with that in mind
I thought I'd turn this home into a B&B so I decorated with that in mind

From a Beast to a Beauty - Saving an Old Home

Applying "Shabby Chic," Personal Style to an old Victorian Home 

I have always loved turn of the century, Victorian homes. With beautiful detail, and attention to every aspect of design, these gorgeous structures always turn my head and take my breath away. I swear I was born to the wrong century. I so appreciate the intricacies and craftsmanship which is clearly apparent in the painstakingly delicate work displayed in homes of the Victorian, Italianate, Tudor (and more) era.

I have always, since childhood, lived in contemporary homes. Ranch style, mainly. While I appreciate this, I have found myself fantasizing about living in a big, spacious and beautifully appointed “grand lady.” Because of this, I began to buy furniture from that time; settees, chairs, hand hooked rugs, beds, dressers, and more; all the fabulously fashioned furnishing which compliments the time.’

So, I found myself living in a 1950’s ranch style home in Napa, California; one which I had tried to design resembling my preferred style. This home, which I have owned since 1986, began to look more and more like my beloved Victorian style; with the pieces I’d been collecting replacing the existing décor. To add to the image, I raised the ceilings and added 15 light French doors, vintage ceiling fans, pull chain ‘water closets’ and clawfoot tub. I had my contractor cut spaces in the peaks of the raised ceilings so that the leaded glass windows I’d purchased at auctions and yard sales could be placed there. The effect actually worked to those who were not “purists” (which included me) and I felt pretty happy with the results.

Then, one day, a friend told me of an older home in downtown Napa which had come on the market. I went to look at it and saw that, indeed, it was a smaller Victorian with very high ceilings (something I love) and original cabinetry in the kitchen and dining room. The sash windows worked perfectly with old glass that looked as if it was melting (from age) and a large kitchen, living room and really sweet sun room - entry way. I also noted that the home needed lots of work inside and out. The plus was that it was a smaller home so that I would not find myself overwhelmed with all the expense and time I knew it would take to make the place really nice. Another good thing was that the outside, though a Victorian, was not as detailed with gingerbread as most. Considering all the work I realized the place required, this was a plus as I would not have to spend that much more time and money restoring the typically delicate, intricate decorations of most Victorians. The nice surprise about this small home turned out to be the large rooms, open feeling and high ceilings as well as the wonderful solid wood construction inside and out.

Well, I made an offer. Now, here is the crazy part. The house had been on and off the market for over a year with no viable offers. All that time, I learned, it was available and no one came forward. So, just when I decided to go ahead and enter into negotiations; another bidder appeared! A serious buyer! Oh NO! By now, after several weeks of thinking about it and talking with my realtor, and finally deciding that I wanted it; a competitor threatened my dreams of owning that old house.

After some back and forth and counter offers and availability of immediate funding, I won the “war,” and the home was mine! First thing that happened is that ‘buyers’ remorse’ set in. I thought; “oh no! what have I done NOW!?!”

This didn’t last long, though! I began to ‘see’ the possibilities of this pretty place.

First of all, I began with the outside. The home needed a new roof so I hired a good friend to do this and had him also add a dormer. It added to the overall appearance and served as a vent during the hot months of summer.

The old paint was crackling, buckling, bubbling and chipping. There must have been 5 layers of horrible colors; all showing through here and there. The former workers had not scraped or sanded before adding yet another layer of paint, so it was pretty bad. I knew a wonderful man who did fabulous work; very proud and capable and so I called him and we agreed on a price and start time. Over several months, he and an employee actually took the entire outside of that home down to bare wood. He covered the house with huge sheets of plastic to avoid dust and contamination of the neighboring properties, and hand scraped/sanded everything. The wood, redwood (native to N. Ca.), was beautiful. Redwood is resistant to termites, dry rot and mold/mildew so, there were no minor or major problems. It had held up beautifully. I drove around Napa looking at similar homes and the colors the owners had chosen for their homes. I decided upon a pale yellow with bright white trim. It turned out perfectly! As my friend continued to apply paint, after a good primer. I was incredibly pleased with this color combination because it accentuated the beauty of the wood and made the home seem bright and clean.

Next, my friend Al and I began to deal with the inside of the home. When first touring inside, I lifted icky rugs and old linoleum to find 4 inch and 6 inch vertical fir flooring. It was in pretty bad shape. We decided to throw out the ugly rugs, peel off the crackling linoleum and expose the flooring which was covered over with layers of paint, black tar like glue and the edges had nail down carpet strips with dozens and dozens of tiny, sharp nails sticking up to hold the carpet in place. Boy! We had our work cut out for us.

For the next 2-3 months, the two of us worked every day the flooring in 5 rooms;( two bedrooms, living, dining rooms and kitchen). We hand scraped the oily tar substance off, then the paint. This was really hard! Some days, we’d work for 6-8 hours and only have uncovered a square yard of flooring. We had to be very careful so that we didn’t gouge the floor or cause splintering.

After removing most of the paint and goop, we rented two kinds of sanders; a ‘drum sander,’ and a ‘finish’ sander. The drum sander was a riot! This one was really big and strong. When I first turned it on, it made a mad dash across the room and into the wall! I had to wrestle that thing with all my strength just to keep it going in the right direction. Drum sanders are for the heavier sanding; going with the grain so as to not make scratches and scrapes. We had to do all 5 rooms this way! After this, we used the finish sander, a big square vibrating monster that does corners and edges. It wasn’t nearly as tough as the drum sander but, still, a battle as well.

Of course, I did everything “bass ackwards,” as we hadn’t filled, sanded and painted the walls and every room needed it. So, of course, we plunged ahead with this part of the job. It was pretty easy as the house was in pretty good condition overall except for the terrible decorating job done by owners past.

Following the floor and paint restoration, I decided that the dark wood around the windows, doors and baseboard had to be painted. This was going to be difficult because these had been ‘painted’ with varnish! Sticky, thick and gooey, it did not sand well at all. So, once again, we found ourselves hand scraping and then sanding all the woodwork. Usually, I would not paint natural wood but, the wood had been damaged to such an extent and had been done so poorly before that our sanding it to bare wood revealed tons of scarring, gouging, holes, splintering and more so, we filled all these and then proceeded to paint. The outcome turned out better than I had hoped…fresh and bright.

I decided to tear out a ‘70’s style ugly small bath off the kitchen and turn it back into the pantry I am sure it originally was. Also, an old ‘70’s style electric stove in the kitchen was replaced with a beautifully maintained Wedgewood with 4 burners and a fire heated 2 burner cooking surface. Of course I kept the pretty cabinets with glass doors and the sink situated in its own little nook. Four inch dovetail woodwork graces all 4 walls of the kitchen. In wonderful condition, I choose to keep it! Painted a pale yellow with white trim, the kitchen is reminiscent of times past.

I decided to enlarge the other bath which was probably the only one when the house was built. Out came the linoleum, sink and toilet to be replaced with a working pull chain toilet, claw foot tub, oval vintage sink. When we enlarged this bath, we included part of the mud room in the back part of the house which had the original paned windlows the north and west walls. These brightened the bath. We used reclaimed wood we found online which matched the original wood and successfully extended the flooring.

We used sledge hammers and broke out the cement in front of the home; apparently the former owners didn’t want to do any gardening. The yard is quite small and reminds me of many of the boutique gardens of homes in San Francisco. Even with such small spaces, people created beautiful, lush flowering beds with small evergreens and rock formations. So, I wanted to do the same with the front yard. It took a while but we were able to remove all of it to make room for green growing things.

The garage doors that must have been there when the home was first built were gone but, luckily, I found t he perfect period replacements at a garage sale nearby. They fit wonderfully but had a few dry rot problems so we cut off the bad parts, found appropriate replacement wood and drilled dowel holes to fit the pieces together, bought dowels at the local Home Depot, cut them to size, glued into the drilled holes and reconstructed the doors to their former size. We hung them and they work perfectly.

I have to admit, one of my favorite things is “deconstruction!” I love tearing ugly stuff down and replacing it with pretty stuff! But, decorating this home was the most fun for me though, Since I had a stockpile of vintage and antique things, I found there was more than enough to complete the picture!

Well, I’ve gone on long enough. I’ll let the pictures continue

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Comments 16 comments

We Save Cats profile image

We Save Cats 5 years ago from SE Kansas

We did good, kid!


Amy Becherer profile image

Amy Becherer 5 years ago from St. Louis, MO

Pure magnificence. That lucky house is now your home, Lucky Cats! You are not afraid of anything, including tackling a project filled with the unknown and hard work. I loved reading your descriptive endeavor and I love your pictures of light infused rooms. I live in an old structure called The Art Deco building, a 2-bedroom space with original, dark hardwood floors, high ceilings and gorgeous architectural elements. I also decorate with antiques, that make my place "so me". I have my childhood wood and steel Lightning Glider sled standing in a corner with a pair of genuine antique ice-skates. I, too, enjoy making my space mine. I live on a modest, budget, but the fun is in the hunt and I am in love with my creation. Thanks for sharing your beautiful sense of style and the satisfaction of accomplishing one of your dreams.


JY3502 profile image

JY3502 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

I had to live in a very old log cabin when I was real little. I guess I wasn't born with a silver spoon in my mouth like you cat people. (I'm just jealous Lucky.) he he


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

.......quite amazing what one can do with a lot of imagination, hard work and dare I say - a bit of money!

This is the best home improvement hub I`ve seen since Martha Stewart and Ty Pennington tried to figure out what to do with my cottage!


vietnamvet68 profile image

vietnamvet68 5 years ago from New York State

By looking at the pictures, you did a beautiful job. I used to love redoing old houses, but now these old bones are not up to the task. Great hub and love your house. God Bless my friend


Lucky Cats profile image

Lucky Cats 5 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California Author

Amy, thank you for your comment! "The fun is in the hunt...." YES! Most of the things I buy come from garage sales, yard, rummage sales and auctions. It's a challenge to find that great, unique thing in the most odd places. I bet your home is really cool, too. Full of memories and individuality! EMan, thank you! I have such fun doing this kind of thing...my second favorite thing in all the world. JY...I bet your log cabin was really cute and, anyplace we hang our hat is our home! VNV we sure had fun doing this house and two others that we restored...my best friend Al and me. I'm trying to find more pictures of other projects along w/more of this one...I realize that I haven't included so much...Thank you everyone!


whitton profile image

whitton 5 years ago

Great Hub. I really like your before and after photos, nice job!! Its amazing what you can turn something into and give it a whole new look!


Lucky Cats profile image

Lucky Cats 5 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California Author

Whitton, thank you! Yes, it's fun and challenging to work on these projects. I'm so glad you like the "B&A's"...I have many more pictures I plan to include in upcoming hubs about old home restoration.


mary615 profile image

mary615 5 years ago from Florida

Your Hub was on my Hub's "related Hubs". I'm glad I found this. You and I could talk forever about restoration. I absolutely love your house, and I admire the work you put into it. I understand completely. I say my house is built on "blood, sweat, and tears. I wore out 3 belt sanders on the wood in my old house. When you have time, check out my Hubs on how I moved and restored a house that was built in 1900. I think people like us are in the minority now a days. Everybody likes new and modern....not me. Glad I found you.


Lucky Cats profile image

Lucky Cats 5 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California Author

Hi Mary615! I am so glad you enjoyed this hub. I agree with your comment 100%. Restoring old homes is a passion I've enjoyed greatly. Discovering hidden "secrets" which have been closed over and sealed up is always thrilling, seeing the beauty of wood come to life; gorgeous flooring, covered with years of abuse, suddenly shining and glorious again! These are so satisfying to me. We keep detailed photo records of all that we've done over the years. We just sold another of the homes we worked so hard on...an 1885 beauty which had been reduced to a 1970'2 eyesore...we tore all of that out and gave the home a renewed pride. I am just finding time, again, to revisit HP after a necessary absence...I promise to visit your hubs! Thank you so much for your great and encouraging commebnt! Kathy


Derdriu 4 years ago

Lucky Cats, The "before" look of the concrete "front yard" and dispiriting entryway really look inviting and lush in the "after" photos.

Me too, I prefer the unadorned look of wood, but not when it's been so gouged, scarred and splintered!

Your house has an airy, friendly, light look, and I particularly love the bathroom (claw-footed tub!) and kitchen as well as the back deck with the wide planks and white furniture and railings.

Respectfully, and with many thanks for sharing and with Congratulations on the transformation, Derdriu


Lucky Cats profile image

Lucky Cats 4 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California Author

Derdriu, thank you for visiting this hub. I thoroughly enjoyed the labor of love required to change this ugly duckling into a pretty home. Just recently, my friend, Richard, and I, completed work on the front, lower entryway. It's been a challenging as well as learning experience. I appreciate your visit and thoughtful comment! Kathy


Mr Archer profile image

Mr Archer 4 years ago from Missouri

I think my wife and you would get along great! She loves these old homes, as well. We bought an 1886 Victorian in Nevada, Mo. in 2003. We were the fourth owners of it, if you can believe that. We lived there a couple of years, until my job moved us. It was a magnificient place, 3000 sq ft of room for our 5 kids, and just gorgeous. It had a detached "Summer Kitchen" that housed some cool old artifact, and a below ground level hearth. Every time we go out driving, she looks at these homes and sighs. They are her dream homes.


Lucky Cats profile image

Lucky Cats 4 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California Author

hello Mr. Archer! Yes, I believe it true; if your dear wife loves old homes and keeping them according to period, I KNOW we would love sharing our stories about the lovely sructures we've had the pleasure of owning. This is the Napa home...the one I mentioned to you in another hub...I have better photos of the front and dining rooms but, alas, I just cannot find them...if/when I do; I'll add them to this hub. Thank you for following these restoration hubs! Kathy


moonlake profile image

moonlake 4 years ago from America

Just beautiful. I love old homes. They have so much room. My granddaughter owned a huge old house in town. It was so pretty with five bedrooms or more. Here the problem is they have to be made winter ready and that is so expensive. Vote up on your interesting hub.


Lucky Cats profile image

Lucky Cats 4 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California Author

hi moonlake! yes, we are in total agreement! You are right, preparing a home for winter is tough...the home in this picture is very winter ready as 1) it is located just N. of San Francisco so, the weather is very temperate; never snows, no ice (well once in a blue moon), and rarely below 33. However, I have an old farmhouse in SE Kansas where the temps. can dip 10 - 15 below 0...and even more, sometimes. Yes...it is VERY expensive keeping that old place warm...w/a fire place, wood burner AND heat...still, brrrrrr....

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