Home & Garden: Yesterday's charm, today's conveniences
Remodeled St. Mary Street house offers the best of both worlds
Stroll along the 600 block of St. Mary Street in Pleasanton and it might be the year 1910. In one stretch on the north side of the street is a row of homes built shortly after 1900.
Teri and John Banholzer, the owners of 653 St. Mary St., recently received the first Historic Preservation Award from Museum On Main for reconstructing their home to maintain the character of the neighborhood.
The Banholzers knew from the time they rented a 1915 bungalow on Second Street that they wanted to buy and restore a historic home.
"We looked at several houses on Second Street but the market was crazy then," recalled John.
Finally in 2000 they bought the house on St. Mary Street, which was built in 1906.
"It needed lots and lots of work," John said. "It was a rental property for close to 50 years and hadn't been well cared for. But we saw the potential, being in the midst of six turn-of-the-century houses right in a row."
The house was 1,300 square feet, but the quarter-acre lot meant it had room for a 700-square-foot addition plus a generous back yard.
"It wasn't as large and detailed as the other houses on the street," John explained. "It was a typical pretty simple turn-of-the-century house with two bedrooms, one bath. We added a second bath and a bigger kitchen -- we reformatted the back of the house."
They knew the house needed all new electrical and plumbing and rented a place to live around the corner on Pleasanton Avenue while they worked on the renovations. But when they started work, the project turned out to be much bigger than they'd thought.
"It didn't have gutters, and there was dry rot everywhere," John said. "It needed a whole new foundation."
They hired Pleasanton architect Charles Huff, who specializes in historic buildings, and contractor Bruce Trestrail.
"He shared my attention to detail," said John. "We worked really well together. He made it happen."
The house had a chimney but not a fireplace. They built a fireplace in the living room, constructing the mantle of the fireplace from redwood salvaged from the house.
"We raised the pitch of the roof and had to take all of the rafters off the roof," John recalled. "They were 100-year-old Douglas fir. We took that down and built the table in the kitchen. It's really a big farm table. It helps with the period look of the house."
They enlarged the porch to wrap around the side and meet the dining room with another door, in addition to the front door that opens into an entryway. Both doors were salvaged from older homes, and the front porch is made of tongue and groove from their own house.
"We were careful about reusing materials to reconstruct things," said John. "I couldn't stand to throw away any of that stuff."
They moved the original claw-foot bathtub into the master bathroom, and used one-inch octagonal black and white tiles in both bathrooms in keeping with the period.
The original home had a bedroom on either side of the bathroom, in "Jack-and-Jill style," but the Banholzers added a hallway, built at an angle, so each room could open off of it.
"The best remnant of the house is the original floor," John noted. "There is Douglas fir flooring throughout the house, except for one bathroom."
They added bay windows to the front spare room, which is used as a playroom, and the kitchen. The home has an unfinished second story with the staircase opening off the home's entryway.
The 10-foot ceilings also give the home its historic charm, John pointed out, and they added three-piece crown molding along the top. They also kept the old-fashioned wooden windows.
"I hand-painted 32 window sashes with a brush," John recalled. "Things took awhile but you don't get the look I wanted taking shortcuts."
The addition includes an expansive kitchen opening off a dining room that was the old kitchen.
Teri noted that they tried hard to match the old wooden floor in the former kitchen with that of the new kitchen.
"We left it out in the rain and everything," she remembered with a laugh.
She said it was her job to create the 1906 look in the new kitchen, which has all the modern conveniences. She worked with Crown Point Cabinetry, a specialist in New Hampshire.
"I sent the dimensions and pictures to the designer," Teri said, and the contractor reported that the cabinets came back a perfect fit.
The cabinetry is on legs, called furniture style, finished with milk paint for the historic off-white look. The kitchen has soapstone counters, and a farmhouse sink with an apron front.
By Thanksgiving 2001 the house was in good enough shape for the Banholzers to move in. Their daughter Sarah, now 8, was born the next February.
"When we moved in none of the landscaping was done," John recalled. "We put in the front lawn first."
A raised brick patio opens off the kitchen, with stairs leading to a lower patio with a built-in barbecue/kitchen. A smaller brick patio opens off the master bedroom.
"We laid about 10,000 bricks -- patios, walkways, driveways," John said, explaining that he collected them from old buildings and factories. "I was obsessive. I had multiple sources, and culled a few here and there."
The yard is a mixture of large old trees -- Monterey pine, Italian stone pine -- and copious plants with lawns in front and back.
"We took the approach of planting densely -- it's survival of the fittest," said John. "We built a garage, and it is period-detailed as well."
A long driveway has two brick runners that flank a planted center with elderberry ground cover, ivies and ornamental strawberries. It leads down the side of the house to the garage, which is outfitted with carriage doors. A loquat tree provides shade.
The Banholzers consulted with Robert Schweitzer from Eastern Michigan University, author of "Bungalow Colors: Exteriors," in picking the house's color, bunglehouse gray.
"I wanted to make sure we got just the right look," John said. "We've probably had 50 people knock on the door and ask the color."
Teri and John both grew up in bland houses, he said, she in Stockton and he in Kansas. As a teenager, he visited his sister in St. Louis, who lived in a house built in 1902.
"I started to pick up on different things," he recalled. "I actually used some of my memories of molding and trim in our house here."
Now the Banholzers enjoy living in the home and neighborhood plus they like their neighbors and the proximity to downtown.
"There aren't a whole lot of old homes in Pleasanton so people who have them are protective," John said. "We get the best compliments from our neighbors."
"The cool thing," he added, "is we had a vision and it really turned out."