Following Preservation Guidelines

Three families go in on a renovation, gaining knowledge and finding success as they adopt preservation guidelines.

This is the story of a real-estate flip—our first. It has been financially successful, but even better, it rescued a 1910 house headed for demolition while adding curb appeal to the whole street. It all started with a group email from Jason to Garrett and me: “Hey Guys, I work with a realtor, Linda Tracy–Ryburn, who lists a lot of houses in the Oklahoma City Historic District. She’s looking for renovated houses to sell. I think we ought to go in together, buy this house, and sell it. Linda says it’s a great deal!”

The original pine siding was replicated where necessary. Wood doors (inside and out) were custom-made in styles popular in 1910. A small lumberyard 50 miles away ordered custom-sized, double-hung wood windows virtually identical to the originals.

Jason Qualls of QProPhoto

I opened the email attachment and looked at the pictures. My first thought was, “Is this a joke?” The place was a dump; it didn’t need renovation, it needed a bulldozer!

Then again, I trust my friends. Jason is a professional real-estate photographer (his company is QProPhoto). Garrett, a disabled veteran, is a high-school history teacher. I’m an insurance agent. We three and our wives have been friends for over 20 years. Among us, we have eight kids under the age of 13. Garrett, who also started out skeptical, agreed with me that we should at least entertain Jason’s proposal. We visited the house.

Yep, it was a dump. It had been a college rental for over 50 years. It had a tacky, 1980s home-store kitchen. The bathroom had blood splatters on the tub and tile surround. (The listing terminology stated “possible biohazard.”) The house was in poor shape, having devolved into a drug den.

Flat bungalow-era trim was saved or replicated inside.

Jason Qualls of QProPhoto

Once we got over the initial scare, though, we started to realize some things. The house was structurally sound, on a good-size lot with a large backyard, and it had quaint lines. At 1500 square feet inside, it was a decent size; with minor changes to the floor plan, it could be a roomy 3 BR/2 bath residence. It was the worst house on a street with several nicely renovated homes: the area was headed in the right direction. The school district is good. I noticed parents walking their kids to school and pushing strollers, as well as young professionals out taking their run. Just a block over, a vibrant commercial area was sprouting restaurants and sidewalk cafés.

A Brief Scare

It seemed our perspective had changed. With our agent’s guidance, we put in a successful bid. Since the house is in the Oklahoma City Historic Preservation District, we knew we had guidelines to follow, but we were eager to get to work. We gutted the sorry interior to the studs. One morning we found a brightly colored NOTICE on the front window, informing us that we were “in violation of historical guidelines” and that we were to cease all work. It knocked the wind out of our sails. Garrett was out of school for the summer and thus nominated to go talk to the preservation committee.

The street facade, before and after a renovation done under stringent Oklahoma City Historic District guidelines. The Craftsman-style entry door was custom-made locally. The grey body color is Peppercorn by Sherwin–Williams.

Jason Qualls of QProPhoto

Apprehension soon turned to relief. We met Angela Yetter and Katie Friddle of OKC Historic Preservation—two superwomen with a passion for historic neighborhoods. They were very professional and helpful, walking us through the guidelines and explaining what the end goals were. I give them and the volunteer committees so much credit: Thanks to their tireless efforts, the Historic District is beautiful, a time-warp area of well-kept homes.

We stopped renovations to make detailed drawings, adding product descriptions and various lists, all to have us placed on the agenda to get Board approval. Yes, the guidelines were strict, but they helped us think differently. Only because of such diligence does this district look so good. Box-store vinyl siding and windows were not acceptable. The exterior had to be restored using period-appropriate materials. For renovations inside, however, there were few restrictions.

Brush-painted cabinets and stainless steel appliances create a transitional new kitchen. 

Jason Qualls of QProPhoto

Not much was left of the original 1910 interior. By now, though, we realized we were appealing to an urban, high-tech clientele (this area is five minutes from the state Capitol, five minutes from city center, and five minutes from a huge hospital complex). We found ourselves interpreting period style even inside.

The farmhouse-style cabinets were hand-painted, and that’s white pine used as window and door trim. The floors are wood, not laminate.

With “our family” extended to great tradespeople, we finished the work in seven months.

Would we do it again? You bet! We suffered frustration, but we learned a lot, and we had fun. Looking at the before and after photos, we’re proud of the outcome. I hope this story will inspire OHJ readers.


semi-custom historical all-wood TH Rogers Lumber Co.

semi-custom solid maple Cabinet Outlet, Oklahoma City

oak Hearne Hardwoods

VinLuz Lighting
Schonbek Lighting
Both sold at

Décor Living through

interior and exterior Eider White SW 7014 and Peppercorn SW 7674

Natalie Konan, Eclectic Avenue Styling

Tags: historic renovation OHJ September 2019

Product of the Week

© Copyright 2023 Home Group, a division of Active Interest Media. All Rights Reserved.

2143 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50312