Instead, the porch was rebuilt in a more durable fashion. Porch posts that had been hollow, flimsy boxes of 1x lumber were replaced with 6×6 posts trimmed with 1x boards to replicate the original look. The replacement roof’s pitch was increased just enough to shed water more effectively without altering its appearance from the street. “We were only able to save one board from the entire porch,” says Jim. “There was one 6×6 floor joist that was still in perfect condition.” Before the porch was dismantled, he took measurements of the finish trim, which he replicated on the newly rebuilt porch.
The upstairs bath, which had galvanized screwed pipe that needed to be replaced, was one of the more challenging and rewarding jobs. In addition to updating the plumbing (“Our prior plumbing experience was minimal,” says Jim, “but I figured if you can solder one fitting successfully, why not a whole bathroom?”), Jim and Theresa also updated the layout to accommodate a full shower in addition to the existing clawfoot tub. “We evaluated many layouts,” Jim says, “but we settled on one where the shower is not visible from the doorway.” To accommodate the new shower without altering the footprint of the room, they switched out the clawfoot tub with a smaller one from downstairs.
“The bathroom was our design, our layout, and we did all the work,” Jim says proudly. “Plumbing was the most difficult—running pipe in places you’d rather not be, like under the house. And the work has to be perfect.”
Each room reflects Theresa’s love of antiques; the dining room holds two vintage family Singer sewing machines.
Most of the house had been rewired before they moved in, but the couple had a new breaker panel installed, upgrading it from 100 to 200 amp. They also added new outlets and lights. “When we rebuilt the porch, we put in 10 lights with dimmers, a ceiling fan, and about 15 outlets,” Jim says. “The outlets come in handy at Christmas and Halloween.”
Along the way, they’ve learned there are some things they just can’t do. “Don’t try to carry a clawfoot tub up the stairs by yourself,” Theresa offers as an example. “We realized halfway up the stairs how stupid it was, but we did get it to the bathroom.”
Aside from critical repairs—like the heating system and roof—that needed immediate attention, the Barnatts have stayed true to their plan to finish one room at a time. It helped not only to save their sanity, but also offered a refuge from rusted sinks and tattered walls. “We read Old-House Journal, and I pull pages, write on them, and put them in a file,” says Theresa. “We pull that file when we’re ready to do that item or room.” Today, most of the downstairs is finished, along with three second-story bedrooms.
Red cypress woodwork, still in its original condition, adds to the Victorian appeal, as do the many antiques. The home has become a repository for family treasures, including bedroom furniture, two Singer sewing machines, and the trunk Jim’s grandparents used on their trip from Eastern Europe to America. “We follow our instincts,” Theresa says. “Antiques work best, so we spend a lot of time at auctions and flea markets.”
While all seven former coal-burning fireplaces are inoperable, the different hues of brick add personality to the interior. Where mantels needed to be replaced (either due to termite damage or the ravages of time), Jim built new ones: a double-tiered wood mantel now graces the living room; in the master bedroom, a custom-designed mantel includes an enclosure for the television.
Jim also covered the master-bedroom hearth with designer tiles that mimic stained glass, which is a particular obsession for the Barnatts. Decorative windows add a stunning focal point to the stairwell, bathrooms, and even fireplaces.
This stained glass window, bought at auction, provided incentive to restore the bathroom.
Jim manages the analytical side of the restoration. Each project is meticulously planned—including how much money needs to be saved before they can move to the next project. “I keep telling her every time she goes to an auction, she’s knocking off another couple of months before we start the kitchen remodeling,” Jim jokes.
Although a good chunk of the house is complete, there are still plenty of projects on the Barnatts’ list. The all-white kitchen, which has had little restoration, is next on the drawing board. Jim and Theresa plan to open it up to the sunny enclosed porch where they enjoy most of their meals, and add a bevy of new features (such as a commercial range and an extra sink) on Theresa’s wish list. “The challenge will be to make the kitchen look like it was always part of the original house,” says Jim.
They also want to update the master bedroom (currently the smallest room in the house) into a suite that will incorporate two unfinished rooms, a master closet (right now, just a plywood clothes rack), and the upstairs sunroom, which gets loads of natural light.
“You never finish,” says Theresa, shaking her head and smiling. “By the time we get to the bottom of the list, we have to come back to the top,” adds Jim. “But when we look back at pictures, we get a true feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.”