When the Millers bought this house, the ornament was gone and the porch enclosed.
The Millers on their front porch.
“We bought an old house in 1975 because it was all we could afford,” Dan Miller wrote to OHJ. He and Pat tell us that the local librarian let them in on a new publication called The Old-House Journal. Soon Dan was writing for OHJ, back in the newsletter days.
The Millers have restored at least four of their own homes: a tiny Queen Anne cottage with a gingerbread porch, a three-unit brick Victorian, an Italianate with a carriage house, and another Victorian with Gothic Revival and Italianate elements. As active members of the Gifford Park Association in Elgin, Illinois—since 1979—they have volunteered in the rehabilitation of many problem properties in town.
In Dan’s words:
1. We bought this house, affordable at $29,500, in 1975, and spent four years doing a historically sensitive rehab. We noticed there were marks on the porch suggesting details that had been there. We wanted to put them back, so we studied other old-house porches to find details that would match our marks. Thus began our 40-year love affair with Victorian porches. The mistakes I made on house #1 could have given me a doctorate from the school of hard knocks. My experience and reading OHJ allowed me to do better work on subsequent properties.
2. This is the second project, 1979 through 1986, a three-unit property. We did not live here, but rented it as an investment. We spent seven years doing a historically sensitive rehabilitation, including building new porches based on existing (rotted) elements. My wife, Pat, chose the colors and we did the painting. No longer dark brown, the details now showed; passersby would yell compliments or honk their horns. See the saga on YouTube
3. In 1986 we bought our dream house, at the time owned by a slumlord. It has amazing interior details; we sold our two properties to buy this one, then spent 12 years restoring it. We did 99% of the work ourselves.
4. Finally, the house next door was a two-unit and always had too many people, too many cars, and too many kids. When it was foreclosed upon, we decided to buy it to improve the quality of our lives. We spent four years rehabbing it, doing everything except the plumbing (because the city wouldn’t allow it). Being retired we were able to spend all day, every day there. Pat designed the porch and I made the parts for it. We were extremely honored to have Old-House Journal feature the porch project.
See OHJ’s coverage of the Italianate porch project:
See more Miller porch projects:
Reynolds has been working on the 1916 English Storybook Cottage for six years.
Serial Restorers: Mark Reynolds, Detroit, Michigan
I’m currently working on house number four!
1. First came an American Foursquare in Kansas City, which I fixed up ca. 1982. I repaired bad plaster, painted, and installed a new kitchen. My mom sent me a gift subscription to OHJ then and I’ve subscribed ever since.
2. Next came a 1918 Dutch Colonial in Royal Oak, Michigan, which I bought in 1984. I joked it was a very expensive mobile home, as it had been moved in 1924 during a railroad relocation project. My late brother and I replaced the entire roof, rafters and all, and replaced every ceiling. I rewired the house, replaced the plumbing and the bathroom, and did general fix-up and decorating. This one was a real “matchstick” house: not all old houses were well built. I would call the project a rehab, I just made it nice and livable.
3. In 1997, I got the bug again and bought “the dead guy’s house” in the Indian Village Historic District in Detroit. It’s a ca. 1900 Shingle Style/Queen Anne Victorian. The roof had leaked for 20 years, it hadn’t been cleaned for a decade, and was last maintained in the 1950s. There were holes in a side wall, one of which was so large that you could use it to walk outside (well, actually, it was on the second floor. This house received the National Trust and OHJ “Best Exterior Renovation” award in 2003. At 4,800 square feet and with 21 rooms, the house has been demanding and I’m still working on it. I tried for a restoration approach because, although it was disastrously unmaintained, the house hadn’t been messed with. The house was designed by noted local architects Stratton and Baldwin. (Stratton was the husband of Mary Chase Stratton, founder of Pewabic Pottery.)
4. In 2012, just before Detroit’s bankruptcy, I stumbled across a deal, also in Indian Village, a 1916 Storybook English Cottage. I am working on it today. I have party rewired, partly re-plumbed, fixed numerous bad ceilings, and stripped and repainted all the badly deteriorated exterior trim and windows (76 of them). I also completely redid the carriage house apartment over the garage, including a new roof. This also is a restoration.
Abatron president Marsha Caporaso DIY Commitment
When word went out about OHJ’s “Serial Restorers” contest, Abatron president Marsha Caporaso spoke right up: “Is there any product more of your readers have needed and used than wood epoxies?” Indeed! Abatron, Inc., in Kenosha, Wisconsin, was among our very first advertisers when OHJ began to accept paid advertising in 1986. Diligent about meeting DIYer needs, Abatron considers building preservation a major component of the business, unlike many chemical companies that focus on large trade buyers. Abatron maintains regular customer contact through their website and Facebook, answering technical questions.
Founded in 1959, Abatron specializes in the research, development, and custom formulation of epoxy and polyester compounds for repair of wood, concrete, metal, and stone. “I’m proud that our products are safe and easy to use,” Caporaso says; it’s the first company to have epoxy formulations GreenGuard Certified . We thank her for sponsoring “Serial Restorers.”