If you’re looking for houses that ooze charm and character, go no further than the annual Marietta Pilgrimage Christmas Home Tour. On Dec. 3 and 4, several historic properties will be decked out in holiday splendor and opened to the public, giving visitors a close-up look at features often found only in old homes: detailed, plaster moldings; oversized fireplaces; well-worn, heart pine floors; and tall windows below soaring ceilings, to name a few.
While visitors get to enjoy these houses in their finest hour, getting them to their best — and keeping that look throughout the rest of the year — is a challenge that doesn’t end after the holiday decorations come down. Historic homes require a level of constant vigilance and a willingness on the part of the owners to expect the unexpected.
Having restored another old home in Marietta, and being a life-long lover of old homes, Robin Trimble knew surprises were part of the package. So she was only mildly amazed at what remodelers of her 1883 house found under the master bath’s tub.
“When they took up the floor boards, we found that the tub sat above a filled-in well,” said Trimble, who moved into the house dubbed “Turnbull Manor” with her husband, Jim, more than a year ago. “The room must have been an old porch, since it looked like they took the frame of the space and went with that, and someone filled in the well and built over it.”
The four-bedroom house was in “great shape” when she and her husband bought it, but features such as updated HVAC and plumbing systems that are standard in most contemporary homes are anything but in an older property.
“The first thing we did was make sure the roof was OK, since leaks can be devastating,” she said. “We had squirrels in the attic and had to address that immediately. The HVAC systems are critical, especially when dealing with these huge, oversized, single-pane windows, so we replaced all the systems. We also replaced the kitchen sink and stove, and are working on the master bedroom. The cast iron pipes probably need to be replaced, but at least, right now, we feel we have a firm grip on the maintenance.”
Retired builder Jim Taylor and his wife, JoAnne, learned a good deal about their 1947 house from the original owner, who was also a builder. The second owners did some renovations, including installing new HVAC systems. The Taylors bought the three-bedroom bungalow in 2001 and began turning it into a Craftsman-styled cottage, now named the Beane-Atenhan-Taylor House for all three owners.
“We turned a bedroom into a dining room that flows into the living area where we raised the ceiling,” he said. “We redid the fireplaces, added on a large kitchen with oak cabinets and a raised ceiling, added two bathrooms, turned the old den into a library with bead board ceiling and oak trim and turned the back deck into a sunroom.”
As with most houses built before the 1950s, this one had particular issues, said Taylor.
“There was no insulation in the walls, but we were able to add some when we tore sheetrock down to put on an addition,” he said. “A lot of times, it means drilling two-inch holes in the plaster, pumping in insulation and then patching the holes, so we were lucky. We also had the attic re-insulated and replaced the single-pane windows with insulated ones. For me, getting the envelope sealed pays off. Otherwise, you waste a tremendous amount of energy.”
Asbestos had to be ripped out and electrical systems replaced. Then the holes in the hardwood floors presented a different problem.
“We didn’t realize until we started that the floors are about a half inch wider than what they make today,” said Taylor. “We just couldn’t go out and buy wood to patch them up. Finding people who can do that kind of work is an ongoing issue. We were lucky that our architect found us people who could do it.”
Those bumps in the renovation plan can quickly add substantial costs to the bottom line — which is why Trimble’s best advice for taking on an old house is to make a budget, then plan on it being more.
“You really have no idea what you’re getting into, and there are always hidden things,” she said. “And it always takes longer than you think.”
Marietta Pilgrimage Christmas Home Tour
8:45 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Dec. 3; 9:45 a.m.-6:15 p.m. Dec. 4. $20-$30