by Lilly Arthur
When my husband Matt and I began the search for our first home, we quickly discovered that we have some different priorities, but the major things we agreed on were that we were looking for an older home and that we wanted to live in Walnut Hills, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Cincinnati.
We chose Walnut Hills because of its history. We value the diversity of the neighborhood and the sense of community here. We were also looking at College Hill for the same reasons. Ultimately, I think the main reasons we ended up in Walnut Hills are our familiarity and because of its proximity to downtown.
After a prolonged search, Matt ended up putting in an offer on our 1905 foursquare without my even have stepped foot inside!
We have a Fannie Mae HomeStyle loan, which covers both the purchase of the house and the renovation. With this type of loan, we are required to work with a general contractor. Matt contacted the Walnut Hills Community Council to see if they have any recommendations for a contractor with experience with older homes in our area. They suggested JEK Construction, a company that was also recommended by our lender.
The first issue we discovered was termite damage to some of the floor joists on the first floor. The boards crumbled when touched! Our contractor replaced those and, so far, we haven’t encountered any further damage.
Second, our home had been separated into multiple units at some point. Old houses don’t have open floor plans anyway, but our home had strangely placed hallways, closets jutting into rooms that cut off the beautiful tin ceilings, etc. So, the first thing we asked of our contractor was to knock down walls that were not original to the home.
This is a closet we had knocked out. When it was added, they knocked out the original wall behind in order to stick it back further. Two hallways were added behind it, probably leading to two different units. Luckily the tin ceiling was preserved!
Here is a shot from the entryway looking into the living room. There were probably columns on either side of the opening, and it makes me sad that we’ve lost that bit of history, but we don’t plan to add any back in for now.
We opted to knock out some walls in order to have a bigger kitchen. The original dining room will become our kitchen, and the original kitchen will be our mudroom. The dining room will be in the open space in between.
One of the most exciting things for me was finding a second staircase! Leading upstairs from the kitchen, this staircase had been walled off on the second floor. Our contractor opened it back up.
One day we were walking through the house with a flashlight and the light caught something shiny in a crack in the floor. When I looked in the crack I saw there was a bunch of stuff that had fallen down there. It was mostly dust and coins, but I also saw a necklace! I spent about 10 minutes trying to fish it out. The coolest part is that it’s peridot – which is my birthstone. I know it’s probably not old but it is real silver, and it felt like a sign to me that we are meant to be in this house.
Recently we started stripping the paint off our main stairs. It’s a lot of work, but scraping it off is so satisfying. Luckily we only have to remove two layers of paint, but one of them is bright red! I cannot imagine having a red staircase.
Here is a bit of our progress on the woodwork!
We are missing a lot of the original hardware. Only a couple of doors still have their doorknobs. We also do not have a mantle in the living room. One of the most frustrating things is not being able to go to architectural salvage stores or estate sales right now due to COVID-19.
There have been a lot of times where I’ve felt that we have bitten off more than we can chew. This is our first home and we’ve gotten some unwelcome “advice” from family members, coworkers, etc. about taking on such a big project. I’m definitely glad we ended up with a general contractor; I don’t think this is a renovation that we could have done on our own. It would have been nice to choose a home we could live in while slowly renovating, but ultimately I’m glad we ended up with what we have.
Our long term goal is to raise our family here. We decided to skip the “starter home” and just go straight for our “forever home.”
Lilly Arthur is a graduate student in speech-language pathology at the University of Cincinnati.