Bringing an old home into the 21st century is a delicate balance of preservation, renovation, and restoration. “Sometimes the original design is the best design, and restoration, rather than renovation, is the best design approach,” says Ruth Kantar of Sage Builders.
Ruth and co-owners, husband, Jonathan Kantar and Scott Mario recently completed renovating a late-19th-century Victorian located on a prominent corner in their town of Newton, Mass. “Everyone in town knows and recognizes this house,” she says of the 6,000-square-foot home. “The porches and railings were sagging and rotting, windows were rotting out, there were split and disintegrating clapboards, and multiple layers of chipping lead-based paint. Our goal was to bring this Victorian back to the level of beauty that it once had” — all while providing the homeowners with a low-maintenance exterior, and keeping within budget.
EVERY DETAIL The remodeler catalogued the home's architectural details and trim assemblies. “The house exterior had to be mapped so that after siding and trim were removed, new or refurbished materials could be reinstalled in the correct manner and location,” Ruth says.
With the owner, the Sage Builders team determined what should be fully demolished and re-manufactured — deciding to replace all the ground-level columns, capitals, and bases — and what might be salvaged and repaired, such as the top rails, up-easings, and bottom rails of the railing system.
Porch railings were removed, catalogued, numbered, diagrammed, and stripped of their paint. The remodeler had special mill knives made so that the balusters could be made of Spanish cedar to match the existing materials. Rotting finials were replaced with hand-carved ones. “Any original piece that was to be salvaged and reused was taken down to the wood where possible so we could start fresh and prepare the surfaces properly,” says Ruth, whose company encourages green building and salvage wherever possible. “When it made sense to save the original materials, we saved them,” she says.
VALUE-ENGINEERING The home had moisture problems, so Sage Builders wrapped it in GreenGuard housewrap to prevent air and moisture from getting inside the house. Then carpenters installed small wood slats in the area between the sheathing and the siding to wick moisture away as well as let air get in to dry wetness behind the Hardiplank clapboards.
Ipé, a fast-growing Brazilian wood that holds up to high traffic, was used on the porch floors. Ever-conscientious about the environment, Ruth says, “We purchased [the ipé] through a vendor that sells legally harvested exotic hardwoods.”
By working closely with the homeowner every step of the way to continually value-engineer, Sage Builders was able to deliver a virtually new home from the 19th century that could last another century.