Many people dream about restoring a house, a piece of furniture, or a classic car. However, few have the knowledge, time, or sustained passion for such a complicated task as bringing new life to something historic. For individuals who desire to jump into the world of restoration, you need a team of experts to guide you along the journey.
Restoring a house or building should not be attempted in isolation. Instead, having a few experts on your team will exponentially increase your chances of restoration success. You need teammates who know the critical government regulations, have connections with specialized craftspeople, and can get access to the correct materials. These skills are invaluable for anyone attempting a restoration project, from a three-story Victorian mansion in the hills, an early 20th-century recording studio on Main Street, or your parents’ 1950s ranch in your hometown.
Mary Wheeler, a registered architect and owner of Mews-Design, discovered her passion for building restoration when she moved to Cincinnati from a small rural community in southern Ohio. “I was in awe of the historic character and inventory of older homes in and around the Queen City,” says Wheeler. “There is something to be said about the quality of construction, craftsmanship, and aesthetic proportions of an older home that I’ve always admired.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning, she felt prepared to step into historic restoration and preservation. Wheeler wanted to pursue her fondness and curiosity for history and genealogy, ultimately making connections between the homes and the people who live in them.
The knowledge of architecture and the motivation to restore old buildings is only the beginning for Wheeler. “Searching for my first home was really the catalyst to getting hands-on experience with an older home,” she says.
She purchased an 1886 Victorian house in Columbia Tusculum, Cincinnati’s oldest neighborhood. Her real estate agent described the house as having the most potential on the street. “In other words, it was the house on a great street that needed the most repair!” Wheeler says.
Since 1999, she has owned and restored five properties with a combined age of 573 years. That’s considerable practice, and as Wheeler recalls, “Each one had its unique challenges, obstacles, and rewards. I enjoy every part of the process in seeing it come together and learning something new along the way.”
The restoration process can have its unique challenges. “Finding the right people and materials to complete the job are usually the main challenges to restoring an older home,” Wheeler says.
She never throws out original trim, doors, hardware, and lighting since she can recycle them elsewhere. Additional sources for materials include resale stores such as Wooden Nickel Antiques, Building Value, and Habitat for Humanity ReStore. It’s also invaluable to find artisans and contractors willing to tackle the job. Online stores provide hardware such as doorknobs, hinges, lighting, HVAC registers, and plumbing fixtures. Resale marketplaces like Facebook, eBay, and Craigslist are helpful resources for items like clawfoot bathtubs, doors, fireplace mantels, and reclaimed flooring.
In addition to the material sources already stated, Wheeler has utilized the expert help of Pella Windows & Doors of Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky. Pella worked with Wheeler to craft 45 custom windows and four custom doors to match the original window detailing of a 1937 home in Amberley Village, her most recent project.
“The job went very smoothly, and the windows are beautiful,” Wheeler said. “Pella provided a qualified contractor for the installation. They did a great job working with the existing construction of 14-inch thick stone walls and true two-by-four framing to match the exterior trim details of the home’s original construction.”
Besides matching the original window designs, Wheeler says Pella brought modern upgrades to the project. These included windows with hidden screens, double-panes, and insulated Low-E glass with beautiful details in the hardware.
Pella Reserve’s product line is the ideal combination of restored beauty and modernized efficiency. Their windows emulate historic design with through-stile construction and authentic proportions. They have also developed an entire line of historically accurate spoon-lock hardware to achieve the overall desired style. Pella’s windows meet the rigorous requirements of the historic certification processes at the federal, state, and local levels.
Greg Mullins, a Pella commercial sales representative who has worked for Pella since 2002, understands these rigorous requirements. He consistently ensures they are satisfied with every restoration project. He says, “The National Park Service has the ‘gold standard’ for historically correct windows, which our Reserve windows meet.”
Mullins states that the State Historic Preservation Office and the local conservation boards mimic the National Park Service standards. Yet, some local organizations can be more stringent than others. For example, in Newport, Kentucky, a true wood window (both interior and exterior are wooden) is required for all street-facing elevations of the house. But in Cincinnati, an aluminum-clad window suffices. Having someone as knowledgeable as Mullins as a teammate is invaluable when restoring a building in any locale.
A team of experts is essential for a successful restoration, and Wheeler couldn’t agree more. She says, “Hiring an architect who has experience with older properties before you buy or begin your next historic restoration could save you time, money, and heartache. It will give you peace of mind that your project is done safely and correctly so that your investment achieves its maximum potential.”
The two biggest concerns most people have about restoring a private or public building are budget and timeline. “The cost to restore is often similar to new construction, but the schedule can sometimes take longer,” says Wheeler. “However, the end product is usually higher quality and could produce larger returns on your equity investment when done well.”
On an emotional level, Wheeler says, “The feeling of satisfaction and joy from preparing a building to live for another 50 to 100 years is immeasurable to me.”
Both Wheeler and Mullins share the importance of restoring historical buildings correctly, which involves more detail than most people interested in restoration realize. That’s why gathering a team of experts, such as Wheeler with Mews-Design and Mullins with Pella, is a wise decision. Access to knowledge and expertise, as well as a supply of historically certified windows and doors, will not only preserve the beauty of the building but sustain your sanity during the restoration process.
If you’re thinking about restoration, Wheeler offers this wisdom. “Ask qualified professionals who specialize in older properties before you buy for help before tackling a restoration project. Understanding today’s building codes and how to incorporate new mechanical systems and materials into an older home is key to saving you time and money.”
With the help of an excellent team, anyone passionate about restoration can make their historic dreams come true.
Pella Windows & Doors is located at 9869 Montgomery Road, Montgomery, Ohio 45242. For more information, visit pellabranch.com/greater-cincinnati or call 877-577-9124.
Mary Wheeler is a registered architect licensed in Ohio and Kentucky. For more information, visit mews-design.com.