Fixer Upper-Mansion Edition: Follow a Young Couple on Their Journey to Rehabbing a Historic Home

I spent the first ten years of my life growing up in a small town in Indiana. The home we lived in was built in 1860. Brick houses were common and I fell in love with the charming details old homes have that you just can't find in new construction.  I went back to that small town recently and met up with my childhood best friend, who grew up in a beautiful Craftsman home across the street from me. Her youngest brother and his new bride recently purchased a brick home at auction that I remember admiring when I was a kid. 

Fixer Upper mansion edition-follow a young couple on the journey as they restore a historic home in Indiana

The house the couple refers to as "The Mansion" is close to the town square. As kids we would often ride our bikes past it and I remember loving the statuesque qualities of the home. I never got a glimpse inside as a kid but always wanted to. It's exciting now to know the current owners Christian and Dea. Dea is willing to take us along on the ride as this newlywed couple renovates and restores this fixer upper. 

I think you are really going to enjoy seeing the restoration process in a series of blog posts. While you may not be brave enough to take on a historic home renovation {I know I wouldn't be!}, seeing this historic home come back to life is going to be fun. I promise you, you are going to love Dea's style! There will be DIY's, tutorials, and glimpses inside the process of this fixer upper.  But first, let's find out why this young couple wanted to take on an old home and what their vision is for it. Don't miss out on the first big reveal. You are going to love seeing this couples completed foyer!

Tell me a little about yourself.
I am 26 years old, recently married to my husband Christian. I work during the day as an internal auditor for an automotive plant in small town Indiana and fill my evenings with hobbies such as quilting, decorating, painting, and cleaning the mansion. 

Is this your first home? What drew you to a very old fixer upper?

This is the second home we have owned together. We bought our first home on a whim so-to-speak based on location proximity to his job. Our first home lacked all of the charm and character of an older home that we both love. We actually had seen this home up for auction while living in our first home and in passing mentioned that it was too bad we had just bought a home or it would be nice to put an offer in. Once my husband left his job we were left with the decision to stay in our current location or move in to town. We decided moving into town was the best for us. Luckily this home was still up for auction when we were house hunting the second go-around. We both decided it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and we went for it. I remember admiring this home from afar when I was younger like most people in town had. We both love the character of older homes; the tall ceilings, the elaborate woodwork, and the large formal spaces. We just feel lucky that we were able to scoop it up when the time was right. 

Fixer Upper mansion edition-follow a young couple on the journey as they restore a historic home in Indiana

Tell us a little about the history of your home.

The home was built in 1871 by Bright B. Harris, a scout for Morgan’s Raiders during the Civil War. Once the war was over Harris returned to Greensburg, Indiana and opened a limestone quarry and called it Harris City Stone Quarry. He used the limestone from that quarry to build the foundation of the home and for several architectural accents like stairs and walkways. The previous owners have also given us several stories of the homes’ history along with artwork and news clippings which has been a lot of fun. One interesting fact for instance is that there is a cistern located in the attic which was used to fill and flush the first indoor toilet in Greensburg!

Have you ever done any DIY before? 

I have in fact participated in my fair share of DIY projects. For example: I was recently featured on a billboard in Time Square for a kitchen remodel project I completed in our first home. 

I painted the cabinets gray, replaced the counters with butcher block, installed an apron sink and faucet, and added a white subway tile backsplash. I’ve also tackled many DIY projects such as: installing closet organizers, painting, laying wood flooring, building a dining table and bench, hanging light fixtures, wallpapering, and installing sinks and plumbing. I grew up watching HGTV and DIY shows like trading spaces, design on a dime, and HGTV’s next design star, so one could say I was bred for DIY!

Your goal seems to be to restore the home rather than gut it and renovate it. Why?

What drew us to the older home was the character and charm. We couldn’t imagine gutting those qualities only to replace them with cheap or builder grade materials. We want any fix we do to be seamless to the original so that when people walk through it feels authentic to the period. That being said, the home also needs to function for our lives today. For instance, could you imagine living in a period kitchen? It’s just not practical. We also enjoy some of today’s amenities like heating and air conditioning.

Old construction is a lot different than new construction, how are you learning how to restore the home?

We are researching online, talking with local contractors, and a lot of trial and error. Many small projects end up quickly becoming large ones with many trips to the local hardware store. For example, Christian recently wanted to change the light bulbs in the front lamp post. When all was said and done a 30 minute project turned in to eight hours of work and three trips to the hardware store because he had to complete a total rewire. 

Do you see The Mansion as your forever home or are you interested in rehabing multiple historic homes in your area?

We definitely see the Mansion as our forever home. Especially after we put all of our love and sweat equity into it, I couldn’t imagine us deciding to sell and start over. I wouldn’t mind, however, rehabbing several other historic homes in our area. I have always wanted to flip houses or fix up property to rent.

It's fun to do the lipstick projects (the painting and the decorating) but I'm sure with a very old home like The Mansion, you have had to pay attention to some of the not so fun projects (wiring, roofing, heating). Tell me about some of those.

Of course the lipstick projects are my forte and I love doing those, but we’ve actually had more expenses poured into the not-so-fun projects so far. When we bought the house last year it needed a new roof, box gutter repair, a new electrical box put in, new plumbing throughout, attic vents, and hearths put in for the fireplaces. There are still some projects that need to be done though, like installing a dehumidifier, plastering the kitchen walls, and upgrading the heating and cooling systems. 

Are there any projects you and your husband won't tackle on your own?

Some projects we won’t do ourselves, like electrical, plumbing, and wall repair. Everything else is fair game in my book. 

You and your husband both have full time jobs, how do you find the time to work on the house and the many projects you have in mind for it?

I usually take on a large project every couple months. During project time everything else gets put on hold, the laundry, dishes, cooking, cleaning, EVERYTHING! A project usually takes me a week or two from demo to finished product and then I will usually spend the next month or so getting everything caught up. My husband and I live by what is typically known as “burning the candle at both ends.” Even when we don’t have a large project to occupy us we are either cleaning the mansion, working in the yard, or playing with our hobbies.

What are some of the original features of the home that you are most excited about bringing back to life?

I’m really excited to showcase the marble floors in the entry, the marble fireplaces, the high ceilings, and the wood floors. I plan to pick paint colors that will make those elements pop. 

What are your biggest challenges when it comes to decorating and remodeling your home?

One of the largest challenges right away was how tall the ceilings are (14 feet!). This makes it difficult to just change a light bulb or clean the cob webs out of the corners. We realized very early on that even our extendable ladder wouldn’t suffice. We quickly invested in scaffolding which has been a huge help during all of the remodeling. Another large obstacle we have run into is that the floors are filled with concrete. This concrete barrier makes it difficult to have plumbing done on the second floor or to invest in in-floor heating as a heating solution. There are also very small areas of opportunity to run things to the second floor because the walls are all solid brick.

Tell me about some of the rooms of the home and what your vision is for those rooms.

I have a vision for almost every room in the house at this point, the grand parlor I imagine having very sophisticated, feminine, chic stylings where as in the drawing room (where men draw on their pipes) I want to have the feel of an old library or study with stacks of books laying around and adorned with masculine leather furniture. 

Some of the other rooms like the Foyer, dining room and master bedroom I would like to design around furniture that we have acquired from my husband’s Grandmother’s estate or the furniture that we have already and love. I’ve also found little bits of inspiration which I’d like to work into the design like this fabulous charcoal floral wallpaper which I want to incorporate somewhere. 

The family room, which will be upstairs, is going to designed around a brightly colored rug of Christian’s mother’s and I think it will give the room an overall more fun and relaxed comfortable feel. 

The bedroom will also be designed around a rug which was Christian’s grandmothers. I have an idea to make custom bedding to match in the bedroom. 

children's bedroom

The children’s bedroom, however, I am designing from scratch. This is the project I am looking forward to the most. I got the inspiration from a set of Eastlake furniture that was his grandmothers.  It looks like it has a fox in the woodwork. That gave me the idea to do a woodland animal theme kids room with foxes, raccoons, deer, bear, & rabbits. I want to make the bedding for that room as well, along with several other DIY projects which I will keep to myself for now.

fox detail in the furniture

Buying a historic home isn't for everyone. What would you say to someone who was thinking about buying a historic home?

I would definitely tell them to plan for the expenses of an older home. Not only do things break more often, but they also tend to cost more to replace. I would try to plan any fixes needed into the purchase of the home so that the worry isn’t there when you move in. One thing I wish we would have done is try to get the kitchen updated when we first bought it. Now we are realizing that kitchen renovations are very expensive, especially in an older home with 14’ ceilings. 

One of the first projects Dea tackled was completing the foyer. I love the grand staircase and marble floors and can see huge potential here. Heck, it's pretty amazing as it already is but wait until you see the after!

There were a few different paint options, but I love what Dea ended up settling on. She tells me that she basically laid down the color chip wheel and picked the color closest matching the veins in the marble. She said she was "tired of running back and forth to the paint store and the gamble paid off"! 

This was no small project! 

If you have a home with 14 foot ceilings, owning your own scaffolding is a must!

In the home I lived in growing up, we had an entry way like this one. There was a beautiful curved stairway in the front and a servants stair case in the back of the house. I lived there in the 80's when wall paper was king and my mom hired a few guys to wallpaper the whole house. I remember there being a little bit of a stall in just about the same place at our house. Think about it. You have 14 foot tall ceilings and it's two stories tall, you are looking at 28 feet to the top at least. The guy who finished our wall paper project a few days later ended up dying of a heart attack. My mom blamed herself and our high ceilings on his death!

Can we stop for a hot minute and look at that huge linen cabinet in the upstairs hallway. Restoration Hardware is feeling bad about all of it's knock offs that can't hold a candle to this original piece!

I have all the heart eyes for this piece.  I can't even! There are no words so let's just stop and stare at this piece. 

linen cabinet in historic home

Remember that charcoal floral wallpaper Dea was mentioning in her vision? She took this space under the stairs and decided to hang it there.

I just love the print!

I think it makes for an unbelievable accent wall don't you.

I know Christmas has passed but one of my favorite parts of living in a historic home was how beautiful the home was when it was decorated for the holidays. Dea's home is a stunner!

historic home decorated for Christmas

And since you can't celebrate Christmas all year round, here is the foyer when they aren't celebrating the holidays. Isn't it stunning?

foyer with curved staircase and marble in historic home in Indiana

One last before and after side by side. I think the dark grey paint is a major winner. What a difference it makes. 

foyer with curved staircase and marble in historic home in Indiana

I'm so looking forward to more before and after fixer upper projects from Dea. Until then, go check out her etsy shop. She's an amazing quilter and has an eye for a great print! 

Are you like me and have a soft spot for a historic home? They really don't make them like they used to! I can't wait to tour the rest and see the vision that Dea has come to life in The Mansion.

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1 comment

WandaOllie Rivera said...

I also recently moved to this town and absolutely loved this house! You're doing an amazing job!

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