Love Thy Neighbor, and Build Some Scaffolding : Exterior Restoration of the Victorian, Part 1


This was what we saw walking up to the house the day we came to see it, as potential owners. I’ve said it before – it’s like Cher said in Clueless – “It was a full-on Monet.” From a half a block away, it looked gorgeous. From up close….. a BIG. OLD. MESS.

Hey, look! Gutters falling off and no shingles at the Valley of the roof! Sweet.
That looks like a neat place for animals to hide.

There were cosmetic terrors, too. I mean, what is this plastic pergola supposed to be? I don’t understand.


The back of the house wasn’t as tragic as the front, but the 1980’s style sunlights seems a bit cumbersome and space-shippy. I am making that a word.

It was neat walking around the house, because there were just slate ceiling tiles. Laying EVERYWHERE. All over the ground.  At this point, our realtor wasn’t there to let us in. The whole point of this visit was to find out what was wrong with this Palace. Because it was CHEAP. Way, way too cheap. The slate covering the ground… that was our first clue. We hadn’t even been inside yet, and Doug said, “If the roof is falling off, we know what’s wrong. And, we have to put slate back on. You can’t put Asphalt on this. And that is going to be expensive.”

$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ broken in the yard. Like all of my hopes and dreams.

Let’s find something good. Keep walking, we said. This turret – it looked OK. Just some peeling paint and maybe some rot. The balcony has molding coming off, but that won’t be hard to fix.

Remember, with old homes, looks are ALWAYS deceiving. Always. This turret ended up being rotted – a third of it was, all the way up three stories.
Another tip : don’t use flexible indoor molding on the outside of a house. These are things I should never have to say to anyone ever in life.

We got onto the front porch, and breathed a sigh. The ceiling was beautiful. SO, so beautiful. And in great shape. Something that didn’t need replacing. Hooray!!!


There were so many gutter and siding problems. It all looked fixable, but the cost scared the bejesus out of us.


But Holy Cow. She was freaking gorgeous. We fell in love. And wanted to save her.


The thing is, when we walked around the inside of the house, we saw the results of the water damage. Walls falling, ceilings caved in. We KNEW what was wrong with her. It wasn’t a mystery. Put a roof on her, seal the holes, and voila. Done. She just needed to be water-tight, and the rest could be done over time. We could take all the time in the world. Honestly, my biggest fear was trapping raccoons in the walls – we saw some go in and out of the house on our many night-time visits to show the house to friends before we had keys.

Step One : Love thy Neighbor, and build some scaffolding.

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Lou Wenning was our next-door neighbor for only 2 months before he sadly passed away. He was the patriarch of the street, and he and his late wife were instrumental in the revival of Martin Place, and its inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. The scaffolding we had to erect was HUGE. We went over to see him, very apologetic about the disaster that was going to become of side yards. Lou was very excited to see someone own the house (he once owned it himself, along with a couple of others on the street), and didn’t mind a bit that we took up his side yard for the men to get to work. After he passed away, his children who lived here in the neighborhood kept up with our renovation as they prepared their father’s house for sale. We loved getting to know them, and learning more about the neighborhood, and the history of the houses, and the people who lived here.

All of this wood needed to be scraped, some had to be replaced… it was MOSTLY in good shape. I bet 25% had to be replaced.
Picking off some paint, I discovered some old possible paint colors for the house. I ended up putting a blue quite similar to the one I uncovered as the main trim color.


There is something very scary, daunting, and powerful about seeing your house covered in the exoskeleton of scaffolding. It’s amazing to know you are fixing the house. But it’s also a huge reminder that we can’t do this on our own. That this could be way too big for us. But man, it felt brave.


We knew if we hired out the outside, we could handle the inside. No worries.

But man, things got busy! This was one day, and we had the entire street filled. Roofers, Plumbers for the new water heater, electrical, people for the new furnace…. it was unreal.


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We decided on a slate roof. Very expensive up front, but it was historically accurate, and it would be good for another 100 years. It’s what we needed to do. The old roof was a breeze to get off, and the new one went on pretty great. We were LUCKY. There aren’t very many roofers who can do slate (or do it well) and very few who could handle a project this big. The guys who did our roof work primarily at the old buildings at Purdue University and Indiana University, or large government buildings downtown. They weren’t supposed to be able to get to us for a few months (WINTER!), but they had a cancellation and could come early.

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Thank. Goodness.

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And man, does it look beautiful. Bring it on, rain. You aren’t getting through this roof, now.

1 comment

  1. Wow, scaffolding contractors are very impressive. I love how you included the pictures of the progress of your home. I think investing in scaffolding is important renovation step when you want to rise the value of the home.

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