Welcome back to the next chapter in our Old House Renovation Story. So far, you’ve seen all of the downstairs except the mudroom; I’ll show you that later when we head out to the back yard. If you missed previous posts, they’re all listed below this one.
Once again, let’s start today in the Living Room where you’ve just stepped in the front door. The staircase in this 1907 house is straight across the room in front of you.
In case you’re like me and prefer to get oriented, the Study is through pocket doors to your right just inside the front door, the Dining Room is to the right beyond that, and the Master Suite is through a doorway just to the left of the stairs.
Our first glimpse of the stairs looked like this. Sorry, but you’ll have to use your imagination to see the black and white architectural print wallpaper.
Fortunately, although we did refinish the treads, the staircase was in excellent condition. Except for cleaning the woodwork and changing the falling-off-the-ceiling-from-an-old-leaky-roof wallpaper, we didn’t have to do a thing. That’s always a nice feeling when facing a whole-house renovation!
Here’s a fun tidbit: Have you ever heard that “back in the day” when builders finished houses, they often put the blueprints into the hollow newel post before adding its top piece? I often wonder if ours are in there!
Our old house has concrete-over-lath walls, and there was a lot of unevenness in the staircase walls. I lucked upon a wallpaper (on clearance!) that is heavier than usual and has an embossed leather look. It was perfect for visually “removing” some of the highs and lows in the wall. I still love it!
See that faint red glow on the right side of the landing – peeking through the spindles? That’s where we’re headed: the upstairs bathroom. Actually, it’s the “mid-level” bathroom. Our staircase is U-shaped; up 14 steps from the Living Room, turn right 3 paces, then turn right again and go up 6 more steps.
But today we’re stopping at the mid-level landing… Turn left and step up into this little hallway. (Be sure to close the door behind you!) Then take 2 more steps up into the bathroom proper.
The first time Renaissance Man and I took those steps, this is what we saw:
- original 5′-long clawfoot tub
- 1970s metallic wallpaper
- standard-depth sink cabinet
- plaster busts of the original owners, Rose and Roscoe Witt, hanging on the wall Wait for it…
This is how the space looks today – and the Witts are still hanging around.
Here’s the view from the tub…
I always find Mr. and Mrs. Witt in the bottom of the sink cabinet after my daughters have been around. They think the Witts are “creepy”.
Do they look creepy to you? OK, so maybe they do, but there’s a story here…
When we bought our old house, an elderly friend told me she used to play with the Witt’s daughter – and that Mr. Witt was often seen wearing a bowler hat and spats. Something like this…
I can only imagine that the pair of busts was purchased by (or given to) the Witts for obvious reasons.
You may recall that we are the third owners of the old house – so why are the busts of the first owners still hanging around? Well, as they say, “It’s complicated.”
In the mid 1950s, Mrs. Witt sold the house to Robert R. Turner, a young Carson-Newman College professor, and his wife, Ruth. The deed shows that Mrs. Witt kept a life estate in the downstairs bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and a room upstairs that she could rent out if she wanted to (but probably never would). Life estate? That means she can live in the house until she dies!
And where was Mr. Witt? Well, according to my genealogical digging, he was a few counties away with his second wife.
You may recall that when I showed you the Master Bathroom renovation, I said it was originally a “wing” added to the rear of the house in the 1930s or ’40s and included a small bathroom and kitchen in the “apartment” rented out by the original homeowners. This apartment was the “downstairs bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen” where Mrs. Witt lived after she sold the house.
So how’d that work out for them? The first homeowner lived in the apartment – in the home of the second homeowners – from the mid-1950s until shortly before she died in the early 1970s. Yikes!
Actually, that explains a lot. If you’d known the Turners (and I did), you’d know that they were kind, respectful people. I suspect that as long as Mrs. Witt still lived in “her” house, they did little if anything to change it. But after she died, they gave it a good ol’ update… hence the 1970s metallic wallpaper in the bathroom.
And now we’ve come full circle to that awful “before” image in your mind. Let’s see if we can make it go away…
The 11′ high ceiling in the room was lowered to a more comfortable 10′ height, and new crown moulding, wallpaper, and lighting were added.
We added beadboard to the walls, a narrow shelf above the sink, and a much more appropriately sized sink cabinet. You can tell there’s not a lot of room between the toilet and the sink. A pedestal sink was out of the question as we needed every bit of storage we could get – but we still wanted the “feel” of a pedestal sink. I think we accomplished it.
Additional shelf space was added above the toilet…
…and a cabbage rose-embellished vintage sheet was repurposed for the curtains.
As for the plaster busts, I have no idea why the Turners hung them there after their wallpaper update – but I know why I did. Anything that quirky with links that strong to the original homeowners just had to stay!
So stay they will… even when this old house goes on the market in a few weeks – and even when it sells. I’ll pass along the stories to the new owners – and hopefully they’ll want to leave them right where they are. Where they’ve been – for a really long time.
I guess Mrs. Witt got the last word after all… 🙂
Next week I’ll show you the upstairs rooms. If you don’t want to miss the next chapter of the story,
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Previous Old House Renovation stories:
I’m sharing this story at:
Amaze Me Monday @ Dwellings–The Heart of Your Home
Metamorphosis Monday @ Between Naps on the Porch