Making old new again

Becky Vargo • Aug 14, 2017 at 10:00 AM

SPRING LAKE — The forlorn white house on the corner of Jackson and Tolford streets seemed to beckon to Jennifer Sunderlin.

And once she started tearing away the multiple coverings, after purchasing the Spring Lake home in December 2016, the owner of Bulldog Property Developers knew she had to restore the property, rather than just update it for a flip.

A Nunica resident and mother of three, Sunderlin said she took on the house project now that other parts of her life were slipping into a more comfortable mode.

She and a small work crew removed three layers of siding down to the 20-inch shiplap.

“This house talked to us,” Sunderlin said, pointing to a picture of information written on siding that was installed in 1960.

She also found a lot of old newspapers stapled to the house, probably used for insulation, including one from 1923.

Sunderlin said their deconstruction of the home, research and an old deed dropped off by a former property owner helped her establish that the house was 150 years old. That makes it one of the top 10 oldest homes in the village, she said.

She and the crew also had to deal with five layers of flooring in the living room and seven layers upstairs, including four layers of vinyl and three layers of carpet.

“We gutted it down to the studs,” Sunderlin said. “It had real 2-by-4s in the wall. It was gorgeous wood.”

They also removed about 310 yards of debris. A small dumpster holds 20 yards, while a large dumpster holds about 40 yards.

The house pushed her crew out of their comfort zones, Sunderlin said.

When she brought potential workers into the house, Sunderlin said she knew by their expressions whether or not they would be working with her.

“The location was perfect,” she said. “It just needed a lot of work.”

Part of that work included replacing, rather than bandaging, the foundation.

“There were cedar tree stumps holding up this house. They were 8-10 inches around and only 4 inches into the ground,” Sunderlin said.

A house moving company was needed to lift the house several feet so the new foundation could be constructed.

Sunderlin said the original house ended just past the kitchen. At some point, half of an old barn was attached to the back of the house. The garage also used to be an old outbuilding.

The electrical system was knob-and-tube mixed with 1950s piecemeal and duct tape, she said.

But everything was brought up to code. There are also new gas and sewer connections, new roof and windows, and all new interior.

Sunderlin did the design. That was a little difficult to come up with a theme because of the 150 years of history with the house.

“I tried to really think of, if I lived here, how would I redesign it,” she said.

When they removed siding, the crew uncovered the original front door area, so they removed a bay window and relocated the door to the front. When they gutted the house, they discovered an old chimney and a woodstove hook-up location, so they were able to relocate the kitchen back to its original spot.

Sunderlin said they were also able to use the deep windows in keeping with the integrity of a federal-style home. But the new windows have safety features. 

The house now has one bedroom and a full bathroom downstairs, as well as a laundry/mechanical room, mudroom with built-ins, small kitchen and living room. The upstairs, which used to be two bedrooms, is now one big master bedroom suite, complete with a walk-in closet and full bathroom.

An old beam found under the house is now a mantle in the master suite. The brick chimney has been left exposed. 

The attached garage has been updated with an all-new cement floor. Sunderlin said they left the decorative beams installed by former owners who used the garage as a hot tub room.

Old beams and decorative cement items found in the ground around the home have been included in the landscaping.

Sunderlin also has an old bottle and a jar full of a variety of nails – including handmade ones – found in different parts of the old house.

The old plank floors couldn’t be restored, but they were used as a sub floor. Laminate flooring in the living room and bathrooms was placed in three different plank sizes to match early 1900s style.

Sunderlin said they added a small amount of square footage to the house with the addition of the utility room, so it now stands at 1,275 square feet. They also added 2 feet in the ceiling height.

“It’s small but mighty,” she said. “Renovating a house like this is actually harder than building new. This one was begging to be fixed,” she said. “I found out I’m pretty good at it.”

Sunderlin said it was a seven-month project that went significantly over budget, but that she was proud of the finished product.

She’s not sure what’s next.

Sunderlin said this company gave her new direction after a life change with a Down’s syndrome child, and it lets her make her own hours.

“I’m a mom when they need me,” she said

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