Tag Archives: People

Bringing This Old House Into This Century

This is the third installment in our three-part series profiling residents of Winter Park Historic Districts.  Opponents of a strenghtened preservation ordinance have kicked into high gear to try to convince residents that if they find themselves in a historic district, they will be subject to an arbitrary review board that will severely limit what they can and cannot do.  A resident of the College Quarter since 1993, Pam Coutant isn’t buying it.

by Betsy Owens

Pam Coutant oversees the current renovations

Pam Coutant oversees the current renovations

Pam Coutant may have been born 75 years too late. She has the style and energy of a marathon-running supermom, but the gentility and wisdom that conjures my grove-walking southern grandmother—a steel magnolia with a goodly dash of Yankee pragmatism thrown in. Talking to her you get the sense of someone from a different time, when people were more sensible and lacked pretense. She’s a Winter Parker by choice, and is very clear about why she loves it here.

Pam and her engineer husband Steve have been temporarily displaced from their College Quarter home, which is undergoing a major remodeling project. She teaches at the Methodist Preschool a few blocks from her home, while deftly managing the activities of two busy daughters, Lucia (14) and Sophie (12).

Preservation Winter Park: You grew up in Windermere, attended boarding school in the Northeast, and then returned to go to Rollins, and have been in Winter Park since. What is it that has enticed you to stay in Winter Park?

Sadly, it feels like much of what I love about Winter Park is in peril. I like the village scale. I liked the scale and understatedness of the homes. I just love cottagey, older homes—some of them are quirky how they’re set on the land, or embraced by the landscape. I love the downtown, and the culture, and have since I went to Rollins. When I was a student at Rollins, I would sometimes just get in my car, drive around and look at the houses. I loved the whole area.Capture

Most people don’t come to that appreciation for architecture until they’re a little bit older, but you were just a college student.

I think going to school in New England, I was just intrigued by the older buildings. I loved the stone row houses, the richness and character and history. Who lived there? What was life like when they had staff who lived on the top floor? I loved to romanticize.

Are there any other neighborhoods or areas of Central Florida where you would consider living?

No. I mean, sometimes the hustle-bustle is a little much for me here. I liked how Windermere, when I was growing up, was such a sleepy, small Florida town, but it’s not really like that anymore. I love Mount Dora, but it doesn’t have the same amenities we have here.

Do you think it’s possible to preserve an idealized, small-town way of life, or do you think it’s just inevitable that if an area is nice, it’s going to grow and change?

That’s a tough question. I think when you have a nice place, people want to come. But sometimes they don’t realize what it is that attracts them to the place, and they begin to make changes that detract. I think preservation is possible, given the right leadership, but I’m afraid we’re past that point in Winter Park, and we’re backpeddling.

Coutant Home on Lakeview Drive, College Quarter

Coutant Home on Lakeview Drive, College Quarter

Tell me about your house. What particularly attracted you to it?

I was at Rollins at the time. I loved the arched windows and the green roof, and the Mediterranean look. We bought it in 1993.

It was started in 1925 and finished in 1926. Not much has been done to it since then, except for the addition of air conditioning and enclosing the porch. The records of the house were in the basement of City Hall, which flooded, so a lot of our information is hearsay and what we can dig up. Our house and the one immediately south were built at the same time by the Rollins family (no relation to the college). Our house was built as a wedding gift for the daughter. A Dean Enyart from Rollins College later lived in the house. I believe Rollins actually owned the houses for a while.

I was on the committee that helped form the design guidelines for the College Quarter. Going through that process, I’d call our house a mission revival, but it’s not super typical of any one style. The cool thing about it is that it has an interior courtyard, which is typical of mission. It’s very open inside. The living room and dining room are very open, and have long views. It’s a very small house for a family of 4. It’s only about 2000 square feet.

How big will the house be when you’re done?

It’ll be about 3100 square feet. We’re basically just pushing out the exterior walls of the house. But because they’re on different sides of the house, it’s a bigger job than you would think. We’re reconfiguring inside. I’m sure it would have been easier to knock it down and start over.

You’re going to heroic lengths to save the house but to make it suitable for your family.

The Coutant Family

The Coutant Family

Yes. But the good thing is that our architect, Randall Slocum, loves the house and agreed with our vision of adding to the house without compromising its integrity. People encouraged us to fill in the courtyard, or to go up a story, but we wanted to stay true to the Mission Revival style of the house. So we knew we had the right architect.

How has your interaction been with the historic preservation board, in getting approval for the changes you’re making?

It’s been a non-issue. You hear people moaning, “Oh you have to go through the historic preservation people…good luck with that!” but it’s been so easy. What we’re doing is sensitively planned. And here’s the big thing. We’re moving the front façade of the house. But we’re reconstructing it exactly how it looks, 8 feet closer to the road. We assured them that we’re going to have the same stucco, keep the green tile roof, the same style of windows, and they said “fine” and sent us on our merry way.

Did you think it was too easy? Do you wish they’d use more scrutiny?

I don’t, but the reason I don’t is because I am fully confident that what we’re doing is appropriate and acceptable. My philosophy from the beginning has been “Let’s take this old house, and bring it into this century.” We’re not just building it for us, but for whomever comes along later. We’re bringing it to current day living standards so that it will stay there. I love the house so much, and I really don’t want to change it. I drive by right now and shield my eyes—it’s painful to look because, in this messy construction phase, it looks like the house is being compromised. But when we’re done I know it will be right.

Do you think it’s fair that other people in the neighborhood have to abide by a separate set of design rules – that some residents had no hand in determining – that govern what they can do on their private property?

It’s unrealistic to think that all people are going to value history. So I can understand that it makes people mad, that you can’t do certain things.

You can tell people, if you don’t like an old house, don’t buy it. But they want to walk to Park Avenue, and there’s an old house on that lot, and it’s for sale. But I feel that someone has to stand up and say “we’ve got to keep these things if we want them to be around.” Yes, I can see why that irritates people. But on the other hand, these are not big lots. They’re not acre lots. We are living in close proximity to our neighbors, so I feel more strongly about not allowing someone to build a two-story structure that’s smack dab up against someone else’s property line looking down into their yard. That’s what makes me mad. Let’s be considerate of our neighbors.

How would you characterize Winter Park’s sense of place?

I feel, honestly, like we’re holding on for dear life, trying to keep something of the soul and history of Winter Park alive. Winter Park’s heritage is what makes this place feel real to me, in contrast to so much of Central Florida. It’s the land around us, the people who were here before us. They’re the ones whose good stewardship made it such a special place. We’ve been given a gift—at the very least, we just have to try to not mess it up.

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PLANTING ROOTS BACK HOME

This post is the second in our series on living in historic districts in Winter Park. Two weeks ago, we profiled Elizabeth and Jim Faiella, who live in a Victorian cottage in the College Quarter. Here, we talk with Hannah Miller, who recently purchased a 1930 wood-frame modified bungalow in the Virginia Heights East Historic District with her husband Wade. The Millers have two children, Sabine (5) and Ethan (1).

HANNAH COMES HOMEhannah2

After 16 years as a displaced Floridian, Hannah Robertson Miller has found her way home to Winter Park. A third-generation Winter Parker, Hannah was anxious to try something different after she graduated from Trinity Prep in 1998. Her interests in art and architecture, culture and and social activism, led her to attend college in Vermont, law school in Austin, and to live and work in Boston, Santa Fe, and Macon, Georgia. However, after she and her architect husband Wade had their two children, they began to think about moving back to Winter Park to be closer to her parents Pat and Randy Robertson. On the verge of moving into her dream house in the Virginia Heights East Historic District, Hannah is discovering that the sense of place she found so attractive in other cities is right here in her own backyard. And she wants to keep it that way.

Preservation Winter Park: You’ve lived lots of places with well-preserved historic districts.

I have always sought out those particular areas. In Santa Fe, I lived on a street that had the only mud plaster adobe house left, with the traditional interior courtyard. In Macon, I lived in a precious historic neighborhood, right across the street from the oldest Catholic church in Georgia.

PWP: In terms of economic development, you and Wade are the very kind of people that communities are interested in attracting—young, creative, educated, and community-minded. If there had not been historic neighborhoods in Winter Park, would you have been interested in moving back?

I felt very strongly that I would only move back to Winter Park if I could find a house in a neighborhood that had a higher concentration of historic homes. One of the reasons that I love Winter Park and our neighborhood is that it has this texture, this connection to the past, so that when I’m on a walk I can feel a connection to all the people who lived here before. I’m a third generation Winter Park resident, and I feel connections to my parents and my grandparents.miller quote

I think about how this city started. Because it has its roots from New England, and I have spent time in that part of the world, so I feel a connection to that also. It has a real sense of place. Obviously, between the lakes and plant life it’s a place of great natural beauty. But growing up here, with grandparents who lived in a historic home (see blog post at Schecnk House), I had a real sense of the preciousness of the architecture, even as a young child. As a family we lived one year in Palm Beach, when I was 14, and I remember that I’d get on my bike after school, and I’d ride down the Lake Trail, and for my own pleasure I would go architectural touring. I’d look at all the houses that I thought were the most unique and beautiful. So I’ve always had an appreciation for that.

PWP: What do you love about Winter Park?

In addition to the architecture, I love the village quality. The houses are connected to one another, and they have a relationship with one another, and to me that’s one of the most important aspects of preserving the integrity of a neighborhood. It doesn’t put one house above the others; it considers the whole as a community. And when you have these huge houses that are out of scale, dwarfing the homes next door, it changes the feeling of the neighborhood. Architecture is obviously a way of making place but it’s also something that makes community. I appreciate in neighborhoods like the College Quarter and Virginia Heights that there is this feeling of the homes being in relation to one another. And I love that.

millersPWP: Are you concerned, living in a historic district, about being restrained if you want to make changes to your house somewhere down the road?

Well, we are in the middle of a 9 month interior renovation of our house. So I’m not concerned at all. I need to mention this because it was so disturbing to me when we bought our house. I had been eyeing this house from afar for 2 years. I even had a folder on my computer with photos of this house. When we did ultimately buy the house, the previous owners gave us their plans to remodel that they had already had approved through the historic preservation board. To me, the changes that they had proposed would have made the house unrecognizable. So, if anything, I think the rules are too lax. If changes that extensive got through, it’s disingenuous to argue that the current design guidelines are too restrictive.

But, even when the rules are being properly enforced, all it takes is a little creativity to really make something work for your family. We are in the process of making changes on the interior so that there are no closed-off rooms, more long vantage points so that I can see the kids from where I am, and to make it easier for entertaining, more conducive to a modern way of living. And we didn’t change a single exterior wall. The home looks as it did on the outside for many decades.

PWP: Aren’t you afraid of foregoing the opportunity of selling the house as a tear-down for a huge financial windfall? What if someday you really need the money? And do you think it’s fair that others couldn’t avail themselves of such an opportunity as well?

It’s the very hypothetical you’ve given that convinces me how important these kinds of protections are. There are all sorts of ways to justify short-sighted financial decisions, when the reality is that there’s something greater that we’re working towards, in terms of preserving what’s really special about our community. I wouldn’t be seeking out a historic home if I didn’t have those values. I feel very strongly about this issue.

There are plenty of other homes in this community that don’t have historical value. There’s no lack of a variety of housing across this market. There are plenty of Magic Players’ dream homes out there. It’s not the city’s responsibility to guarantee its citizens’ rights to make an obscene profit, at the expense of the community. A home to me is not a profit center. It’s a place of enjoyment. A place to value while you’re there.

PWP: That’s your opinion. But is it fair to force that on others?

Community is important. I don’t care just about myself. I care about my neighbors, and building community for my family. I want my children to know what it’s like to be a part of something bigger than themselves. This is just how I live in all areas of my life. I don’t just think about what I want for myself, but about the people around me, and the impact that my actions have on them.

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LIVING IN THE FLOW OF HISTORY

In recent months, as a revised historic preservation ordinance makes its way toward the Winter Park City Commission, there’s been a lot of buzz about historic districts, and whether they constitute an all-out assault on property rights. Common charges against districts include that they’re overly restrictive; that you must consult a governing authority before making even minor changes to your home; that they decrease property values; and that homes in historic districts rot in disrepair while new development buoys surrounding neighborhoods.

In the spirit of getting it straight from the horse’s mouth, Preservation Winter Park sat down with four residents of three different homes in designated historic districts. Were these homeowners happy living in historic districts or did they feel overly regulated? What had happened to their property values since the district was formed? If anyone had thought about the benefits and perils of living in a historic district, it would be these folks. Over the next few weeks, the blog will be featuring our discussions with them. First up:

THE FAIELLAS

faiella3Jim and Elizabeth Faiella live in a charming 1925 Victorian-style cottage on Lakeview Drive in the College Quarter, right across the street from Lake Virginia. Elizabeth, an attorney, bought the house in 1988, about 15 years before the neighborhood was designated a historic district.  She raised two sons in the 3/3 house which, at less than 2000 square feet, seems surprisingly spacious. She and Jim, a retired construction estimator, married in 1992. They savor time spent with their large blended family, whom they entertain in their cozy home many Sunday afternoons. “There’s no getting away from one another, and we love it,” he smiles.

Preservation Winter Park: What do you like most about Winter Park? What do you think makes it so special?

Jim: I think the older homes, the tree canopy, and you feel safe here. Growing up in the era that I did, everybody sat on their front porch; people walked by and chatted. And it’s the same thing here—people walk by, and you know everybody, and if you don’t, you introduce yourself. It’s a living neighborhood, as opposed to other places, where there are all these big, huge homes but there’s nobody around. Those neighborhoods look vacant to me—like a façade or a movie set almost. I just love this area. I hope that the City will preserve the older homes and not let people come in, buy an old house, tear it down, and then build something so out of character that it damages the neighborhood.

I think when people come from out of town, and they walk down Park Avenue, visit the park and drive through the neighborhoods, they see houses like the old houses on this street and they fall in love with it. I don’t think they fall in love with the big shoebox homes.

Elizabeth: I was thinking about this yesterday, when I went to get a dress hemmed at Yuki’s, and had my nails done next door, and I FAIELLAQUOTEwalked there. And I thought about Rome, which has a rule—their rule is you can’t build any building taller than the Vatican. And what’s happened is that this has helped make Rome one of the most beautiful cities in the world. They had a rule, and they’ve stuck to it. Paris had an amazing planner under Napoleon, Baron Haussman. They have these wide boulevards, and keep building heights low, and it’s still one of the most beautiful cities in the world, because they’ve stuck with the plan. And in Winter Park, we have this, in a way, and we cannot screw this up. When this gets encroached on, it makes us nervous, because you’re giving up that village feel. I have a quality of life that is amazing. I literally live like a European, where I can walk to my office, walk to the farmer’s market, wherever I want to go with the exception of grocery shopping. All this, and I’m right across the street from the lake, where I watch the sunrise every morning, see an otter on the lawn, and an owl in my backyard. It is a real privilege to be able to live like this.

PWP: What do you say to people who say, I should be able to build whatever I want to on my property?

Elizabeth: To me, that’s like saying I should be able to smoke in a restaurant if I want. At a certain point, you exercising your rights infringes on mine to such an extent that the law says “No you can’t.” You can go build a brand spanking new community somewhere else. If you want a community that doesn’t have any traces of the past, nothing from the men and women who lived there many years before you, there are options for you. But what attracts people to a community like Winter Park are the visible reminders of the past, where they can feel their place in the continuity of life, the flow of history. You can’t recreate that when it’s gone. You can’t build history from scratch—even though they try to in places like Celebration. You have a commodity here that is irreplaceable. That’s why we can’t just say, “That’s OK. We can just tear it up piece by piece.”

PWP: Do you have any sense of what’s happened to property values in this neighborhood, as a designated historic district?

Elizabeth: Yes, I have a good indicator. Through my life, there are times when I need to take out a home equity loan. It depends on how my business is going. Some years are good, and some are not so good. So they reappraise your house when you have a home equity loan. This house has steadily increased in value over 25 years. And around me, I darn well know what it’s done. The house next to me has sold about every five years. And I’ve watched the value increase by leaps and bounds each time. The house on the other side of me just sold for a million—when I first moved here it was $195,000. Neither one of them has been touched much.

PWP: You have an amazing (lakefront) lot here, and you’re just around the corner from Park Avenue. Aren’t you afraid that someday, when you might need some money, that a former Backstreet Boy or Orlando Magic Player might come along and say “I need this lot for my dream house. I’ll pay you double the market value.” And you’ll have to explain to him that it will be difficult if not impossible to get permission to knock it down because it’s in a historic district?

Elizabeth: I’m not afraid of that. That is not my thinking. The idea that it would be difficult to do that is reassuring for me. The people that come after us, if we don’t protect it, will have no concept of where we came from. And this matters.

We have a home in Italy in the little village where Jim’s grandparents came from. It was a fixer-upper of major proportions. A tree was growing in the middle of it—we’re talking, bats living inside, practically ruins. We reconstructed it from the inside out. We could not add a window or door or anything on the exterior because the historic preservation law.

Jim: All the homes in that area are the way it was 900 years ago. Prior to that there were wars, et cetera, but all of the architecture appears as it did 900 years ago.

PWP: Was that a major pain in the neck? Did you resent that intrusion?

Jim: It was exciting and it was wonderful. The reason we bought a home that was 900 years old was because you could live in a place where 35 earlier generations had lived.

The Faiella Home, College Quarter

The Faiella Home, College Quarter

PWP: What would you say to someone who said, “Well, I can see how that’s historic—900 years old, but in Winter Park we’re talking about buildings that at the oldest are 120 years old.”

Elizabeth: Well, where do you start? When do you start preserving history? We’re a younger civilized country. The idea that we wouldn’t start because we got started late? That makes no sense. It’s never too late to do the right thing.

PWP: I know you owned a house over on Antonette that you needed to make some structural changes to. How was going before the Historic Preservation Board? Was it difficult? Did they give you a hard time?

Jim: No. The bottom line was, they said, “don’t change the exterior from the street.” The back we could do some things, and structurally we did some things under the house. We added a few walls, and added on in the back, to make the house more livable. But we didn’t change the façade or the look of it at all.

Elizabeth: Look. Living in a historic district is not for everybody. If you don’t like the feeling of it, playing by the rules, there are ample places you can live, where you can isolate yourself and do what you like on your property. But if you want this, the places you can live in Central Florida are very few. Why would we want to allow that to be changed? The property values in Winter Park are maintained because of this, not in spite of it. If you’re not swayed by preserving the soul of the place, the comfort, the quality of life, then at least pay attention to the economics.

Lots of times in our society, a law might crimp the style of an individual, but for the greater good, we make rules. Historic preservation is done for the greater good.

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995 Lincoln: A Christmas Gift for Winter Park

By: Betsy Owens

I have a confession to make:  Last week I promised a blog on the expert rehabilitation of a wonderful, Spanish-style James Gamble Rogers home on Palmer Avenue.  This is a column on the expert rehabilitation of a wonderful, Spanish-style home on Palmer Avenue that is most likely not a James Gamble Rogers house.  At least Bill and Beth Neidlinger, the owners, don’t think it is.

But in my own defense, the house just feels like a Gamble Rogers house.  The way it nestles into the lot, its sense of human scale, the fact that it’s a 3,400 square foot house that reads like 2,400, the way that the house envelops you when you walk inside.

In fact, it was these hallmarks of good design that the Neidlingers were able to discern, back in early 2013, even though prior owners had made choices that masqueraded its beauty.  “Let’s just say it needed a lot of work,” said Bill.

And how.  While the original, 1949 house had been a simple ranch built of half block, red oak floors, and high-grade dimensional lumber, subsequent owners had added their own ill-conceived design touches with questionable tile, plaster, ceiling, window and fixture choices. Strange architectural features had been added, such as a half-window abutment covered by a pitched eave and a massive, 6-foot retaining wall that obscured the house from the road.  Because the house had been in foreclosure, the bank had Scotch-taped in the bottom-of-the-line Home Depot cabinets and plumbing fixtures, in order to unload it. The backyard pool had become a breeding ground for tree frogs, whose population had reached plague-proportions.  Think I’m exaggerating? See for yourself:

Window seat?

A very strage window seat & vinyl windows.

The wall

The wall

Those yellow things? Frogs.

Those yellow things? Frogs.

Someone with less vision (or, Beth would argue, more sanity) would’ve torn it down.  Not so the Neidlingers.  “We wouldn’t have considered demolition,” said Bill.  “Oh, it was too good to knock down.  The house had great bones. Plus, the historic homes, the arts and culture—this is why we moved to Winter Park.”  They chose the city over Charleston, Savannah, Sarasota, and Fairhope (AL) when they retired here from Atlanta 7 years ago.

Their first step was to hire architect Steve Feller, contractor Rich Searl, and landscape architect  Bob Heath to oversee a 10-month rehab that included every room and every corner of the yard.  “These guys understood that in rehabbing a single-floor home on a large, lovely lot, we were doing the antithesis of what everyone else is doing these days.”   Indeed, defying the trend to ‘build as large a house as you can possibly afford,’ the Neidlingers chose quality over quantity.

While they essentially stripped the house to the studs, they did nothing to change the envelope of the house, save enclosing one patio.  These photos show just how extensive the renovation was:

Yikes.

Anyone know a good electrician?

Lots of work to be done

Stripping away the not-so-great

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Fireplace: before

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Pre-plaster & millwork

Starting to see progress!

Starting to see progress!

The new porte-cochere

The new porte-cochere

Authenticity and craftsmanship were the watchwords of the renovation.  The genuine barrel tile roof was applied the old-fashioned way, with mortar seeping out between the tiles.  “We stole that from Casa Feliz,” chuckles Bill.  The woodwork is magnificent in its beauty and simplicity. And who knew plaster could be this stunning? The stippled plaster walls are a work of art.  Beth repurposed what she could—removing the front wrought-iron gate, refurbishing it, and hanging it as a trellis in the back yard. “I save everything old I can save,” says Beth. “I have a hard time spending money on new anything.”

As you can see, the finished product is a dream of a house, and the perfect backdrop to their antique furniture.   And, amazingly, though the house is essentially brand new inside, it feels like you’re stepping back in time when you cross the threshold. During my visit, I didn’t spot a single big screen TV or Jacuzzi tub to remind me that I wasn’t in a home from the 1940s.

Ta-da!

Ta-da!

IMG_1330

Hard to believe the entryway isn’t original.

Porte-cochere complete

Porte-cochere complete

Look closely: can you see the seeping mortar?

Refurbished lap pool

Refurbished lap pool & repurposed garden gate

Living room

Living room

Dining room

Dining room

Gorgeous plaster & millwork

Gorgeous plaster & millwork

Kitchen

Kitchen

Beth & Bill Neidlinger

Beth & Bill Neidlinger

The Neidlingers credit the team of professionals with how the house turned out, but it is their nature to deflect credit.  In truth, Feller, Searl and Heath brilliantly translated the Neidlingers’ vision.  It’s hard to imagine more genuine, humble folks.  Retired from their jobs in retail and education, they are thrilled to finally be in their new home, particularly because it boasts not one but two gorgeous guest rooms.  About the closest Bill gets to bragging is to proclaim “we are rich in relationships!”  He’s not kidding.  They’ve been in the house 9 weeks and are about to host their 8th visitors.

What’s the moral of this story?

Like the Neidlingers, homebuyers should have some imagination before deciding to raze an old ranch house, which are plentiful in Winter Park.  Environmental implications aside, chances are that whatever new house is built to replace the old one will be of lower quality, be too large for the lot, and won’t blend well with the neighborhood.  In other words, consult with a good architect before calling the demolition company.

In this season of giving, Bill and Beth Neidlinger have presented a gift to Winter Park.  If, as Thomas Jefferson said, architecture is the most public form of art, then the Neidlingers have restored a Rembrandt to the gallery of Palmer Avenue. Let’s hope others follow their example.

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No Lie: Hinge Vintage Hardware is Unbelievable

by Betsy Owens

Do you remember the 1970s TV game show called “The Liars’ Club”? The show, hosted by Allen Ludden, involved a panel of celebrity judges examining unusual-looking objects and offering humorous theories on their possible usage.

Unfortunately for the game show producers, Hinge, the Orlando vintage hardware store that opened last month, didn’t exist back then.  Because, in addition to stocking the most comprehensive supply of antique door hardware, bath fixtures, lighting and vintage accents of possibly any other retail store in the history of the universe, Hinge also stocks fanciful items like this:

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And this:

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What are those, you ask?  Why, an antique curling iron and a pastry monogram imprint, of course!

If, somehow, you can find a more exhaustive collection of antique fixtures and furnishings somewhere, I will guarantee you that the merchandise isn’t as artfully displayed. If the Disney Imagineers were to design a vintage hardware store, they couldn’t do better than Hinge.

During my visit, I was led on a tour of the showrooms and stockroom by owners Rick and Nancy Bosserman.  For this historic preservationist, it was like a trip to the candy store.  Literally, in fact, since interspersed between the gorgeous vignettes of antique furnishings and fixtures, are tubs containing old-fashioned candy and boxes of Cracker Jack, in case you get peckish.  And you probably will.  I defy you to get in and out of Hinge in less than an hour.  I could easily lose myself for days in the stockroom alone.

If some of the merchandise looks familiar, you may remember George Baker, aka The Hardware Man, who operated a store at Renniger’s Antique Mall in Mount Dora.  When the Bossermans, who visited the store often to find hardware for their 1941 James Gamble Rogers-designed home in Orlando, learned that the Hardware Man was closing his doors, they bought him out, antique padlock, stockroom, and vintage barrel.

For Rick, a man of faith who worked in his family’s real estate brokerage firm, First Realty Advisors, for 40 years, this segue into the hardware business was a calling.  “It was obvious to me that the store needed to be purchased, and this great collection needed to remain intact.”  So, he’s passed the real estate business to the next generation of Bossermans, while he and Nancy devote themselves full-time to getting Hinge up and running.

HEAD HINGENEERS: RICK AND NANCY BOSSERMAN

HEAD HINGENEERS: RICK AND NANCY BOSSERMAN

The purchase of the business was a leap of faith in more ways than one.  Rick had no experience in retail sales, but set about converting an 8,700 square foot building located at 1506 N. Orange Blossom Trail, to a showroom and warehouse.

Then, they had to tackle the inventory. Most of the hardware was housed in a showroom, 5 large storage sheds and 2 45-ft. semi trailers in Mount Dora.  “The areas were so crammed full, there was no way to really tell what we were purchasing until we got it to Orlando and started going through the items piece by piece,” said Rick. Rick assembled a team of “Hingeneers,” including the Hardware Man’s daughter Kathy, to pack, move, unpack, clean, sort, and stock more than 3 million pieces of inventory, a process that took about 3 months, and 6 more months to create the showroom.  When they opened their doors to the public, they took a conscious break from the unpacking. In fact, when I visited their stocked-to-the gills warehouse and display rooms, I noticed the two semi trailers on the lot out back.  “What’s in those?” I asked Rick.  “I have no idea,” he laughed.  “We have to sell some of our existing inventory before we even open them.”

So, what will you find at Hinge?  Come, take a look inside:

HINGE IS ONE PART RETAIL STORE, ONE PART MUSUEM

HINGE IS ONE PART RETAIL STORE, ONE PART MUSEUM

VINTAGE LIGHTING: CUSTOMERS CAN MIX AND MATCH GLOBES, BOWLS, CHAINS AND BASES.

VINTAGE LIGHTING: CUSTOMERS CAN MIX AND MATCH GLOBES, BOWLS, CHAINS AND BASES.

GET A HANDLE ON THE SELECTION!

GET A HANDLE ON THE SELECTION!

 

THE ARTFUL DISPLAYS ARE A JOY TO BEHOLD

THE ARTFUL DISPLAYS ARE A JOY TO BEHOLD

 

LOSE THE KEY TO YOUR ANTIQUE HUTCH? YOU’RE IN LUCK.

LOSE THE KEY TO YOUR ANTIQUE HUTCH? YOU’RE IN LUCK.

They say it’s easy to sell a product you believe in.  If this is the case, Hinge will be wildly successful.  The Bossermans and their team love vintage hardware.

“They truly don’t make ‘em like they used to,” says Nancy, who has a doctorate in home economics and formerly wrote textbooks.  “These products have endured for generations, and most are no longer being made today.”

Rick adds, “our hardware comes from a time when if something was broken, you repaired it, you didn’t throw it away.”  He shows me a carpet binder from 1902 that still cranks perfectly. “Runs like a charm,” he smiles.

“Plus,” says Nancy, “not only is this hardware functional, it’s beautiful.”

Indeed, try finding door hardware this beautiful at Home Depot:

door hardware

Or a bread server with this kind of patina at Williams-Sonoma:

F:SKUs2-28-20145_MG_9832.JPG

Next up, Rick is working on the company website, www.hingevintagehardware.com, to broaden Hinge’s market to cyberspace.

Lucky for us, we Central Floridians can visit Hinge in person.

Hinge is located at 1506 North Orange Blossom Trail in Orlando.  Store hours are Monday through Friday, 10 to 6, and Saturday from 10 to 4.  

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Happy to Be Home

A few weeks back, we asked our readers to tell us about their favorite house in Winter Park.  While there were some predictable (and excellent) choices—The Palms, Casa Feliz, that-amazing-red-brick-house-on-Seminole-that-everyone-drools-over—it was a pleasant surprise that a number of respondents said that they were LIVING in their favorite Winter Park house.  This was a good excuse to visit, and profile, two of them:

“This house IS Winter Park.”

Lots of houses look wonderfully old on the outside.  They have gorgeous historic wrought-iron, hand-hewn balconies, and charming architectural features that please the eye and the soul.  Then you go inside, and you might as well be in a five-year-old Isleworth mansion.  All signs of yesteryear have been eradicated to ‘meet the needs of today’s homeowner.’

Sally's Dream House

Sally’s Dream House

Authenticity Defined

Authenticity Defined

Delightfully, this is not the case with Sally Flynn’s 1929 Virginia Heights home. Precious little has changed since the day she laid eyes on it in 1966, save a few cosmetic touches and the expansion of the family room, and today the house is even more soulful inside than it is outside.  The Spanish style house sits on just over an acre on the west shore of Lake Virginia, and Sally has an unobstructed view from her porch of the only large plat of undeveloped land on the lake—the Windsong Preserve.  “Every time I pull into my driveway,” Sally says, “I feel I’m the luckiest person in the world.”

The lot overlooking the Windsong Preserve

The lot overlooking the Windsong Preserve

If Hollywood were to design a set for an idyllic childhood home, it couldn’t come closer than this one. Sally raised her five (now adult) children in the house. She reflects, “this house IS Winter Park to my children,” only one of whom still lives in Florida.  Although the rooms are very large, with original plaster, antique decorative light fixtures, gorgeous magnolia ceiling beams, and crown molding, there isn’t a piece of furniture that couldn’t withstand a sick child reclining on it, or a dog’s muddy paws.  The huge dining room is populated by family antiques—none of them overly fancy or off-putting, the kind of furnishings that root you to a simpler past. None of the upholstery really matches, yet it is the most unintentionally elegant home I have ever been inside. “I’ve never had a decorator,” says Sally. “Never had much interest in that.”

Living Room

Living Room

Dining Room

Dining Room

The house boasts a large, farmhouse kitchen with lots of original cabinets, homey wallpaper, formica countertops and a kitchen table that says, ‘come sit down.’  There’s a sweeping expanse of lawn between the house and the lake, whose rose garden was removed so it didn’t interfere with her three sons’ backyard baseball games. If you listen carefully, you can almost still hear the squeals of children running the bases, chasing each other up and down what has to be the most inviting staircase in Winter Park, or running laps around the downstairs.  Perhaps, though, this is because a bevy of Sally’s 12 grandchildren have just recently departed from spending a week spring break at Camp Grammy.

No Sub-Zero Here

No Sub-Zero Here

How many kids have slid down this banister?

How many kids have slid down this banister?

And while, let’s be honest, you cannot own a grand house full of lovely antiques on an acre of land on Lake Virginia without being a person of some means, Sally’s humble, New England pragmatism pervades every part of her person.  For instance, the 3 ½ bathroom house initially had no shower.  She eventually added one in the kids’ half of the upstairs to satisy her brood of athlete teenagers, but the master ‘suite,’ if you could call it that, still has only the original tub, sink and toilet. “For heaven’s sakes, what more do I need?” says Sally, whose drip-dry grey bob hairstyle is about as unfussy as they come.

Sally in a rare pose--sitting down

Sally in a rare pose–sitting down

And, sitting on Sally’s sun porch overlooking a still Lake Virginia on a bright, breezy spring day, I’d be hard put to think of any need this house wouldn’t satisfy.

 Marjorie’s Happy Place

Bet you didn’t know that, on the south shore of Lake Osceola, there’s a 99-year-old house that sits on 4 (count ‘em) otherwise undeveloped acres.  And if walls could speak, Bryan and Marjorie Bekaert Thomas’ house could almost dictate a history of Winter Park. The 1915 English arts and crafts style house, once called “Pine Needles,” was built on the former site of the famed Seminole Hotel, which burned in 1902.

Accented by trellises bearing fuchsia bougainvillea, the 4700 square foot woodframe house has always been home to prominent Winter Park families.  Built for Mr. and Mrs. Harley Gibbs, old “Winter Park Forum” articles tell stories of the gracious society entertaining that took place there. The subsequent owners, the Freemans, also fêted Winter Park’s gentry.  Their daughter Billie Freeman Greene, who would raise her family there, was a well-known botanist, watercolor artist and published author.  Billie’s husband Ray was a top administrator at Rollins, developed Greeneda Court on Park Avenue, and served as Winter Park mayor in the 1950s.

thomas front wideWhen the Thomases moved to Winter Park in 1982, Marjorie had her sights set on another house across the lake, but wondered whether the house was priced fairly.  For comparison purposes, her real estate agent took her to Pine Needles, which was a much bigger house on much more land than the couple had considered purchasing. Marjorie fell madly in love.  “I knew the instant I crossed the threshold,” she remembers. Bryan needed convincing—they lived in the house five years before he would admit he had grown to love it as much as she did from the start.

Sun porch and trellis

Sun porch and trellis

Yet the house is not what you would expect from the founder and owner of a multi-million dollar news production company, Ivanhoe Broadcast News, and someone who spends her spare time playing polo.  Marjorie is a steel magnolia—a shrewd businesswoman with the easy laugh, warm smile and gentile accent of a North Carolina belle.

Marjorie and friend

Marjorie and friend

Master fireplace“I hate McMansions,” says Marjorie.  Indeed, her house, grounds and furnishings bespeak a lack of pretension wholly absent in squeaky-new homes dripping in travertine.  Like Sally Flynn’s, Marjorie’s kitchen is somewhat cluttered with projects and looks as if someone actually prepares food there.  There are four fireplaces with well-worn hearths.  The huge yard is wild, with mown turf mixed with sand where you might expect manicured boxwood.  It’s perfectly suited to long games of fetch with her beloved dogs–an Australian shepherd and a Border collie.

Casual elegance

Casual elegance

And while it’s a large house for two people, Marjorie and Bryan use most of the rooms.   They recently moved all the furniture out of the grand living room, with the wall of windows overlooking Lake Osceola, so that they could practice yoga there. Bryan works from home in the remodeled servant’s quarters, and they frequently host out-of-town guests.  Marjorie’s favorite room in the house?  One of two sun porches. “I love nothing more than to sit here on Sunday and read the New York Times.”

The yoga studio...

The yoga studio…

As much as she cherishes the house, Marjorie loves the property even more, and has resisted numerous tempting offers to sell off portions of it.  She told one suitor, who kept upping the ante, “Do NOT call me again. I do not want to have to say ‘yes’” she laughs. Her long-range plan is to move into the 1600 sq. foot guest house, designed by James Gamble Rogers and recently updated, and to rent or sell the house and grounds.  This pattern was established by Billie Greene, who continued to live in the guest house for years after Marjorie and Bryan occupied the main house.  Marjorie happily yielded to Billie’s tending flower beds around the property, and harvesting bouquets for the Winter Park Library next door.

It’s only appropriate, on one of Winter Park’s most storied properties, that history will repeat itself.

 

 

 

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Confessions of a Rehab Addict

Nicole Curtis, Rehab Addict

Nicole Curtis, Rehab Addict

Nicole Curtis, host of the hit HGTV show “Rehab Addict,” is a study in contrasts.  Glancing at the glossy in her press kit, one might confuse Curtis for a Lexus-driving ‘yummy mummy,’ who spends her spare time getting manicures and playing doubles at the Club.  One would be terribly mistaken.  Look more closely at Curtis’ blond locks and you’ll see streaks of paint primer. Peer at her calloused hands to see the tile grout beneath her fingernails.  The holes in her blue jeans?  From days spent on her knees refinishing floors, not strategically distressed by a fashion designer.

Curtis will bring her brand of “do it yourself restoration” to Central Florida, when she headlines the Eighth Annual James Gamble Rogers Colloquium on Historic Preservation.  Scheduled for Saturday, May 17, Curtis will kick off the day’s program with her keynote lecture, “Restore, Repurpose, Reuse!”  The morning session will begin with registration at 9:30 a.m. at the Tiedtke Audiorium at Rollins College.

“We are beyond excited to have Nicole Curtis speaking at this year’s Colloquium,” said Margie Bridges, chair of the event.  “Nicole represents that next generation of preservationists, shaped by leaner economic times, who value the old, make do with less, and celebrate the recycled.”

“Rehab Addict” features Curtis tackling condemned houses in midwestern cities, restoring them to their former historic glory.  Minnesota Monthly describes Curtis thusly: “With spitfire intensity and a wolf-mother protectiveness toward ugly, abandoned houses, the DIY Network’s Nicole Curtis is a fresh firecracker in the banal world of TV home improvement.”

Here’s a peak at Curtis’ take-no-prisoners approach to home improvement:

Though the single mom is a Detroit native who lives with her teenage son in Minneapolis, Curtis earned her rehab chops in the Sunshine State. “My first home purchase was a heap bought via land contract in Tampa–I couldn’t afford a “pretty home” so I bought the ugliest 1945 Ranch for $52,000. My house payment was $596.42 a month and I waitressed and sold cell phone contracts while going to school to afford it. I had to learn how to paint, plumb, tile from the ground up.”   That was almost two decades, dozens of fixer-uppers (both investment properties and personal homes) and a hit TV show ago, but Curtis still loves to roll up her sleeves and pry up bad linoleum.

She’s also a preservation proselytizer.  Through her television show, blog and Facebook page (38,000 fans!), Curtis doesn’t hesitate to preach the gospel.  “My goal is to strengthen the preservation movement –but I can’t do it alone,” she says. “My favorite people are those that know they have a civic duty and act on it to get involved in their communities. Don’t say ‘Nicole, save this house.’  Say, ‘Nicole-I’m following your lead and am saving this house.’

Colloquium House Tour

barnes house

prather houseward home

After the morning session and a break for lunch, Colloquium attendees will see theory in practice as they tour some of Winter Park’s finest rehabilitated historic homes. Primarily located in the Forrest Hills and Virginia Heights neighborhoods, the tour will feature homes that have been lovingly restored rather than remodeled.  “These are houses that, by and large, still have their original ‘bones,’” said Julie Lamar, chair of the Friends of Casa Feliz. “The homeowners have not come in and said, ‘I like the envelope of the house, but let’s rip out the innards and have some fun with travertine.’  No, they appreciate their homes for their historic patina, inside and out.”

In other words, Nicole Curtis will find some kindred spirits when she comes to Winter Park.

Full details about registering for this year’s Colloquium will be available on the Casa Feliz website, www.casafeliz.us, beginning April 1.

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CAPEN CELEBRATION!

If ever I start to forget why I love my hometown of Winter Park, I need only return to the memories of yesterday, December 10, 2013, when the community came together to move a precious historic house across a lake.  Yesterday was a triumph shared by  many people:

  • By Debbie Komanski, executive director of the Albin Polasek Museum & Sculpture Gardens, who has been the definition of indefatigable throughout this six-month journey.  When she first agreed to take on this project, she was told “all you really need to do is provide the land.  We’ll take care of the rest.” That she is not only still speaking to the starry-eyed preservationist/blogger who made this promise–perhaps the most outrageous understatement in city history–but at every turn deflects credit from herself onto others, is incredible. She is grace personified.
  • By the Preservation Capen team, a cross-organizational cadre of community leaders and technical experts who have met week after week, month after month, to strategize, publicize, raise money, make phone calls, speak to civic groups, and cheer-lead at the Farmer’s Market, at rallies, and parades.  This group has provided the spiritual fuel, sweat, and goodwill that has propelled the Capen House project forward.
  • By Christine Madrid French, a nationally renowned preservationist who by our good fortune found herself living in preservation-challenged (but improving!) Central Florida. As project director, she has capably steered the project to fruition, with a huge smile on her face and sparkles in her hair.
  • By Pat and Randy Robertson, whose early donation to the project got us off the ground.
  • By the boards, staff and members of the Albin Polasek Museum, Winter Park Historical Association and the Friends of Casa Feliz, who locked arms to devote their organizational resources to helping make history in Winter Park. I’ve never seen a stronger testament to teamwork.
  • By the local press, who have belied the common complaint that the media only report bad news.  The Orlando Sentinel’s David Breen and I LUV Winter Park’s Clyde Moore, and a whole bevy of print, TV, web and radio reporters have pursued this story with persistence, fairness and accuracy.
  • By hundreds of financial supporters, whose contributions have made the dream of floating a house across a lake a reality.
  • By property owners John and Betsy Pokorny, who have bent over backwards to cooperate with the community’s plans to move the Capen House.  In a city that told them, “go ahead, you can knock it down,” they put their dream house on hold for many months so the preservation community could satisfy their dream of moving the house.
  • By Thaddeus Seymour, an 85-year-old retired college president who by all rights should be sipping martinis on a golf course in Palm Springs, but instead has spent his retirement serving his adopted community of Winter Park.  No task is too daunting or too picayune for Thad, who will spend a morning asking a community leader for a landmark donation and an afternoon printing out Capen House postcards on his Mac.
  • By Frank Roark, the general contractor overseeing the project, who has juggled the often competing needs of the Polasek, the moving company, the city, the homeowners, the lawyers, the fundraisers, and the media, and has subjugated his own personal needs to all of the above. He loves Winter Park, and Winter Park loves him.

If you weren’t among the throngs of folks who witnessed this miracle first-hand, we hope you’ll enjoy some of these photos and videos from this jubilant day:

Image

The descent to the Lake

Image

Final boarding call

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Cat’s out of the bag

Video of the Move–Click Here

Anchors aweigh!

Anchors aweigh!

Sailing, sailing!

Sailing, sailing!

Thad Seymour documents history

Thad Seymour documents history

Image

A flotilla of well-wishers

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First Night in her new home

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A final plea…


http://www.orlandosentinel.com/videogallery/78500977/Time-lapse-of-moving-the-Capen-House

http://findingjoyinflorida.com/2013/12/11/moving-victory-in-winter-park/

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PRESERVATIONIST PROFILE: PAT ROBERTSON

Channeling Despair into Activism

Pat Robertson vividly remembers the year 1969, when she was 14 and her parents wrestled with buying their stately home at 950 Palmer Avenue, then known as the Joshua Chase House.  She says her parents couldn’t really afford the house—it was $89,000, which was a huge stretch for the couple raising four children.  Pat recalls, “After church one day, my dad tried to interest my mom in another, less expensive house that was for sale on Georgia Avenue.  My brother and sisters and I got out of the car, and ran all around that house and through the backyard. We thought it was great.”  Her mother refused to get out of the car.  She had fallen in love with the 1926 Mediterranean on Palmer, and if they couldn’t afford it, she’d just as soon stay in Maitland.

As is often the case when it comes to real estate transactions, the wife prevailed. Page Schenck convinced Jay, who with his brother Virgil ran the Schenck Company beer distributorship, that she would be willing to sacrifice other budget items in order to move into the Chase House. And Jay held her to it.  Pat remembers that they lived in the house without living room or dining room furniture for more than a year.  But Page was content because she loved every inch of the house, even unfurnished. “Mom and Dad could make do with less, and wanted their kids to do the same. They didn’t believe in buying things on credit.  My sisters and I had a meager clothing allowance.  We made our own clothes.”  One year, when Pat and her younger sister were teenagers, they both asked for 10-speed bikes for Christmas.  “We came down Christmas morning, and they had gotten us one 10-speed bike, and it was a tandem,” laughs Pat.

The Schenck Family, 1971

The Schenck Family, 1971

Page instilled in Pat her love for the craftsmanship of an old home.  “Every detail of that house – the windows, the door hardware, the light fixtures, the slate floors—was a work of art,” remembers Pat.

In fact, they studied together the original letters that citrus magnate Joshua Chase had written to the contractor while his house was being built, and the original plans, which were lovingly stored in a brown suede bag.  In a stroke of kismet, they discovered that the plans were dated April 1, Pat’s and Page’s shared birthday.

The house exuded history.  Pat said that each of the beautiful mahogany bedroom doors had door knockers; evidently the house received overflow guests from the nearby Alabama Hotel in the 1930s and 40s.  The original floor tiles had been used as ballast on a ship that came over from Europe in 1925. Over the garage, there were two servants’ rooms that had dial recievers on the wall; each bedroom in the main house had a buzzer that communicated with the receiver to summon the servants to the appropriate room. The Schencks didn’t have live-in help, but the kids had a grand time playing with the buzzers from a bygone era. The house also had its own incinerator and chimney for disposing of trash, common in the 1920s but a curiosity in the 1970s.

In the late 1980s, a friend created this video of the picturesque home: 

“The thing that I most loved about the house was the textures,” says Pat.  She waxes poetic about the nooks and crannies that adorned each room, the rough plaster walls, the curved ironwork railings, the cold slate floors that brought relief even in the hottest months.  Pat says spending time in their grandparents’ house engendered a love for historic homes in her own children.  “My son has bought a 100-year-old house in Asheville that he’s having to put a lot of work into, but he loves it, and it’s worth it.”

After Jay Schenck died in 2004, his heirs put the 5,264 square foot historic home on the market.  These photos were taken to market the home:

The Chase-Schenck Home, 2004

The Chase-Schenck Home, 2004

Schenck living room, 2004

Schenck living room, 2004

Schenck Dining Room, 2004

Schenck Dining Room, 2004

Unfortunately, the siblings couldn’t reach consensus on whether to list it on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places, which would have protected the house from demolition, but had the potential for reducing the selling price.  Pat prayed that someone would buy it who would cherish the house, its history and its eccentricities, and not just want the prestigious lakefront lot.  But this was not to be.

The new owner immediately began demolition on the house he purchased for $3.3 million. A wrecking crew arrived on property, and demolished all but the pergola, two fireplaces and the wall between the garage and kitchen.  Pat went to the property and walked among the rubble.  “It’s good I went alone, because I wailed like a hyena,” she says. “I just couldn’t believe it.”  She harvested a piece of green tile from her girlhood bathroom that she cherished, and a tiny scrap of curtain.  “It was all that was left.”

In place of the 1926 Chase-Schenck House, an 11,800 square foot mansion, complete with his-and-her dressing rooms, travertine floors and a “grand staircase” rose up to take its place.  In 2010, the owner stopped making payments and the bank foreclosed on the double-wide hacienda, pictured below:

950 Palmer Avenue, 2010

950 Palmer Avenue, 2010

950 Palmer Avenue, living room

950 Palmer Avenue, living room, 2010

.

950 Palmer Avenue, home theater

950 Palmer Avenue, home theater, 2010

In 2011, Fifth Third Bank sold the house to the current owner for $2.65 million.

As a result of what happened with her parents’ house, Pat got active in historic preservation.  “You have to take the poison in your life and make something good come from it,” she says. She credits serving on the Casa Feliz board as part of her healing.  “If I can help save other significant Winter Park homes from ending up like my parents’ did, I want to help do it.”  Currently, Pat serves on the steering committee of Preservation Capen, which will oversee the move of the 1885 Capen House this December.  She’s convinced some of her siblings, who were chagrined at the demolition of their parents’ home, to contribute financially to saving the Capen House.

She has a reputation in the community as being a diplomatic and effective advocate for keeping Winter Park true to its roots. “If I had to name the five people who have given the most to preservation in this community, Pat’s name would be among them,” says Jack Rogers, who served with Pat on the Friends board.  “She has made Casa Feliz a better organization, and Winter Park a better city. Her energy is a force of nature.”

Pat and Randy Robertson

Pat and Randy Robertson

One house that will never meet with the wrecking ball is Pat’s own lakefront home on College Point, an eclectic Italianate house with craftsman-style features, where she lives with her husband Randy. They purchased the home from Thad and Polly Seymour in 2007, and like her mother before her, Pat knew instantly when she crossed the threshold that she was meant to live there.  “I’ve never been in a house with such clean, good energy. I told Randy, don’t tell me what the taxes are, because then I won’t want to buy it, and I’m going to buy this house.”  The 1933 house is listed on the Winter Park Register of Historic Places.

Robertson Residence on College Point

Robertson Residence on College Point

Looking ahead, Pat hopes that Winter Park will heed the wakeup call to prevent future demolitions of the homes that add so much to the community. “These special homes truly define Winter Park, and once they’re gone, they’re gone. I’m optimistic that Winter Park’s preservation ordinance will be strengthened to safeguard our architectural history.”

If that happens, it means that Winter Parkers would find it a lot more difficult to demolish a 1926 landmark home to build an oversized faux chateau with an in-home theater.  But then again, maybe we could all learn to make do with a little less.

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Phoenix on Orange Avenue

In recent years, anyone driving down Orange Avenue from Winter Park to Orlando passed by this eyesore:

before front

Of course, the house at 1509 North Orange Avenue hadn’t always looked this way.  When it was constructed in 1926 for the Babcock Family, the house was a gleaming example of the Spanish eclectic architecture that would become so popular in Central Florida in the years that followed.  The stucco, barrel-tile roofed structure attracted buyers to the new neighborhood by Walter Rose’s Central Florida Development Company.  Orwin Manor—so named because it straddled the border of ORlando and WINter Park–was the first neighborhood in the area built with streetlamps, sidewalks, and a sewer system.  The deed to the land specified that the buyer  “shall at no time erect any dwelling on the above described premises costing any less than $7,500.00,” a princely sum at the time. The Babcocks’ home did not disappoint—its striking façade was detailed with arched French doors leading to shallow ironwork balconies, rounded arch vents, an asymmetrical recessed entry with decoratively sculpted plasterwork, and a beautiful side Florida room with arched windows. Clearly, this house was built to stop traffic on what was then called “Dixie Highway,” the only two-lane road between the two cities.

Through the years, the house was occupied by a series of prominent families, including citrus magnate JM McCord. Yet in recent decades, disrepair overtook the house’s original glory.  Sheets of paint peeled from the façade. Overgrown shrubbery and ‘trash trees’ obscured the house’s architectural detailing.  Six rusted vehicles cluttered the yard.

It would be reasonable for a passerby to assume that the house, which occupied this valuable piece of real estate a five-minute drive from both downtown Winter Park and Orlando, was not long for this world. Over the past 20 years, houses in better condition than this have been demolished on a weekly basis in Winter Park.  Surely, even preservation pioneers would consider this dilapidated doozy “too far gone.”

Enter Aimee and Michael Spencer.  Newly relocated to Winter Park, the Spencers had a penchant for old houses. They had restored a 1924 house in Colonialtown in the City of Orlando and painstakingly built another in Historic Flamingo Park in the City of West Palm Beach to “look like it was built in the 1920s”.  Their work was so convincing that they frequently got questions from people wondering about “the restoration.”

Still, when they crossed the threshold with their real estate agent, the house was a full-on assault on their senses.  See for yourself:

Kitchen: before

Kitchen: before

Master bedroom: before

Master bedroom: before

Twin bedroom: before

Twin bedroom: before

Sheets of paint hung from ceilings, rust-stained from years of roof and plumbing leakage. Floors and windows hadn’t been maintained for decades. The piles of clutter and boxes created a labyrinthine effect, stacked in nearly every room.  The kitchen was squalid, with rusted cabinets hanging from their hinges. During their visit, the couple counted six cats and four dogs.

But the Spencers liked a challenge.  They saw beneath the clutter and grime the bones of a structure that would be extremely costly if impossible to rebuild.  Plus, Michael, a general contractor and construction manager for SeaWorld, had a lot more know-how than your average homebuyer.  They rolled up their sleeves and got to work.

The first step was to discern what jobs they should farm out and what they could realistically tackle themselves with their three-year-old daughter, Ava Grace, nipping at their heels.   In the former category they put the roof, which was painstakingly repaired—section by section, tiles were removed, subroof replaced, and then tiles reinstalled. The electric and plumbing systems were completely replaced. The exterior of the house required extensive scraping and repainting.  Interior plaster ceilings and walls had to be replaced because of water damage.

A lot of the work involved a complete restoration of the original doors and windows.  The Spencers teamed with CCS Restorations of Sanford for the work.  While it might have been easier to replace rather than restore, the quality of the original woodwork was apparent.  Though shabby in appearance, the heart cypress sashes had no rot, despite at least 30 years of neglect. Plus, according to Aimee, “new doors and windows rob a historic house of its soul.”   The Spencers removed the windows a few at a time, drove them to Sanford, and restored the jambs themselves while CCS tackled the sashes. Seeing the beautifully restored and reinstalled windows and doors, it would be difficult to argue that their labor was unjustified.  The soul of the house flourishes.

The backyard required a full-scale excavation. When all was said and done, they had hauled 4 dumpsters full of trash from the property. When they thought they were done, they uncovered a Suzuki Samurai hidden in the back yard’s overgrown vegetation.

The interior of the house is an anomaly–it retains its historic character while gleaming with newness.  The special Benjamin Moore metallic blue paint shimmers as sun streams in through the French doors.  Although many of the fixtures in the bathrooms and kitchen are new, the Spencers took care to choose things that were period-appropriate.  They were also able to reuse the ‘subway’ tile from the original bathrooms for the butler’s pantry and backsplashes.

By May 2012, the home was ready to occupy, although the couple continues to chip away at painting and yardwork.  Ava Grace now occupies a pink-painted room with dark brown stuffed monkeys and polka dots frolicking on the linens. The Spencers have received broad recognition for the project.  In 2012, the house was named to the Winter Park Register of Historic Places.  Earlier this year, the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation presented the Spencers with an Outstanding Achievement award. The website of “This Old House” features the house’s restoration.  It’s easy to see why:

The Spencer Home - 2013

The Spencer Home – 2013

Here are some after shots provided by the Spencers.  Preservation Winter Park has verified with our own eyes that in fact, these ARE the same house:

Rear after

Rear: after

Living room after

Living room: after

Sun porch: after

Sun porch: after

Kitchen: after

Kitchen: after

Kitchen: after

Kitchen: after

Master bedroom: after

Master bedroom: after

Twin bedroom - after

Twin bedroom: after

And although the Spencers “intend to be repainting this house when (they’re) 80,” the rehab has made financial sense as well.  Purchased for $275,000, after complete renovations the couple will have invested less than $200 per square foot for a house with all new mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, insulation, waterproof membrane and original tile roof, and refinished or new finished in place hardwoods.  The estimate even includes the cost of a future swimming pool and fenced backyard.

Still, Aimee says the greatest rewards for their labor are intangible.  “People have gotten so far away from caring for their own homes.  The further away you get, the less appreciation you have for the richness of the materials, which combine function and beauty. With this home, we’ve gotten to witness a Phoenix rising from the ashes.”  She also hopes that their persistence will teach Ava Grace that “anything worth having is worth the work.”

Looking ahead, Aimee plans to become more active in historic preservation in Winter Park.  “I hope the city will start to put a higher priority on protecting historic houses. We need a stronger ordinance, and better incentives for people to have their houses listed.” She serves on the Friends of Casa Feliz’s advocacy committee, and is eager to share with Winter Park some of the preservation successes she witnessed during her years in Orlando and West Palm Beach.

Meanwhile, there’s more crown molding that needs to be painted, and some screens to repair. The Phoenix has risen, but he needs to be fed.

 

 

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