July 09, 2016

Restoring a home to its original grandeur and beyond

Restoring a home to its original grandeur and beyond
By The West View

Fifteen years ago, I came across a 100 year-old, run-down house for sale, and immediately envisioned it restored to its original grandeur. Built in 1902 by David H. Clayton, it was one of the first houses constructed west of the Jordan River. The Claytons farmed a large swath of land along the west bank of the river for many years before it was developed into what is now Glendale. Clayton’s father, William B. Clayton, was one of the earliest settlers of the Salt Lake Valley and wrote the popular LDS hymn, “Come, Come Ye Saints.”

I have always been fascinated by old houses and their history. I had hoped to find one of my own to fix up, and this one was certainly a fixer-upper! It had sat vacant for about a year and had been severely vandalized inside and out. Many of the windows had been broken, and graffiti marred its every wall and ceiling. At 28 years old, I was undaunted even by the dilapidated wiring and plumbing.

Eager to get started, I moved in the beginning of April and weathered several chilly nights with no heat or electricity. It didn’t take long to realize what an enormous project I’d taken on.

My first reality check came with the spring rains. I had just spent a couple weeks installing a new oak floor, only to see it quickly soaked as rainwater penetrated several areas of the roof. Five layers of asphalt shingles and the original wooden shakes all had to come off before I could then sheath and re-shingle it. It’s a steep and complex hip-style with five dormers – not exactly a beginner’s roof. It took me the next two full summers to complete.

By this time I had a table saw set up in the parlor and an arsenal of electrical hand tools. All I needed was a few new skills to accompany my enthusiasm. I learned the basics of wiring and plumbing from the internet, home improvement store demonstrations and the few friends I had left who’d survived the roofing project. Frustration was no stranger as I slowly gained experience inside those old walls. It seemed like each task I took on came with a list of others that needed to be done first.

The front porch had settled nearly eight inches and required shoring up to bring the sagging roof back into alignment. The brick pillars bolstering each of the seven support columns had begun to flounder. I replaced the crumbling brick with concrete footings and placed a 4x4 through the center of each column, lending these aging beauties additional support. The back porch columns had tragically been removed and replaced with an enclosure by a previous owner. I found great satisfaction in ripping it off and replacing them, restoring some of the original architectural charm.

The kitchen required the most effort, planning, and time. Growing tired of 7-Eleven hotdogs and the inability to adequately entertain company were two motivators. Since modern amenities have transformed kitchens of a hundred years ago so immensely, it left me with some tough decisions, aesthetically. I chose to incorporate modern, economic appliances but smothered them with gaudy-enough cabinetry to amuse any proper Victorian. I spent three full winters constructing the cabinets on site, garnishing them with appliques, turned spindles and carved cherubs.

I began spending summers creating a garden I’ve named “Weeping Cedars,” where several species of pines, junipers, and cedars thrive in the clay soil. I enjoy shaping and training trees to give them a more aged character, much like bonsai but on a larger scale. Accentuated with a koi pond and dotted with Japanese maples, it has a Japan-meets-Utah appeal. Manicured evergreens contrast sharply against a red rock backdrop, all under a canopy of pendulous cedars and pergolas. I’ve enjoyed the birds and other wildlife the garden attracts, even though this also includes predators like the Kingfisher that pluck out the bright-colored fish from the pond.

I’m pleased with how the place has taken shape over the years, but it’s still a work in progress. The floor plan remains mostly original, and I’ve refinished the previously painted woodwork, embellishing with chair rails, crown molding, and coffered ceilings, as many homes of this time period would likely have had. The 10-foot ceilings, broad pocket doors and tall windows beget a stately ambience of an era long passed. I’m proud to play any role in preserving this part of history.