Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Vintage Home Beautiful
A couple take on the renovation of a 19th-century stone house in the Texas hill country and find unexpected delights.
HERE'S WHAT A FEW IDYLLIC WEEKENDS IN THE COUNTRY WILL DO TO YOUR LIFE: They'll upend it. After visiting Fredericksburg, arguably the Texas Hill Country's cutest town, a Houston couple bought an old stone house — even though it had been neglected in recent years and they had never taken on a renovation before.
Built in the 1880s by the Eckert family, among the early settlers of Fredericksburg, the house sits on eight and a half acres of the original 600-acre Eckert ranch (much of which is still home to descendants). The house reminded the couple of ones they'd seen on trips to Provence — in spite of previous owners' efforts to modernize it by covering hardwood floors with linoleum and 18-inch-thick limestone walls with Sheetrock.
Their goal was to recapture its essence. To that end, they basically undid what had been done over the years and allowed the place to show its age. Which wasn't as easy as it sounds. "We went into it naively," the wife says of the seven-year project. "We kept asking ourselves, 'What have we gotten into?'" Now the answer is simple: A house loaded with as much charm as the town itself.
Inside, layers of Sheetrock installed by previous owners were removed, revealing pleasingly distressed 18-inch-thick limestone walls.
In the dining room, everything was restored to the way it might have looked 125 years ago, including limestone walls, longleaf pine floors, the pressed-tin ceiling, and the door with its transom (to help with ventilation in a house without central heat and air). A mix of chairs — antique finds from the Warrenton, Tex., flea market interspersed with new oxidized-iron chairs — surround the long table.
The china cabinet stores a disparate collection — pewter plates, Wedgwood china, a blue tea set — handed down from family members.
During the renovation, the couple lived in the guesthouse, which had originally been a smokehouse.
They outfitted the place with few furnishings to allow each piece to function as a focal point. "It's great having a husband who is handy," says the wife. "We found a dining table at an antiques shop and he said, 'I can make that.'" So he did.
In the course of peeling away the layers of previous renovations, the couple decided to leave the home's mottled surfaces "as is." In doing so, they recaptured its personality. "Our first instinct was to make it like new, but as we uncovered things we gained an appreciation for the beauty of what was there."