Barbara Wohlgemuth bought a charming 854-square-foot Travis Heights bungalow in 1996, a year after she and her late partner, Kay Longcope, sold the Texas Triangle gay newspaper they published.
The house, built between 1927 and 1930, still has many of the original touches and footprint. It was kept as a rental property, along with a separate two-story garage apartment in the back.
Two years ago, Wohlgemuth and her partner Carrie Stapleton decided it was time for the house to become their residence, but 854 square feet was too small for them. They wanted to keep the original charm of the house while making it livable for a modern couple.
They began working with architect Emily Little of Clayton & Little to plan a remodel of the home that also included an addition. Jason Crabtree of Premier Partners Homes did the work. It will be one of 10 homes on the Tour of Remodeled Homes curated by the Austin chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry this month.
From the outset, the homeowners and Little wanted to preserve the history of the house and the feel of Travis Heights. Instead of just adding a second story or pushing the front or side walls out, Little created a design that would keep the original shape of the bungalow, but add a two-story addition on the back of the house. The addition also would be in harmony with the garage apartment.
“So many of our neighborhoods get thrown off balance by the invasion of much larger structures,” Little says. “We wanted to keep the character of the house and the streetscape … we pushed the new to the back to take a secondary status in relation to the original structure.”
One of the things Wohlgemuth and Stapleton fought hard to keep was the original longleaf pine floor. Crabtree had the floors removed and stored during the process, but they needed additional flooring to complete the process. It happened that the longleaf pine floors of an apartment building in Dallas where Lee Harvey Oswald lived at the time of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination were being recycled and sold. The wood was a worthy match to the bungalow’s floors.
The bunglalow’s floors had to be sanded and cleaned and made to fit with the Oswald floors. And now, in the house, the floor boards alternate: one board from the bungalow, one from the Oswald building.
Wohlgemuth says many people discouraged them from preserving the floors because of the cost and the amount of work. “It was such a labor of love,” she says.
This house, like many older homes, ended up being more work and more expensive to preserve and remodel than to tear it down and build a new house, but the end result would not have been as rewarding.
“I really have to say hats off to the clients,” Little says. “They loved that house. They knew they had a piece of South Austin history and they wanted to preserve that.”
Crabtree was able to use other original bungalow elements in the remodel. He recycled bead board and used it in the white kitchen cabinets. The windows’ original wood screens are being refurbished and put back on the house. The wood siding was cleaned up and painted.
Where new things had to be used, the couple chose items that are reminiscent of the Arts and Crafts period. In the dining room, new wainscoting was added and made to look of the time. Wohlgemuth and Stapleton did the design work themselves and found new white-on-white floral wallpaper and a metal and crystal tree-inspired chandelier and sconces. The dining room at the front of the house was originally a living room and contained the front entry, which faced toward the side of the house.
The new family room once held the kitchen. A three-sided fireplace with slate and copper tile connects the family room with the new kitchen and the new living room. The couple got the idea for the peninsula fireplace from a home tour they attended.
The living room was once a bedroom. Accordion doors open up all the way to the outdoor patio that wraps around from the front door to the living room to the master bedroom. The landscaping is all xeriscaped. A fence, designed by Wohlgemuth, allows the couple to make use of the front yard and large side yard. Being able to use the outdoor spaces as an extension of the living space was really important to the couple.
Exterior elements also played a large role in the design. The lot includes a couple of heritage trees. Protecting their critical root zone “drove the show” as far as design, Little says.
The new kitchen is sleek with gray soapstone counters, Carrara marble backsplash tiles, crisp white counters and red glass knobs on the cabinets. The knobs were an online find and are in different colors throughout the house.
This is a house with interesting elements everywhere. The couple found counters made out of blue Skyy vodka bottles for the laundry room sink and the second-story bar.
The addition begins after the kitchen with a hallway leading to the master bedroom. Along that hallway is a built-in desk to keep things organized. With doors that open fully, the master bedroom feels much larger than it is. The master bathroom includes river stone floors in the shower and two separate sink areas.
Upstairs, an office area and a guest bedroom and bathroom make great use of space without feeling completely out of place with the original bungalow.
While Crabtree and his crew were working on the bungalow and addition, Stapleton worked on renovating the garage apartment. She could monitor the process and share in the experience while having professionals take care of the main house.
Wohlgemuth and Stapleton got to enjoy the home for only a week before they left for Cape Cod for the summer. While they were gone, Crabtree and his wife lived in the house to give them a good feel of any tweaks that needed to be done.
Crabtree has gotten a lot of great feedback about the house while living there. “You feel like you’re in a coastal bungalow,” he says. “Everyone who comes over loves the house, whether they live in Lakeway or in the middle of Austin.”
Stapleton and Wohlgemuth are excited to begin really enjoying the home. “I’m looking forward to spending the rest of our lives in the house,” Stapleton says.
“The minute I walked through the door when it was finished, I felt like I was home,” Wohlgemuth says. “It has a feeling I love.”
Tour of Remodeled Homes
When: Noon-6 p.m. Oct. 19-20
Where: 10 homes throughout Austin
Tickets: $20 in advance, online at austinnari.org or at both Breed & Co., 718 W. 29th St. and 3663 Bee Cave Road, and Treehouse, 4477 S. Lamar Blvd. $25 day of tour at each home. A portion of all ticket sales goes to support Wonders & Worries.
Information: 512-997-6274; email@example.com
Any remodeling project has its ups and downs and unexpected surprises. Here are some things you should consider before you start:
Interview multiple contractors. It’s not just about the price. You need to know if you can work well together. Are you on the same page? Will he listen to you?
Ask for references. Yes, you want to talk to the provided list of references, but you also might want to ask friends who have gone through the process who they used and would they use them again. It’s not uncommon for homeowners to love the finished product but hate their contractor after it’s done.
Get several bids and know what you want before you get the bids. You want to be comparing apples to apples. If one bid looks significantly lower than the rest, that’s a red flag that the contractor might not know what he is doing.
Think about resale value. If you are planning on staying in the home for a while, this might not be important, but if you think you need to move in the next five years, make sure you can recoup the cost of the remodeling. If you are not sure, consult a real estate agent before you start.
Find out who will be working on the job and if they are licensed and insured. You need to be comfortable with everyone from the main contractor to the subcontractors. Ask for proof of insurance and licensing. You do not want to pick up the tab if there is an on-the-job injury, and you also want to know that the workers are well-trained. A criminal background check also might give you peace of mind. Don’t forget to Google or use an online service where customers can provide feedback. Look for a pattern of satisfaction or dissatisfaction.
Get good estimates. Then add at least 10 percent for unexpected surprises, which always happen. Make sure the estimates state exactly what is included and what materials will be used. Also, if you change your mind about something, are there additional fees?
Read the contract carefully. It should outline what the job is as well as when payments are due and for how much. You do not want to pay in full before the job is done. If it is not working out, know in advance how to get out of the relationship.
Know the timeline. When will the job start? How long should it last? (Then add 10 percent to 20 percent more time.) Will there be permits needed? (Add even more time for that.) What hours and on what days will the subcontractors and contractors be there typically? Will there be times when no work will be done? Also, how many projects is the company doing at once?
Know the inconveniences. Will you be without electricity or water? Will you have access to kitchen, bathroom and bedrooms? Will workers clean up every day? Can you live in the house while the remodeling is happening or do you need to move out, and how long and by when? What needs to happen with the pets while work is being done? Make sure the company is responsible for securing the house when workers are not there.
Ask for regular updates. Find out how often you can expect to hear from the contractor. What is the best way to reach him? If you are out of the house during the remodeling, do regular spot checks to see the progress and make sure work is being done.