The Devil Queen

How my wife and I sold our souls to the Queen Anne Victorian we tried to save.

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Location: Crow Mountain, Arkansas, United States

Synopsis: This is a cautionary tale. A seriously disturbed couple find the charming, old ruin of a Queen Anne Victorian in Russellville, Arkansas, and buy it for $1.00. They tore the roof off, cut it in half, and had it moved to some land they owned sixteen miles away because they didn't know any better. Since then, they have hired and fired contractors, had all of their tools stolen, re-wired, re-plumbed, insulated, and essentially rebuilt the entire house. Their only problem is that after four years it still isn't finished. Now they are tired, broke, and wonder what in the hell it is they've done to themselves. And, it's haunted.
(Last updated on April 3, 2008)

Press: Russellville Courier Article - December 2003, HGTV website article, AP story - October 2006, and Victorian Homes Magazine - February 2008 (link coming soon).
Art: From time to time, I receive requests for my art. If you would like to look at more of my art, go to The Failed Artist. If you would like to buy my art, email me. I am more than happy to answer any questions you might have. Thanks!

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Three Headed Beast: Home Renovation Subcultures

As we've worked on the Queen, we've come to realize that there are roughly three subcultures of old home renovators, Liberals, Hard-Core Conservatives, and Moderates.

Liberal home renovators use their historic homes as a point of departure. A lot of times the historic roots of the structure are obscured by some of their extreme "updates." They feel comfortable with jacking up the roof and building a second story, adding additions that are "inspired" by historic portions of the house but don't really resemble it much, and cladding the exterior in vinyl siding or some other modern material. Old double-hung windows are replaced by new double-pane ones, the interior floor plan is dramatically reordered, et cetera. I would lump some of This Old House's projects into this category.

Hard-Core Conservatives are the type of home renovators that will gladly spend weeks meticulously scrapping off each layer of paint to uncover the original color used so they can match it. They will spend years restoring a house to however it originally looked when it was built. If its not period, they don't want it.

I'm not sure, but I suspect some have a secret agenda of reintroducing outhouses, indoor plumbing is clearly a modern aberration (A random fact: in the 1960's my in-laws were the first family to have an indoor bathroom in their area. It was scandalous, an old man came out to lecture them on how unclean that was. Everyone else just showed up to flush it.).

Personally, I have a lot of respect for these folks, but I don't think that every home necessarily needs this kind of attention. The end product is too museum like for me to ever feel comfortable living there. However, houses like Arlington House, Monticello, The House of Seven Gables, and other historic homes should definitely get this kind of treatment.

Moderates take a path somewhere in between. They try keep the historic character of a home while making a place for modern amenities like central heat and air, washers & driers, and internet access. Based on what I've seen, I'd say that most folks fall into this catagory.

We consider ourselves moderates. Our main goal is to preserve the historic structure and character of the Queen while adding modern amenities. Maintaining the historic appearance of the house's exterior is major concern of ours. First impressions are very important. Ideally, when we finish work on the Queen's exterior, she should look like she would have in 1920's (to get it to look like she did in 1890, we’d have to tear of all of the additions made during the 1920's). We've gone to great pains to make the two modest additions (approximately 276 square feet) to the Queen look like they'd always been there. We’ve moved a couple of doors and windows, but the basic floor plan is true to the original.

A man my wife calls Evil Santa was my first introduction to the hard-core camp. He is not in fact an evil Santa, he just looks like one. He sports a huge knot on his brow line over one eye. He acquired it while trying to salvage some wood off an old (the oldest?) house in Russellville. It was built for or by Dr. Russell, the city's name sake, in the mid-1800's. As with a great many of Russellville's historic landmarks, it was slated for demolition. What else would you do with it?

He was up all night trying to get everything he could before the bulldozers started work in the morning. The base board of the wrap-around porch was made of one enormous board that had been artfully bent to make a 90 degree turn around the corner. He was pulling the nails out to free this board when it suddenly straightened itself hitting him in the head. It left him bloody and unconscious and won him a trip to the hospital. The knot formed and has been there ever since.

He applauded our saving of the Queen, but admonished us to stop reading This Old House Magazine in favor of Old House Journal. He was also in favor of having exact replicas of the Queen's original wallpaper made.

At any rate, he gave me a lot to think about.

There is a fourth, seldom-mentioned category of old home renovators, the abominable faux renovators. They truly believe they are renovating their old home and take great pride in their work. Their efforts are, however, the systematic destruction of everything holy. Members of this category should be imprisoned for crimes against old homes and good taste.

One real estate appraiser I knew appraised a hundred-year-old farm house that a married couple was fixing up. She was horrified by their progress. Among other improvements, they had painted their solid oak staircase blue and applied stick on vinyl tiles to the stairs.

It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it.


Blogger Greg said...

Not sure exactly where I fall. "Hard-Core Conservative" may be the closest, but that term, in general, just does not sit that well with me. "Moderate" is also close to what I'm doing. I have become obsessed with something’s. Mainly the use of used and salvaged materials over new, store bought equivalents. Not sure why, exactly.

One of the things I did early-on was to move the control panel for the house's alarm system out of the foyer and in to the closet under the stairs. It was a move of about 4 feet, but it made a big difference to me. I don't mind technology, in fact, I celebrate it at times, but I want it to be out of sight and in the background. In my opinion, it should not be in-your-face in a historic home. I'm putting all the latest bells-and-whistles in the kitchen, but it won't be immediately apparent that they are there.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn said...

Nice post. I'd say we're moderates but we try to stay to the period of our home and we are big on exposed wood here. Painting wood is a sin in our house. I also admire pure restoration and feel we do what we can afford in that regard. Quality of the work is very BIG with us too- no cutting corners to save time (sometimes to my dismay).

6:14 PM  
Blogger Becky said...

I think we are moderate leaning more towards hard-core. I think our budget and location also factor in big time in this consideration. I feel that if we had more money, and lived in an area where restoration was more prominent and services were easier to attain we would be more hard-core.

I also try to keep in mind that Victorians were quite innovative and enjoyed the state-of-the-art, but at the same time did it with style. So that's kind of been my mantra in this, "Do what you have to and do it with style."

6:18 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

We are moderate, though I would be more hard-core if I had more money. The POs put aluminum siding and aluminum storms on the back half of the house, and that stuff is staying for now just because at the moment we can't afford to deal with repairing what may or may not be underneath.

There are a lot of hard-core folks in Eutaw. Particularly our friend Carol; that woman is a marvel. Except for her kitchen, nearly every piece of furniture and accessory in the house is period. But her house is the best example of a Greek Revival cottage in town, and it deserves the hard-core treatment. Ours is a just a little Victorian farmhouse, and I do what I can.

2:54 PM  

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