At the tail end of 2011, we left California for greener pastures. We were tired of the rat race, we wanted to own property, and we longed for a more comfortable—not to mention, cheaper—way of life. The following year, we found our dream home: an 1800s beauty, built along a railroad in Tennessee in 1899. For a San Francisco native and his new bride, it was the perfect home with which to get their Chip and Joanna on, though I had no idea then just what a Queen Anne renovation entailed.
Here is the Victorian in Manchester, Tennessee when we first saw her in 2012.
When we bought the house, it had sat vacant for three years, yet the bones were good, and it needed no electrical or plumbing upgrades, which was clutch for us. We wouldn’t have considered buying it were that not the case. It did, however, need just about everything else done to it—and plenty of cosmetic improvements we opted to do along the way. Let’s just say, I know my way around a tool or two, eight years later.
We thought we’d be here forever, but the concept of “forever” changes from your 20s to your 30s to your 40s, and about 18 months ago, suddenly we were done. Done living in a house that would forever be a fixer-upper so long as we inhabited it because we’re never actually “complete” with our environment. Done living in a town run by a noxious government. Done living in a place that was well-suited for a house and well-suited for an office, but decidedly not well-suited for both simultaneously, in the way that this pair of entrepreneurs lived.
So this time last year, we closed on the Cedar House, a single-level midcentury modern beauty—also a fixer, for what it’s worth—that could be both our home and office at once. Since we never want to part with the Vic, we got to work readying the Queen Anne to be a commercial rental; the result, let’s just say, is a more comfortable house than we ever lived in!
Freshly-painted Victorian, after we moved out in 2019.
And since so many of you followed our Victorian renovation on social media and the blog over the years, I felt I owed it to you to show the before and afters, as well as detail everything we did since we bought her in 2012.
About the Victorian
First of all, let’s lay her out, shall we? Her square footage is right around 2,700 with an unfinished attic on the third floor that spans nearly the full footprint of the house and a quarter basement; Thank God for these storage options, as we had no garage or carport and closet space was extremely limited.
She sits on a sloped corner lot of about 0.4 acres. She was built in 1899 in Manchester, Tennessee and, for years, was owned by the Reynolds family. So many people over the years have stopped by while we were working to tell us all about how their grandmother or aunt or best friend’s mom once lived here when she was a boarding house. I have no idea when the last time this home was inhabited prior to us moving in fall 2012, but it had been years, if not a decade.
And her state reflected that transient nature she was accustomed to prior to being occupied by my restless husband. Each room had a keyed lock on the door for private rental, and the interior—while fairly untouched from a restoration standpoint—was just that … untouched. And, therefore, neglected. For perspective, these are all photos from our home inspection back in 2012 when each room was a different color of a Fruit Loop.
The house was listed as a six bedroom, two bathroom, but we only used three rooms as bedrooms. Downstairs, we had a large living room connected to the dining room that doubled as an office; a small mud room that led down to a quarter basement; a guest room that connected to the Florida room; a kitchen and a small bathroom with shower. Upstairs was the master bedroom, the guest room we dubbed the “Lemon Room,” the largest of the bedrooms, which was SVV’s office, and the larger of the two bathrooms that was, oddly, not connected to any of the bedrooms.
And here are a few inside peeks at what she looked like after we moved out in 2019. Pretty dramatic difference, no? It’s crazy what a little paint and some TLC can do to a house that’s over 120 years old.
The Victorian also has a wraparound porch on the front and a concrete area out back that had an awning we ripped out and planned to eventually put a pergola over. Who knows, maybe we still will in the future?
Before we even moved in, we had Satisfaction Windows come out and measure to replace all 66 of the original windows in a custom Queen Anne style. We kept the old ones—still have them in the basement we’re saving for a rain day (or, uh, craft project)—but they were old, flimsy and leaking, and the new ones still channeled the original style while being much more energy-efficient. In fact, even in the coldest months, this house was less than $250 to heat. It was surprisingly warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Replacing these windows was one of our bigger line items for the house, especially upfront, but we had taken out a construction loan and it was so, so worth it.
Exterior Progress + After: 2014 vs. 2019
It wasn’t long after we moved in that our roof started leaking. The worst part? It was nearly impossible to get someone to call us back due to the slope of our house. A friend finally found us a crew to replace it quickly, and while the flashing installation required the demolition of entire sections of the original wood, the roof itself has lasted and will for a very long time.
After we’d been in the house a year or two, we started tearing the siding off to replace it back with new wood. Since we lived next door to a builder supply company, we were able to get all the siding material there and keep it stored in their warehouse as long as we needed.
Little did we know “as long as we needed” would be three years. No exaggeration, that’s how long the house sat just half-covered by the old siding, with plastic wrap keeping water out of the uncovered spots. This was not intentional, but we had two sets of “carpenters” completely ghost halfway through the job—lesson learned, don’t pay until the job is completed and vet every single person that comes to work for you—and try as we might, we couldn’t find any legit construction company in the area to tackle wood siding; they all only do vinyl or brick. With a mix of cedar shake shingles and cypress siding, it was more than all of the contractors we begged to do the work wanted to tackle.
Finally, when we were getting desperate, we found a company out of Murfreesboro who charged us just under $10,000 to finish the job. More than we wanted to pay, but it was worth it—and they wound up going out of business the next month, so I’m glad they finished it before that happened!
Exterior Progress + After: 2014 vs. 2019
During that same timeframe, some friends came out to help us paint the front porch, and before they did, we replaced a lot of the rotting wood and spires. We also painted a haint blue on the porch ceiling and floor to ward off the evil spirits and mosquitoes (and OK, because it looks cool). We used Ohio Haint Blue, which any paint store should be able to mix up for you. We started out using all Benjamin Moore paint, then quickly switched over to Sherwin-Williams because it was more convenient and they have great customer service—plus, SVV has a contractor account there, which if you’re in the business of renovating houses, you should definitely ask for—but it’s all personal preference.
Plus, you know my plant-loving husband did some landscaping ninjary on this corner lot! He planted wisteria, kiwi, blueberries, lavender, sage, lemongrass, hops, blackberries and assorted herbs, which are for the most part still growing strong and slowly enveloping the house in draped greenery and edible goodness.
We also enclosed the lot with a picket fence that we built ourselves after a few years of funeral home goers traipsing right through our land and demolishing SVV’s careful landscaping efforts. That was another saga in itself; after the former ill-informed codes director tried to stop us with a variance, then realized there was nothing in the codes book that could prevent a fence, he set us back an entire year before we could complete the project. Ohhhh, small-town politics.
And after the fence was painted, we went ahead and painted the entire exterior of the house, which we’d do all over again three years later after the primer failed. Fun!
- Windows: $16,000
- Roof: $8,000
- Siding: $18,000
- Paint: $2,500
- Landscaping: $2,000
- Lift rental: $2,000
- Fence: $3,500
- Custom finial: $800
- Miscellaneous: $1,000
Throughout the Home
In addition to the windows, we also installed light-filtering cellular shades from JustBlinds throughout the house—with blackout cellular shades for my bedroom—something we’ve also done in Myrtle and now the Cedar House. They’re affordable, aesthetically-pleasing and ran us around $2,000 for the entire house (pro tip: wait until they have a sale, which is often). SVV hates window treatments, and we’ll agree to disagree on that, but with the house being on the town square and surrounded by a building supply company with workers always coming and going, we needed some form of privacy.
Lemon Room Before + After: 2012 vs. 2019
We scraped the majority of ceilings throughout the house to remove the ugly, orange peel-style popcorn texture that was likely a bad decision made in the 80’s. If you’re ever thinking of doing popcorn, STOP RIGHT THERE. But if you inherit a popcorn mess as we did, definitely consider sanding, patching and painting the ceilings white—our go-to color for ceilings is Sherwin-Williams contractor grade flat white straight out of the can— as it can make the most dramatic impact in any room. You can see what the ceiling throughout the house looked like here via our living room, which was one of the few rooms we never did get to.
Living Room Before + After: 2012 vs. 2019
Many of the doors had original hardware and transoms. We removed the unnecessary doors and stored them in the basement, then put them all back on before our tenants moved in, so each office could have its own privacy. SVV stained them all to remove pollen, mold and dirt, and they look as new as a 121-year-old door can look! We also had to replace a few of the knobs so they had locks on them, but kept all original details when possible.
And while Fruit Loops is, indeed, an attractive palette of wall colors, we took a fresh coat of white paint to every surface. We used Benjamin Moore’s Swiss Coffee color formula for every single room except the mudroom and upstairs bathroom, both of which we painted Grey Owl by Benjamin Moore. Swiss Coffee is the most widely-used formulation for #basic and clean neutral colors. It gives you an opportunity to add pops of color, which is a requirement for where I reside.
Stairwell Before + After: 2012 vs. 2019
The Upstairs Bedrooms
The day we closed on the Vic and got the keys in August 2012, the first thing we did right before the sun set was go upstairs and rip out the ugly carpet covering the floors in both bedrooms. Then, we had Gary Parnham, a local flooring professional, come and refinish the floor in the Lemon Room as it had been painted red. The master bedroom had no flooring beneath, so we asked Gary to lay tulip poplar that will age over time to match the rest of the house, since that’s the original species of wood used for the upstairs.
Both bedrooms had fireplaces that were crumbling, so we demo’d them both and added subway tile from a tile company out of Nashville.
The Upstairs Bathroom
This bathroom got a full-on gut job, and come to think of it, I never blogged about the final renovation. Here’s the skinny: We ripped out the linoleum floor. SVV relocated the plumbing. We busted up the porcelain that held the tub into place. And we reconfigured the whole thing by moving the clawfoot tub to the other side of the room.
We saved the tub and painted it safety yellow, then installed a dreamy hex tile from Stone Source throughout the floor. With slanted walls that mirrored the roof line, it was really tricky finding furniture that would fit in here; however, we finally found some vintage pieces of Broyhill Brasilia off of Craigslist, then modified a mirror to make it work. We also replaced the toilet, as we did in the downstairs bathroom.
Master Bathroom Before + After: 2012 vs. 2017
Sadly, we never really touched this beast as we cook far too much and never saved up the $40,000 or so it would take to completely gut the kitchen. Instead, we added a bright color of paint on the walls, installed LED countertop lights, custom-designed a center island a local woodworker then built for us and later removed all the cabinet doors to open it up a bit. I disliked the kitchen so much, I don’t even have any updated photos of it. You can see that the only downstairs bathroom is positioned behind the kitchen, which apparently is how they did things back in ye olden days, but I’m definitely happy to be back in a normal house with an en-suite master bath these days!
The Florida Room
Toward the end of our time at the Victorian, we started taking sledgehammers to things. One of the first sections SVV yanked out and sealed up was the unnecessary door between the downstairs bedroom and the Florida room. He then built a wall atop it, and you couldn’t even tell there had ever been a door frame there. This wound up giving our renters far more flexibility with how they use the space (last we saw, they installed a second fridge and are using it as more kitchen space).
We also never replaced the windows in the Florida room because we had always planned on creating a breakfast nook and possibly sealing them up. As such, one of the window sills was completely rotted. After we moved out, we busted out that entire window and wall and SVV covered it with siding that matches the rest of the house.
Several people asked why we didn’t put the window back, but there was no need. This window looked out onto the chimney, and it’s actually brighter than it was before now that it’s covered with a fresh coat of white paint to reflect all the other light back into the space.
The Downstairs Bedroom
This is the room SVV slept in for the past few years (don’t judge, he snores loudly), and it was outfitted with twin beds for when our cousins’ kids came to stay or we had large groups of friends that weren’t coupled up but were OK with sharing a room.
Downstairs Bedroom Before + After: 2012 vs. 2019
We didn’t do much to it other than sealing up the aforementioned doorway, as well as sealing the top of a closet entrance that had once been covered by stained glass. This room was always in pretty good shape and has the best mantle in the entire house; also, the only one of our six fireplaces that still has the original tile.
So what does it cost to renovate an 1800s Victorian house?
I’ve been asked before what it costs to renovate an old house like this, and that’s so subjective. Plus, we didn’t exactly tally every trip to Home Depot or Lowe’s over the past decade. Not to mention, we didn’t have to do some of the bigger items—like plumbing and electrical—and much of the labor was the two of us, meaning we saved a lot there, so what we spent isn’t realistic unless you’re a skilled DIYer who can tackle almost anything, as my talented husband is.
I’d confidently say the total cost of these renovations exceeded six figures, but this was done over the course of seven years, and the original price we paid for the home was only $139,000 to begin with. We initially took out a $50,000 construction loan, which we paid off when we refinanced our house a couple years later, and then used cash and credit cards for the remaining renovations.
That said, property value in Manchester is low, so we definitely spent more than we could get from selling this house, which is why we always intended to turn it into a rental. In a rural area, it doesn’t make sense to renovate a Queen Anne like this so extensively unless you plan on it being your forever home (or your business), but I’m happy with the way it all worked out: We got seven glorious years in this beauty, and now she has lovely inhabitants who appreciate her as much as we do.
Any questions about renovating a Queen Anne Victorian? Feel free to ask below!
For more DIY tips and home renovation guides, check out these posts:
- Our Most Spontaneous Decision Yet: We Bought a Mid-Century Modern House
- Buying & Renovating a Rental Property: A Homeowner Tell-All
- Designing a Victorian Home: Behind the Scenes
- Renovating Our Master Bathroom: Selecting Tile
- Painting the Exterior of Your Home: A How-To uide