Alice Rose and her husband, Paul Marano, affectionately call their home on Third Street in Troy “The House of Peeling Wallpaper and Broken Tiles.”
The couple bought their Victorian-era row house in 2000 and are currently in a lull in their renovations after having spent their first four years in the three-story home living on the second floor while they redid three rooms on the first floor.
“We renovate in spurts,” Rose said, laughing.
Phase II will expand the kitchen — now not much more than a kitchenette at 12 feet by feet — by knocking down the wall between the kitchen and a spare bedroom and drawing in what is an unheated, enclosed porch.
The house, on the market for almost two years when they bought it for $83,000, felt like home to the couple the moment they laid eyes on it. After sampling suburbia, both were looking for something a bit older.
“When we bought this house, some people thought we were crazy,” Marano said.
“The floors were a mess,” Rose said. “And the dark woodwork! Someone had started to strip [the moldings] and didn’t finish.”
“It had been on the market so long [that] people just didn’t see its potential,” Marano said. “There was lots of clutter and ugly drop ceilings. People just didn’t see through that to the original detailing. It needed some buffing.”
“Both Paul and I had done some renovation work growing up,” Rose said.
“And we’re not afraid to use tools,” Marano added.
‘Walls before wedding’
“We actually bought the house before we got married,” Rose said. “We even had a saying: ‘Walls before wedding.’ But it didn’t work out — so we tacked sheets up over our walls so people wouldn’t get dusty.”
The 2,700-square-foot building is composed of three flats that Rose and Marano are turning into one house. Each floor currently boasts a kitchen, a dining room, a living room, a bathroom and two bedrooms. Two closets dot both the first and second floors and there is a spacious food pantry on the second floor as well.
Architectural details such as pocket doors and internal, louvered, sectioned shutters on the front windows contribute to a feeling of craftsmanship.
The three first-floor rooms Rose and Marano tackled first were the dining room, the living room and the entryway.
“We just gutted the rooms,” Rose said, reminiscing about the cracked and crumbling plaster walls uncovered after four layers of wallpaper were scraped away; each layer represented a different design era ranging from a colorful floral to white textured vinyl.
The spectacular ceiling medallions (Marano uncovered the dining room medallion under many coats of paints and watched, pleased, as the raised rosettes were made visible again) anchor newer light fixtures, as neither Rose nor Marano sought to match period detail. Rose chose paint colors she liked; a muted yellow in the living room, a dark avocado in the dining room, and a terra cotta in the entryway.
Mixing and matching
“Redoing the woodwork was funny,” Rose said. “It was ‘Oh, look at this lovely woodwork. Why did they paint over it?’ But about a third of the way through I abandoned the project to Paul because the chemicals bothered me.”
After Marano stripped, sanded and conditioned the woodwork, he stained it and added layers of varnish.
“My job,” Rose said, “was to go around with oil paint and a little bitty paint brush and fill in wherever there was a nail hole in the molding. I used three different tubes of paint to mix together and match the stain.”
The couple has hired workers to plaster and tape the walls and to refinish the floors, but they’ve done as much of the renovation as they can to keep costs down. They estimate they’ve spent about $5,000 on the three rooms. About $1,000 of that total was for the moldings they purchased. Initially, they had thought to redo the cornice moldings in plaster but a quoted price of $12,000 convinced them that “foam architectural product” was the way to go.
Seventeen windows on three sides allow much light into the brick house. The 10-feet-high ceilings add to a feeling of airy space. The couple has been careful to maintain the original glass in the large 7-feet-high windows. “Old glass flows,” Rose said. “It has mistakes in it and is rippling and wavy. At sunset, we see neat patterns, neat shadows.”
Cheating when necessary
Original moldings still grace the hallway. “One of the things about an old house,” Marano said, “is the stuff that’s here is of a higher quality.”
“Yes,” Rose said. “And another thing about old houses is everything settles, so there’s nothing squared or straight. You have to cheat a little bit when you’re putting the corner together! But I like old buildings. I like something that’s lived in. There’s so much character, so many stories – some scary – like when we found glass in the wall.” At some point in the house’s history the homeowners had decided to cover over an internal window and rather than remove the glass in the conventional way, smashed it and allowed the shards to fall into the wall.
Renovating an older house is an exercise in thinking on your feet, Marano said. “It’s so hard to plan how things are going to go. You have to be willing to make course corrections along the way.”
“And stuff breaks,” Rose added. “That’s the reasons the tiles are missing in the kitchen.”
All in all, though, both are satisfied. “When we go away,” Marano said, “and come back and walk in, it feels good.”
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