The new owners were just thrilled they were able to get this gem of a house, a historical home registered in the cozy town of Medford. A perfect retirement home, Kathy wanted to come back to her roots and settle near her mother’s former home, just a block off Main Street. It was a cozy neighborhood. Kathy adored one such neighbor, Mae, who always brought smiles to her face. May lived across the street.
Mae, at age 2, the daughter of Albert and Belle Ballinger, moved in to the home with her parents when it was erected in 1911. It was shipped in crates from Sears and Roebuck by railroad on the line coming from Mt. Holly to Medford. The Ballingers lived there ever since. In fact, Mae lived there until she was 103, which was last winter. So when it came time to sell and move in with her son, she was so worried about what would become of the home when the new owners moved in. The years growing up, the memories, raising her family, the dances, she could barely bring herself to think about it.
In days gone by, Sears and Roebuck sold prefab homes, over 350 of them. Some came with plumbing, some did not. Fast forward to modern times — homes are considered historical, on the registry, and are often sought after because of their importance to American Culture. For certain history buffs, the Sears and Roebuck Homes are swept up, usually after buyers’ wars over a real slice of the American Pie.
With the purchase and securing the property out of the way, Ed and Kathy knew they had the very vision that would make Mae not only proud, but very relieved because of how they planned to restore the home. The goal was and is to update the necessities and creature comforts with as little disturbance as possible to the layout or charm of the home. For them, allowing the quirks, little blips or baubles to remain was a way of honoring the former owner, who they adored. And frankly, if they wanted perfection and modern features, this home would not have been the ideal choice.
There is no question Mae kept a nice home. And of course it has stories to tell.
First and foremost, Mae and her parents before her, had been waxing those floors for darn near all of those 100+ years. The dark, rich woodwork and trim, while it was a period look, needed some freshening up.
Secondly, the surprisingly large pine attic looked old, haggard and tired. Several boards were too far gone, there was no air conditioning, and it had a hot, musty, old smell. But smack dab in the middle of the large room, with barely a 6 1/2 feet from floor to ceiling, there was a pot belly stove, made out of ornate metal. It turns out Mae’s family used to hold dances in the attic.
So the new homeowners decided to refinish the hardwood floors. Their neighbor Andy recommended us, and we met them one Saturday morning. Ed and Kathy were completely open and honest about the fact that they weren’t expecting miracles or perfection. They didn’t want a new-looking floor stripped of all its character and history.
We began the sanding process. Had we known, we should have invested in the company who makes the special sand paper. Quickly we had to inform Ed and Kathy the “rough sanding” would take days just to get the wax off. It took boxes and boxes of sand paper, moving about 12-18 inches before changing the sandpaper, because there was so much wax. Eventually we succeeded in removing the wax, and the rest of the sanding went much faster.
Next we inspected the wood. With the thick coating removed we determined that the floors were red oak and heart pine. The red oak would could be easily stained and would be a no-brainer to refinish, but Kathy’s hope was to keep all the floors as uniform in the new color as possible. The question would be what to do with the heart pine, as there are potential complications with staining this type of wood.
For character, and to accommodate the desire of the homeowners, we left some spots and other little blips, including the original bronze escutcheon. There was a story behind the hole left in the parlor. Envision a heat pipe in the middle of the floor. This was eventually converted to an electrical outlet. The hole definitely was and is a conversation piece the new owners wanted to preserve.
After the fine sanding was complete we were at decision time. With new finish, the heart pine would be much lighter, and a stark contrast the rest of the floor. So we met with Ed and Kathy to present some options. We could leave it natural and just apply the finish or we could tint the finish a tad darker. Lastly, we could attempt to test stain the pine to see if it would “accept” the stain well enough that it would not appear blotchy.
With fingers crossed we test stained a small bedroom. Surprisingly, it came out well. I sent Kathy a picture for her approval. She loved it! We carefully stained isolated areas one at a time, with good results. Although the results were not perfect, it was just the thing for a house “with character.” And, once decorated, the floor imperfections would mostly be covered up. In fact, these folks had very flexible expectations, namely saying that if they wanted perfection, a historical preservation would not have been their first choice to begin with (if this is a desired effect, a client wishing for this look bears responsibility for the outcome if it doesn’t work out). Although we can offer staining services with caution for pine, there are other woods that will not accept staining at all. It simply wouldn’t work.
There is now a nice richness to the floor. It also ties in nicely with the beautiful grain and detail of the trim throughout the home. The stain experiment (again, not usually recommended) was complete, and we were ready to move on.
The next coating was the sealer, followed by our trusted Vermont Coatings “Poly Whey” finish. Kathy was especially pleased we are working with Poly Whey, because she works for a large paint manufacturer and deals with the technicalities of the changing paint and finish industry, and the advantages of Low VOC paints. She was delighted to hear we were going to use a newer generation alternative. She totally understood these new Low Voc and more natural products are the wave of the future. Knowing it is being mandated by the government and what consumers are looking for, there was no need to explain or convince her why this type of finish was better.
Finally the work was done, and the homeowners were thrilled that the most dramatic phase of the transformation to the historic property was complete. Turning the home back over to them was a pleasure. They were so excited to continue the process with kitchen renovation, other minor projects, and decorating. Eventually though, we will tip toe, or shall we say tap dance our way upstairs to gussie’ up the floors in the attic—who knows, maybe even do a little dos-si-do one day soon!
What fun and how flattered we were to add to the charm and charisma to this darling home. The walls may talk, but now, so do the floors — brilliant and beaming once more. It is quite evident when you see the smiles and delight in Kathy and Ed’s faces, they are honored to call this their home. They enjoyed sharing the stories of Mae and her family with us, they continue to be dedicated to preserving its history. They plan to warmly welcome Mae and her son to come visit once their labor of love is complete. It is a tribute to the family, The Ballingers, and The Sears and Roebuck legacy. Now it will be ready for the new owners, The Tenthoff’s (only the second owners ever) to add their own pages in the history book. What a pleasure to take part in this restoration chapter!