How does Rachel Thomason describe the dream house she and husband Mike Thomason bought in Dallas? Answer: “It was an absolute wreck.”
The 1,500 square foot bungalow was “in terrible condition,” she says. “No floors matched, you could see down to the ground in some places,” walls were uneven, the heating system was poor, and the air conditioning was nonexistent. Hardly a thing had been done to modernize the place since it was built in the early 1920s. And that is why the Thomasons loved it.
Not only was the house bargain priced because of its poor condition; it also had not been ruined by misguided “improvements.” In a close-in neighborhood filled with vintage bungalows, the house was a prime candidate for renovation.
Old-house enthusiasts, the Thomasons bought it in 2002, planning to polish its 1920s patina themselves. They got as far as constructing period-proper built-in shelving in the pantry area before hiring CB Construction in 2010 to carry the renovation to completion.
That shelving, says Chris Black, owner of the Dallas company, was the Rosetta Stone of the project. When the Thomasons pulled off the old wallpaper to prepare for the shelving installation, they found old, gauzy fabric on the wall that bore the outline of 1920s shelving. Likewise, old marks on the living room walls formed a blueprint for the design of reproduction shelving Black installed around the fireplace. These clues added specific information to the traditional features of historic bungalows that informed the design of the renovation.
Though CB Construction is a full-service design-build remodeling company, Black uses contractors for all services. His creative team for the Thomason project, including Dallas architect William S. Briggs, AIA, and Colleyville, Texas, interior designer Tiffany McKinzie, joined him early on as he met with the clients to discuss the design.
Having worked with old Dallas bungalows since the 1990s, Briggs is an expert in bungalow features, space planning, and the requirements for design approval in the historic district overlay area where the Thomason house is located — such as retaining the original footprint and exterior details.
By the time the Thomasons hired CB Construction for the renovation, they had already found a number of reproduction products they wanted to use in order to achieve authentic old bungalow styling. McKinzie’s contribution, she says, was “fine-tuning — pulling the details together for [a unified] overall project.”
Old age woes
CB Construction went through many design iterations over a six-month period, working with the homeowners to finalize a renovation plan. That’s not unusual, says Black. “We kept adding to the scope. Design creates more design.”
Typical of old bungalows, the house was a compact cluster of small rooms, with minimal storage and a skimpy kitchen. It had just one bathroom.
While staying true to the bungalow style, the Thomasons wanted to enlarge and improve the kitchen, enhance storage throughout the house, create a more open living/dining area, and convert the back bedroom to a master suite with added bathroom and separate, his and hers closets.
Briggs’s final floor plan accomplished all of this, and improved circulation between the kitchen and the rest of the house. The renovation also brought the house up to code and upgraded HVAC systems.
While making these improvements, Black corrected the house’s old-age problems in ways that minimized impact on the structure and the budget.
The foundation had settled noticeably in the back bedroom. Black shimmed the foundation to raise and stabilize the floor. When he removed the large pillar between dining and living rooms to open the space, he found that the ceilings sagged badly. A new beam in the attic would support the load, but the existing roofline did not allow for the beam to rest on an outside wall. Instead, Black cantilevered the beam, anchoring it at one end.
Black determined that the bearing wall running through the center of the house was a full two inches out of plumb. The new shower and some cabinetry would be built against this wall. CB Construction painstakingly shimmed the wall, truing it for installation of shower tile and built-ins.
“Chris’s framing team did a phenomenal job of making the walls as straight as possible,” says Thomason.
Initial planning called for replacement of about half the wood flooring, and refinishing the rest. Black discovered, however, that the otherwise reusable floors sat directly on joists; there was no subfloor, so there was not enough depth for sanding and refinishing to be feasible — or to ensure level, seamless flooring throughout.
“It was not worth the money to peel up the floors,” he adds. Black solved the problem by installing pine flooring everywhere, using the original floor as a “subfloor” under the new planks.
Not so new look
“I spent a lot of time around old homes when I was growing up,” says Rachel Thomason. She wanted the Dallas bungalow to evoke the warm, old house ambiance as fully as possible, while incorporating modern comforts. The three secrets of success in the renovation: reuse, replicate, and conceal.
For the wood floors, Black found pine lumber salvaged from houses in the Dallas area, laying it in long, 2 ¼-inch planks resembling the original bungalow flooring.
Thomason asked not to fill the old nail holes and, for a seasoned look, chose a matte finish wood sealer. Interior doors, with the classic two panels, came from the architectural salvage center; CB Construction worked to fit them into the house’s quirky door openings. Thomason found a floating glass window at the salvage center in the double-hung profile required by the review board for the bathroom.
During the renovation, Black carefully moved other floating glass windows original to the house to new openings. The house’s original bathtub was still in place, worn out but still exuding old-house charm. Black retained it, but gave it a fresh new finish.
To replicate the vintage look and establish a theme, McKinzie and Thomason chose black and white tiles — mosiacs for the bathroom floor, and subway tiles with a contrasting border in the shower and on the kitchen backsplash. The pendant light fixtures, push button light switches, mortised doorknobs, farmhouse kitchen sink, classic faucets with “hot” and “cold” labels, and chrome-trimmed black range? All are new products that reproduce old styles.
Black used cove molding, bead board ceilings, wainscoting and casing details that recall the old bungalow character. The custom cabinetry in the kitchen evokes that look, while boosting storage via upper as well as base cabinets. The shelving in the living spaces also sustains the classic look, and conceals wiring for modern sound systems behind base panels.
As Briggs puts it, thanks to the attention to detail, the renovated house “doesn’t feel inauthentic, but it doesn’t leak or creak.” It’s a new house with old character.