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Back in the Saddle
As I See It
Sunday, July 05, 2015
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Friday, September 17, 2010 9:13 AM
Tim Irwin, Portland, shows the renovated kitchen in his work-in-progress home. Irwin worked for his father, a contractor, for 15 years and learned all the skills he’s using to gut and remodel the house. (The COmmercial Review/Steve Garbacz)
What started as a substantial home renovation for Tim Irwin has now also become a tribute to his father.
His father, who died earlier this week, taught Irwin, 52, everything he is now using to completely gut his home in Portland.
“My father was a contractor who passed away two days ago,” he said Tuesday afternoon. “I worked for my dad for 15 years as a carpenter, learned everything I’m doing from him. To me, this is a bit of a tribute for him.
“If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in, not just for my carpentry skills, my wherewithal in life, my work ethic,” Irwin said. “If it wasn’t for him, I’d probably be living in some modular ranch home. But to me, this is all about the character of the home — it says who I am, who my wife is.”
Irwin and his wife Connie purchased the house as a fixer-upper. But instead of just slapping on some vinyl siding, laying new carpets and throwing some paint on the walls, Irwin fell in love with the place and decided to go for the full makeover.
“I bought the house as a fixer-upper but after living here for a while I like it here so much that I decided to stay,” he said. “My wife’s house was a nicer house but we just like the look. We just like it here.”
The house was built in 1930 and was remodeled “several times, all of them were poorly,” he said.
“Instead of tearing it out and doing it right they just nailed stuff on top of stuff,” he said. “There was probably like nine layers of wallpaper in the kitchen.”
So when Irwin made up his mind to remodel the house about a year and a half ago, he began planning to do so in a way that would retain most of the original character of the place by repairing what he could while at the same time updating the mechanical systems with modern technology.
Irwin said he learned how to do a little bit of everything from his years working with his father and he’s put about all of them to use so far during the renovation.
“Working with my father, we did everything ourselves when we had to,” he said. “Going through the Carter-Reagan years when we went 10, 11 months not working, we got to the point where, versus turning work away, we were doing plumbing, we were doing wiring, we were doing heating, we were doing anything we could do to survive. And in that I learned a lot of different trades — how to pour concrete, how to lay block — and I owe a lot of that to my dad.”
In order to get the house mechanically sound, Irwin re-wired and re-plumbed the house as well as installed a new high-efficiency boiler and new water filtration system.
Structurally, after getting a roof repair completed and replacing almost all of the windows on the house to the keep the elements out, everything from the ceilings of the house down has been torn up at some point.
“The bedrooms I’ve basically patched plaster, jacked floors up,” he begins listing. “Bathroom I’ve completed gutted — installed a new shower, toilet, vanity, re-dry-walled the bathroom. The living room, same thing; gutted the living room and the kitchen down to the dirt — pulled the floor joists out, the sub-floor, everything. Left the ceilings in it because of all the blown insulation and just sort of worked from there down.”
Starting in the kitchen area, Irwin started by changing the backdoor entryway. The entry to the back of the house used to be west-facing with a small “breakfast nook” at the south end of the house. He tore that area out and changed the doorway to the south end of the house, eliminating the nook and walled up the old entry.
That former breakfast area now houses the house’s utilities — the heating, the water filtration and a washer and dryer.The kitchen itself is now larger and more open because of it. Before, Irwin said, the kitchen also had a doorway to one of the bedrooms, which he removed and walled over. By changing the home entryway and eliminating the bedroom passage, Irwin said he went from having about 4 feet of counter space to now probably more than 10.
The kitchen itself was a total redo and boasts new appliances, an “eco” countertop made of recycled materials and custom cabinets made by a company in Ohio where his brother and two cousins work.
“The kitchen had been on fire I imagine probably in about the 40s from the looks of everything that was underneath the kitchen that was there,” he said of the renovation. “It was in poor shape.”
The kitchen flows into the living room, which at this point is the most unfinished room inside the house although a lot of work has already been put into it.
“We’ve re-boarded the walls,” he said of work already done. “The plaster was in such bad shape in here. I’d say probably about 20 years ago the house was jacked up … they put a foundation under it and when they did that they broke the plaster up really bad.
“In this room, it wasn’t worth saving,” he said. “We stripped it and re-boarded it. I saved all the original trim. We stripped it and are reinstalling all the trim. I just did not want to take away from the house.”
The living room is the only room in the house that still retains some of the original leaded-glass windows, which he kept for their look.
“I’m rushing to get the floors done,” he said. “I’m hoping that I can get all of the trim done so this weekend I can go buy the hardwood floor and get the finished floor in here.”
The east end of the house has two completed bedrooms and a renovated bathroom.
The bathroom was gutted and completed replaced (and is where his two cats hide out while he’s making noise working on the house).
“Being as the bathroom is so small, I opted to go to a shower over putting a tub in here and I used bigger cabinets here to maximize storage space — being as there’s no room in here to put a vanity and just leave all the other stuff free.”
The north end bedroom is done but currently housing everything from the in-progress living room. The south bedroom, a spiritual twin to the other, now has new windows, repaired walls and a bookcase where the former doorway to the kitchen was.
“We did the same thing in this room — stripped all the trim off, fixed all the plaster and reinstalled all the trim,” he said of the similar repairs he’s doing to the living room. “It was in pretty bad shape. This room at one point had been a laundry room and I think a dog kennel.”
Irwin said that he’s pushing to get the interior of the house wrapped up in order to survive the winter and plans on finishing exterior improvements in the spring.
Outside the house, he erected a new garage earlier this year, which has provided storage during the renovation. He’s also started on a small patio area between the house and the garage. The fence around the patio is partly new but also contains the wooden doors from the old garage.
“In the process of doing all this we sort of felt like, living on this corner, we’re living in a fishbowl,” he said. “So we did this patio area.”
Irwin also plans to install synthetic-enhanced wood siding on the entire house instead of vinyl, which will help to retain that original look.
The project has taken longer than he originally expected, but he plans to be completed by the beginning of summer next year. Irwin works in product and business development for Moser Engineering and travels frequently, so he squeezes in the renovation work whenever he can outside his career.
So far, Irwin said he’s received positive feedback about the work he’s doing to fix up the worn down place.
“It’s amazing to me the work that we’ve done, the amount of neighbors that have stopped by and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m glad you’re doing this. It needed work,’” he said. “Because when I moved in, it looked like it was abandoned it was so overgrown.”
Irwin said his father once told him the house to buy someday was the dumpiest house in the nicest neighborhood. And with the work he’s putting in to put his imprint on his home, the advice looks to be turning out pretty well for Irwin.
“I worked hard my whole life and I enjoy the fruits of my labor,” he said. “I like to see what happens when I’m done. So far I like what I’m doing.”
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The Commercial Review, Jay County's Daily Newspaper
P.O. Box 1049 Portland, IN 47371