The Herald Bulletin

March 13, 2010

At Home: Project a bonding experience

By Emma Bowen Meyer, For The Herald Bulletin

PENDLETON — When a four-year project goes on for seven years, the result is often a strained marriage.

But not for Eric and Helen Reske — if anything, it was a rejuvenation for the couple who had then been married for 33 years.

Buying the 1904 home with an eye on not just renovating it, but renovating it to the exact original state, the two “old house buffs” had a whole new treasure trove of topics to discuss.

“It was such a conversation piece,” said Eric, a retired civil engineer from Beam, Longest and Neff. “We’d go out to dinner and two hours would just fly by.”

Not only did decisions about colors and wallpapers and furniture have to be made, but more fundamental choices that affected the structure had to be discussed, such as the best way to raise a sagging ceiling and how to restore original hardwood floors without a belt sander.

Beginning in 1989 with the outside, the couple repointed bricks and repaired the roof and gutters. Eric did a good deal of the work himself, especially in crafting the missing porch spindles and the corbels underneath the gutters.

Working off a picture of the home as originally built by a member of Silver family, the Reskes converted the modernized front porch back to the original look. Eric’s civil engineer experience came into play as he calibrated measurements from the old photograph.

Not content to merely use his skills outside the home, inside he could tell that the ceiling was starting to sag by the grand staircase. A lengthy discussion ensued as they tried to decide whether to push the ceiling up with an added column or pull the ceiling up through a closet on the second floor.

Finally determining the character of the home demanded the latter, they began the process of realigning the ceiling by raising it the two inches that it had lagged.

Woodwork with flair

“The man who worked with my husband, Will Reed, was an award winning carpenter,” said Helen, a retired elementary teacher. “He was a genius. He, along with my husband, made this house come to life.”

Laboring over the woodwork, they stripped it, repaired it, refined it, and duplicated it to fill in gaps. While replacing windows, they advertised in the paper for old, wavy glass rather than use new glass. Toiling over each window for 20 hours to achieve just the right look has paid off in a uniform perfection.

As part of the desire to return to original form, the Reskes removed a fireplace in the dining room that had been added by a previous owner. To their joy, they also uncovered a built-in china cabinet of exquisite beauty.

“Mr. Silver’s granddaughter has come to visit since the restoration and loves to stand and look at this cabinet,” said Helen.

Another unusual discovery was made during a project that took them inside the upstairs walls — honey. Between the walls and into the floor joist, the couple along with some hired workers removed 500 pounds of honey.

“Some of the workers took it home with them,” she added. “It was the most delicious honey I ever tasted.”

The décor of an artist

Once the structural work was complete, it was time for the fun part. Using all she had learned in her art courses, Helen went to work piecing together just the right look for the interior of a historic home.

Starting with colorful oriental rugs that infuse excitement into the home, Helen arranged the rest of the furnishings around their color schemes.

“We decorated around the rugs and that was a lot of fun,” she said. “I’m an artist and I love that kind of thing. I do remember one day waking up and looking at the wallpaper in the bedroom and thought: ‘Oh, isn’t this lovely.’”

“There are thousands of hours in this project,” said Eric. “It was very, very interesting because everything had to be talked about for so long.”

“Many times it is a test of a marriage,” added Helen, now married for 54 years. “But we didn’t live in the house while we were renovating it. Maybe it would have been different if we had. But we learned a lot.”

Each week, Emma Bowen Meyer features a Madison County home. If you know of a home that should be showcased, send an e-mail to emmagoldiemeyer @yahoo.com.