The Knight House
So this photo is an older one of mine, but to me exemplifies just how pretty an old house can be, even one in such a sad state of disrepair. Note the detail on the brick with the leaf clusters and the wreaths; the ornate decorations around the entirety of the windows. So. Freaking. Awesome. That someone would have the ability and vision to create something like this.
This, of course, being the Knight House. Any of the Old West End's denizens over the years have doubtless driven or walked past this stately home that sits on Collingwood Boulevard, just off of Bancroft and next door to the Ford Mansion. The Ford Mansion was a previous post here on my blog, a marvelous home that, despite undergoing renovations, is in pretty amazing shape - the woodwork and livability of the first and second floors, in particular, speaks volume to the care with which its former owners took with it. Chuck and Finley, proud new owners, are doing an excellent job at continuing the restoration. In doing so, they also purchased the Knight House, and this week I was again fortunate enough to have permission from Chuck and Finley to walk through this home.
A warning: this home is most definitely a work in progress, so much so that you will see a lot of holes in walls, missing walls, rotted studs and joists, decrepit plaster and holes in the roof. And I didn't even bother trying to photograph the basement, which is a maze in its own right, although it seemed fairly dry given the shape of the house as a whole. Chuck and Finley are doing amazing work at bracing the property with new framing and redoing the roof; hopefully they will find a way to continue the restoration here once the weather has been given the middle finger from their team of builders and roofers.
The photos I present below are also in a slightly skewed order; normally I try and shoot a home in the same order you would walk through it, but since I came in the side door, I decided to leave the "tour", as it were, as-is.
After the photos is a brief Q&A that team Chuck and Finley were kind enough to fill out for me - give it a read to get a sense of their personal journey in old home restoration and renovation.
Q & A with Chuck and Finley (my questions in bold):
How long have you owned the Ford Mansion?
We purchased the home last year in September.
How many other OWE homes have you owned? How many have you restored?
We own two other homes in the OWE, plus another building in the Uptown area.
All are historic in nature and very different styles of architecture.
We also have two homes in Michigan, one in Taylor that is 80% restored and another in the Kalamazoo area that is just starting the restoration process after months of architect and engineering planning.
Have you done restoration work in other parts of the country? If so, where?
My family has always been interested in real estate, my parents bought many homes in Southern California and fixed them up, and then started building homes in the late 70's. These were generally tract homes with little architectural significance ( until the 50's resurgence and appreciation for the ranch style house) One of their purchases did include a 1920's Spanish inspired bungalow. I eventually moved into that home, and with my partner did do a lot of renovation projects. I still have that house today!
I moved out of California and eventually ended up in Boston, where Finley and I met. We lived in an old brownstone building on Beacon Street. Our apartment was about 700 sq. ft., but was the library of the original mansion. It was all burled walnut bookcases floor to ceiling! I believe that is when we both knew we would always live in an old home.
We eventually moved to Michigan and bought a commercial property in Blissfield. It was a storefront that we did some work on, very superficial. We then purchased and old farmhouse in Palmyra and that is really our first attempt at restoring an old home. We were in the process of restoring the front porch and went to Adrian's historic district for ideas. We found a home with a great front porch and ended up buying it. We again started the process of restoring what was just a superficial refreshing of the home. We painted, repaired and generally got the home in good working order. About 3 years into the project, and pretty much done, Finley decided we should move to Toledo.
I agreed that I would move, with the understanding that I wanted a brick house, little or no work involved, and a decent sized yard.
We ended up buying what would have been considered the worst house on the best street we could afford at the time.
The Parkwood home was to the point of either total repair, or tear it down. After friends saw the home, they were convinced we were crazy, and prayed we would change our minds. Most people were most surprised that it was I who chose this house. It was covered in aluminum, the roof was shot, the plumbing was in need of complete replacement, it was cockroach infested. The exterior was as bad as the interior! We have owned the home for 17 years, and are only about 85% done with the work. It has been our real learning experience, many things we would do completely different, in a much more cost effective way. It has truly been a labor of love.
When our neighbor passed a couple of years ago, we were able to purchase the small home behind us. It was part of the original family's estate. It was a summer kitchen, a playhouse for the children and eventually cobbled into the home it is now.
What do you like the most about restoring an old home? What’s the best part of it, the journey in restoring or enjoying the finished product afterwards?
I believe the most rewarding part of restoring the homes that we have, is watching a neglected, aged home be brought back to life... Both in its physical structure and in its ability to become a home, in the sense that a family creates memories and continues in extending to the history of the house.
In terms of the process, it's always a learning curve, and a lesson in planning; both in the process and the financial planning that becomes a major factor in the long term.
Most fulfilling is watching and experiencing the transformation and leaving our mark on these homes.
What do you like about Toledo’s OWE?
Of course we love the architecture of the neighborhood, its proximity to the Museum and downtown. But mostly we appreciate the mix of the neighborhood. We moved to Toledo , and specifically to the OWE to experience its inclusiveness.
What improvements would you like to see in the area?
For the OWE, I would like to see more support for the maintenance and rehabilitation of our homes. I believe that Toledo as a whole benefits from a strong and viable neighborhood such as the OWE, as well as area such as Vistula and Westmoreland. I think it attracts a great mix of young and old people, of all walks of life and socioeconomic levels. I like that there is a gently used feeling to the area. I believe that the
growth of Promedica, the expanding warehouse and uptown districts and the beginning of renewal in the Collingwood Springs area are all good for our neighborhood.
I think we are also starting to see a move from the exploding Detroit area spill over to Toledo. The gentrification of Detroit is making Toledo ripe and in good position to see similar projects begin right here.
Outline future plans for the Ford Mansion - kitchen, ballroom, other upstairs areas - are you going to rent any of it out like you did with Parkwood?
The Ford has two living spaces in the carriage house, as well as two areas in the rear of the main house that used to be servants quarters. We don't have final plans for the house, but will most likely rehab the carriage house and the apartments. They are very utilitarian at this time, we would like to make them more appealing with higher grade finishes throughout.
The kitchen in the Ford was last redone when the Red Cross used it as a cafeteria for its volunteers. It is very utilitarian in feel at this time. Our intention is to take the old eating area and enclosed patio into an enlarged kitchen. We plan to keep exposed brick, steel I beams and oak hardwood floors. We plan to use original cabinets from the ballroom, a storage area and a canning room and integrate them into a new restaurant quality kitchen.
The ballroom is going to be brought back to its original layout and purpose. The sitting area will be reopened, the musicians alcove will be restored and the ceiling repaired along with original lighting features. We will also add a sound system to enhance its use.
Both of these areas of the house have kitchens and bathrooms that will be brought to working order and restored. We have not determined the use of the apartments in the rear of the house, but we have entertained the idea of hosting guests or tenants.
Your plans for the Knight House?
Our plan upon acceptance from the Landbank was to save the structure in the most complete form as was financially feasible. It was determined from our structural engineer that although a lot of work would be needed, the building was salvageable within our financial commitment.
We will have the roof replaced, the rotted wood on both the interior and exterior replaced and all beams and joists throughout the house replaced if necessary and leveled. Most of the entire original house is in need of extensive work.
This phase of the project will leave the home watertight, safe to enter and be ready for mechanics and interior finish.
The original staircase is salvageable, a couple of fireplaces and the Rookwood tiled fountain and floor will also be restored.
We are open to the sale of the building, provided a buyer has the financial fortitude to take on such a project. Also assurance that the integrity of the building would be maintained by any new owner.
Where do you draw inspiration from during your decorating and restoring - I see a lot of Chinese/Far East influences in your decor, but it all seems to blend very well with the late 1800s/early 1900s woodwork and such...
The furniture and art that is in the home has been collected by Finley and myself for the last 25 years. Finley has a great interest and keen eye for all things antique. We really didn't purchase anything new when we moved to the Ford, but I think things just kind of fit in throughout the house. Finley has recently been going to auctions to complete some of the rooms.
As far as art in the home goes we do have an affinity for Asian pieces. We have traveled extensively in that part of the world and like to pick up pieces on our travel. It is coincidental also that the Victorian Era had a fascination with the Far East. Trade had opened up at the time and that influence also showed up in European and American art and furniture.
What advice do you have for someone interested in restoring an old home?
Do your research, take your time, ask questions! The Internet is a great resource, but so are neighbors or other people living in historic homes.
It almost always takes twice as much time, and twice as much money for most projects in these houses.
What advice do you have for someone interested in living in an older, restored home?
Be realistic in your expectations. Most older homes don't have many of the modern amenities of a newly built home. Claw foot bathtubs are beautiful, but if you don't have a shower in your home, you will be crawling in and out of it every time you bathe. Kitchens were very utilitarian... Dish washers, garbage disposals, lots of cabinetry were not standard by any means.
Most of all is the lack of closet space! People used armoires and dressers to hold their few personal garments. It can be a challenge finding space for today's abundant wardrobes.
There is also the issue of number of bathrooms, home insulation, lack of efficient heating and cooling. These are all available at great cost and sometimes sacrifice to the integrity of the original home.
Any large things you would have done differently with any of your restorations?
After many home renovations we have found that sometimes it is most efficient to start at the bare bones and work outwards. The absolute first thing we look for is that the house is water tight, the roof and the basement being of most concern. After that, the plumbing and electric should be addressed and updated if necessary. The next concern would be heating ( and cooling if that is a priority). All of these are big ticket items, but are important in restore ing a home thoroughly.
Lastly is the fun stuff... The painting, the flooring, the landscape etc.
One thing I might say though is: finish one room that can be your retreat, so that it isn't totally overwhelming.
We are 16 years into the Parkwood restoration, hopefully finishing by summer of next year. It's a long process, it's an expensive process, but it is utterly fulfilling and creates a great sense of accomplishment as you move toward the finish product!
Once again, heartfelt thanks to both Chuck and Finley for allowing me access to their homes and lives. As someone born and raised in Toledo and Northwest Ohio, and especially as someone who has chosen to return here after having the means and opportunities to live in other (better!) climates, it is very rewarding to see people put their money where their mouth is in working to better our community.
As with my work photographing the Ford Mansion, I shot this home using only natural light.
If you know of other old homes that could benefit from being photographed for posterity's sake, drop me a line below in the comments or by email: email@example.com; I am always looking for new stories to tell!
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Keywords: architecture, brick, historic, historic district, knight house, ohio, old west end, owe, red cross house, renovation, rt photography, ryan tester, ryan tester photography, toledo, urban exploration, urbex, work in progress
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