For Evan and Kimberly E. Brown, renovating their home became more than a pastime. It became an all-consuming, round-the-clock, coal-dust-in-your-face, never-a-moment's-rest passion.
Consider this: three years without a shower. Not them, their home. They kept a gym membership just for access to running water.
“We showered at the gym and lived in one room with construction going on all around it,” Kimberly Brown said.
For several weeks, a sign in the Browns' front yard had proclaimed that the house would be featured on HGTV. But broadcast plans have changed, and the house will be part of a segment of What You Get for the Money on a sister network, Fine Living. An air date has yet to be set.
The show segment focuses on not only the house and its decor, but the lifestyle that came with it. For example, the one-day shoot last spring included the Browns walking to Magee's Bakery just down the block on East Main Street and emphasized the home's proximity to downtown restaurants, offices, the Kentucky Theatre and the park at Bell Court.
The Browns welcomed those diversions during the five-year renovation.
The story began about a year after the Browns married. He works for a builder and she is an equine business consultant. They considered themselves pretty handy, so they shopped for a house that would be a project.
The Browns — she's 36, he's 41 — both loved the bones of the Forest Avenue house, which was built in 1902. It was easy to recognize the beauty of the ornate molding and the original functioning pocket doors and that great wavy window glass that comes with old homes.
She especially loved a touch of whimsy that they found upstairs — a “secret” passage that leads under the eaves and onto a small landing with a window.
The house had been passed down through several generations of the original owner's family.
On the plus side, not much had been done to alter the place. On the negative side, well, not much had been done to alter the place.
“We thought we'd paint and finish the floors and we'd be done,” Kimberly said.
“We got in over our heads a little bit,” Evan Brown said.
One major hurdle, as it turned out, was the condition of the walls.
“They were basically held together with wallpaper,” she said. Years of heating with coal had left whatever was behind the wallpaper permeated with coal dust.
The couple had to take the walls down to the studs on the first-floor hallway and start anew.
The kitchen was another challenge. There was no working stove, only a hole in the wall where a pot-bellied stove had once been.
“Our neighbor fed us for about a year,” Kimberly said. Plus, they were soon on a first-name basis with the pizza delivery guy, who got to know the family dog very well and mourned its passing almost as deeply as the Browns did.
“The first couple of months weren't that bad,” Evan said. That was because the couple still had hope that things could be completed quickly.
“The next year and a half were horrible,” he said. “It's amazing what you can get used to.”
The couple sort of went into lockdown mode for a while, spending all of their free time working on the house. They never brought a television in so they wouldn't have that distraction.
And they stuck to their plans, not giving in to cutting corners. That's one reason they were so long without a shower. They maintained the original tub but had to get it reglazed. They had to order special fixtures, but those didn't work, so they had to order a different set. And then they ran short on money. … You get the picture.
They buried the power lines, gave in to Evan's itch for a glass-front refrigerator, and used soapstone on the kitchen counter tops.
They think the original owner was a builder and might have used the house as sort of a early model home to show prospective clients various designs, because the floors have different wood in each room, and no two mantels are the same.
All of these touches are now on display, with gleaming hardwood floors throughout and a elegant palette of green, browns and blues.
So they're settling in to enjoy what they've created, right?
They recently put it on the market just to see what sort of nibbles they might get. They had bought it for $270,000, and they listed it for $575,000.
It sold in a week.
So now they're moving to Hamburg into a brand-new house that needs no work.
“It's a resting point for us,” Kimberly said, sitting on the couch the day before the movers were coming to take them to their new home.
“If there is a good opportunity, we might do it (renovate) again,” Evan Brown said.
But, his wife added, “without living in it.”