Updating a historic home is challenging enough, without adding budget pressures and tight deadlines. When designer Kim Wolfe called on Paper Moon Painting to come help with her historic home renovation for season 2 of HGTV’s “Why the Heck Did I Buy this House?“, we dove right in!
Joining a historic home update part-way through
We joined Kim halfway through the project, when the previous painters were no longer able to complete work to the homeowner’s satisfaction. With a tight production deadline for HGTV, not only was time a serious challenge, but this was the kind of setback that could blow a budget to shreds.
Happily, Kim had a clear design vision for this small Victorian, and plenty of experience dealing with a historic home update gone totally awry.
So once the flurry of work was over, with Paper Moon having painted nearly the entire interior and exterior, we asked Kim some questions about this fun project, her design vision, and the challenges to watch out for if you’re trying your own historic home renovation. All photos of completed renovation by Madeline Harper.
Kim, you accomplished something amazing here! This was a hundred-year-old house in dire need of repair inside and out, with tiny rooms, creaking floors, and peeling paint everywhere. Yet the home feels fresh, bright and cheerful. How did you and the homeowners work together to land on the overall vision?
From the first time we met them, it was clear that what they loved about this house was the original Victorian architecture, its charm and its spirit. It was important to them to steward that well. We started off thinking this was going to be a more cosmetic renovation, but it ended up being a complete restoration. Thankfully the homeowners were open-minded and cool to what that would look like.
Internally we referred to this home as a sort of “eclectic revival”. We had to mix the two homeowners’ personalities and eclectic styles, plus accomplish a revival of the personality and heritage of the original historic home itself. It was an experience unlike any other I had worked on before.
Picking paint colors for a historic home renovation
You worked closely with San Antonio-based color consultant Jim Smith to pick the exterior color palette for this house. All of the Farrow & Ball paint selections blend so beautifully here. Can you tell us about the color selection process?
Jim is a genius. He worked up two versions of the exterior color scheme – one in the blue family and one in the green – and the cute thing is when I asked him why those two color families, he said it was hot outside and he wanted to cool down! Fun moment.
I alone would never have dreamt of using eight colors on the exterior of the house, and learned a lot from Jim on how to do that well. The detailed color palette was authentic to the Victorian time period yet still felt fresh, and gave the home great dimension and charm.
Any historic home renovation will almost always have glitches along the way. We’re so thankful you reached out to us when you needed a new painter halfway through, but what other hiccups did you have on this project? Any major surprises?
For this house, everything had to be custom-milled or specially made. New windows went in to match the old, and existing windows that remained had to be restored by one of the few people in town who are trained to do this. There was almost nothing going into this house that you could go pick up at a big box store – it really just had to be searched for and found, or built. A lot of research time went into this!
Reworking the kitchen was complicated – there were a lot of elements just not conducive to a good kitchen layout. But we wanted it functional for the homeowners when it was all said and done, so we worked really hard with the contractor to accomplish that and still make the kitchen feel authentic to the time period. It was a very productive partnership.
How did your design process evolve? Did you need to modify your vision as you went along?
Any design process first starts with getting to know my clients, what makes them tick, what excites them or delights them. Which is always tricky when you have two people in the mix! Here, the homeowners each had their own unique vibe – one leaned more modern, and one was more eclectic and vintage. So it is always a fun challenge to pair input from two different people, and come up with a design result which makes them both feel seen.
You brought in several of your own pieces to complete the look and give the home some character and elevated style, and the newer pieces blend in beautifully. Can you show us a few favorites?
You can see several just coming through the front door and into the entry hall – the recycled green chandelier by Currey and Company, the entryway cabinet from Arhaus, and the Kevin Chupik scarf that is framed above it are all beloved pieces.
Also there are the wasabi velvet fig chairs in the living room, seen against the beautiful blue kitchen cabinets painted in Farrow and Ball “De Nimes“, and the bespoke oak island by Attie Jonker. Plus the fabulous Julian Chichester bed in the primary bedroom makes the room feel so special.
We also love the Emtek glass and brass egg knobs that pop off of the kitchen and bar cabinetry, and always give a beautiful vintage feeling to spaces.
Updating a historic home on a budget
Finances can be tricky and ever-changing on a historic home renovation like this one. How did you stay on budget but while still getting the look you wanted?
Realizing you have to pivot midway through, from “cosmetic update” to “full home restoration”, always comes with significant cost implications. And often those costs go into invisible parts of the house, which need to be redone but don’t add to the overall design. So adjustments always need to be made.
As just one example, the subfloor in the primary bath was rotted and had to be completely redone, especially in order to support the fabulous iron tub. But vintage details, like the light fixtures that originally came from a hotel in Prague (which we found at Round Top), gave the home character and history in a cost-effective way. In the end, we were all were glad to take the “full restoration” route, because both us and homeowners agreed it was best to do it once and do it right.
Which details of this project are you most proud of?
The attention to the original craftsmanship of the home – the woodwork throughout, the brick column, hardwood floors, and many exterior architectural features. We really feel like we brought those back to their former glory in a way that was fresh and reinvigorating, not overpowering or disjointed from the home’s original design style.
Using the right contractors
Any advice for homeowners tackling a home renovation of their own?
Make sure you work with the right people, it is everything! You can find plenty of people who’ll say that they can do your project for whatever price you want, but it is absolutely critical to find someone who is going to be upfront about what it really will cost, and do the job well. This project would not have been a success without the right team to see it through.
The results truly speak for themselves. We were so glad to be a part of it!
Here’s a fun little excerpt from the episode, called “Historic Hideaway”, season 2 episode 4:
Several gorgeous photos from the entire project are in our interior and exterior painting galleries. And you can also stream the entire episode via HGTV, to see the full historic home renovation, including the fabulous interior!