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Central Jersey House & Home Magazine, June 2009

Historic Renovation in Titusville Incorporates Energy-Efficient Materials

"When Pat Brundage was searching for a new home, she zeroed in on a quaint street lined with historic homes along the Delaware River in Titusville.

"The area was lovely and quiet and I fell in love with it," Brundage, a mortgage broker and president of the Audubon Wildlife Society, remembers. So much so, that she waited five years for a house to come on the market. When the realtor called, Brundage jumped at  the chance to buy it without even seeing the interior.

While she finally landed on the street of her dreams, the condition of the circa 1880s home Brundage acquired was more of a nightmare. The Victorian-style house had not been maintained for at least 30 years and was in tremendous disrepair. The original tin and slate gambrel roof leaked and consequently damaged ceilings and walls, rotted the window casings, clapboard, and soffits. In addition, the plumbing and electrical systems were outdated and barely functioning.

"I had my work cut out for me," Brundage laughs. But rather than jump into a renovation, she began to research the architecture of the period and even camped out on an air mattress in the living room to "get to know the house."

After a brief attempt at overseeing the restoration herself, Brundage turned to Rob Faucett of R. Faucett Construction, Inc., in Flemington, a Certified Remodeler and current president of the Central Jersey Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (CJNARI), to manage the project. Ironically, Faucett, who has a degree in architecture, first achieved success and fame designing and building very modern homes.

"It may seem like opposite extremes," he admits, "but there is actually quite a bit of commonality. The same amount of complexity goes into a project which has an intentional lack of detail as in a project with heavy, ornate details. They are both equally challenging, and I thrive on challenges."

Good thing, because there was no shortage of them on this job.

Faucett's first move was to call in architects Jerry Ford and Quinn Schwenker of Ford3 Architects, a Princeton firm specializing in residential historic preservation projects.

Together, Faucett, the architects, and Brundage worked as a team tackling decisions. The result of this successful collaboration helped garner Faucett a Contractor if the Year (CotY) award from the Central Jersey Chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry (NARI) for a Historic Renovation/ Restoration and a Northeast Region Award in the NARI national competition on the same category.

 

Part Restoration Part Renovation

Brundage's goal from the beginning was to preserve as much of the original house as possible. To that end, Faucett removed, saved, and cataloged all the trim, baseboards, corbels and other elements, storing them in the basement and determining which pieces could be restored and reused.

Some things were rotted beyond repair and not possible to salvage. Even the plaster walls had a musty smell that belied the water damage behind it. As a result, Brundage made the difficult decision to allow the interior of the house to be gutted to the studs.

Her concession had many upsides, however, including allowing Faucett to repair water damage and straighten the walls and floors, which were major undertakings. It also provided the opportunity to upgrade electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems, and to properly insulate the home with spray foam insulation.

"By gutting the house we could introduce modern, cost-effective, high-performance mechanical systems to minimize energy consumption," points out Faucett. "We could ensure the safety of the house y bringing the utilities up to modern standards. And, we could incorporate green and very efficient building products. All of this was really important to Pat."

Putting it Back Together

While the original configuration of the rooms in the two-story home remained basically intact, several changes were incorporated. A new sunroom with a full bath was added to the rear of the home to replace the dilapidated existing sunroom. A second bathroom was added to the second floor and a proper staircase was erected to the third-floor attic.

The previously unfinished attic, with sweeping views of the river across the street, was the hidden gem of the house. Though the large room was not divided by walls, there were ten columns supporting the roof. Removing them to create an expansive and open loft space required the installation of multiple engineered beams. And, because fire codes dictated that the 12-foot ceiling height to be reduced to 8 feet, the floor was raised so the ceiling could follow the dynamic lines of the existing roof.

The kitchen was, perhaps, the most definitive example of combining modern conveniences with Victorian-era personality. The painted wood cabinets, soapstone counters, handpainted tin ceilings, and hanging pendant light fixtures, are right at home with state-of-the-art appliances and radiant heat beneath the ceramic tile floor,

Getting it Right

Although the house had lovely Victorian-style detailing on the exterior, the interior was somewhat plain by comparison. "It was as if the original builder ran out of money while working on the interior," suggests Brundage. To make the inside mesh better with the outside, the team enhanced it with heavy crown moldings, ornate Victorian-style trims and other details that would have been available at the time the house was constructed. Also, quarter sawn white oak flooring with decorative walnut inlays were installed throughout the home. "We were very mindful of authenticity," she explains.

"Every detail was well thought out," adds Faucett. Because off-the-shelf period products were impossible to find, Faucett had windows, shutters, corbels, trims, doors, cabinets, and other elements replicated to exacting detail by craftspeople in his company's in-house woodshop. Appropriate hinges, hardware, fixtures, and lighting were painstakingly selected. Even the paint colors were thoroughly researched for authenticity.

"in the end, it's all about the details," says Brundage. "Incorporating the architectural details of the period really made a difference. Rob is an excellent technical in what he does and the vendors he chooses. And, he was patient with me in getting it right."

"Pat wanted to do everything right," emphasizes Faucett, who has since been tapped to lecture on historical architecture at Rutgers University. "Cost was an issue-as it understandably is with every project- but she wanted it done right and completely appreciated working with professionals and craftspeople. That doesn't happen all the time. We were a good team.""