“A Family Endeavor:” Restoring a hundred year home
We bought a view, and the little house came with it,” said Mark Townsend, a cardiologist at Centra.
“The view sold us—the rest of it was trying to figure out how to make it work.”
When Townsend and his wife Alice purchased their small home in the spring of 2010, they had no idea what adventures would unfold over the next few years. The original home, constructed in 1901 per Lynchburg city records, was a small L-shaped cottage that saw numerous additions and changes throughout the years. When the Townsend’s moved in, the house was 1,400 square feet with only two bedrooms and one bathroom—a tight squeeze for any family with four small children.
“We bought our house for the view and location, as it overlooks the James River above the Reusens Dam and downriver where we can see the train trestle that crosses from Amherst County into Riverside Park,” said Alice, a physical therapist at Centra.
Initially, their plan was to live in the house a few years and then build a new structure behind the existing one, but only six weeks after moving in, the Townsend’s recognized that the house needed many improvements, so they attempted to work with the footprint they had and make major updates along the way.
They loved the expansive views during every season and appreciated many of the old details such as the wood floors, so they enhanced much of the interior including adding sub-floors where there were none, retiling floors and tearing out and adding walls. Mark fixed every single doorway in the house after the floor repairs made them too short and gutted all of the rooms. Outdoors, even their landscaping was overhauled since there weren’t even steps leading up to the house.
The more they went into the walls, the more they discovered of the home’s fascinating history, which propelled them along their journey. They were told that Thomas Jefferson used to cross the James River to get to Poplar Forest at a ferry in front of the lock and canal at the river basin in front of their home. An elderly set of sisters in town, along with a brother, also introduced themselves, sharing memories of their years growing up on the property.
According to the brother, they had a truck farm, a hog barn and a turkey barn, along with chickens and vegetables. The brother recalled sitting on the front porch, shelling butter beans until it felt like his fingers would fall off. Ironically, the Townsends have carried on a few of those traditions with their own flock of chickens on the modest one-acre spread. They also discovered an old outhouse (though that’s not a tradition they revived).
After the sisters’ family moved away, a gentleman built the first addition to the home with a kitchen and bathroom sometime in the 1970s, taking the house from an L-shaped cottage to a rectangular footprint. The Townsends believe there were at least two more additions to the home before they moved in.
Unfortunately, though, day-by-day projects were derailed due to a leaky kitchen roof caused by incorrect materials and an improper pitch that had been installed prior to their ownership. Every time it rained, they would be reaching for the buckets.
After several unsuccessful attempts at roof repair, and with only one room left to renovate, the couple decided at the start of 2014 that the entire roof would need to be replaced. That drove them to an unexpected decision—they had done so much work to the house by that point they didn’t want to start over by building new or moving, so they asked themselves how they could work with what they had. With their family of six, the couple made the decision that together with everyone’s help, they could build up by adding a second story to their one level house, even though they would have to completely rebuild the home’s foundation to support the structure.
“We tried to renovate what was here as best we could,” Alice said. “It’s what we do on weekends and our weeks off, [but] we decided that now was the time to make the house just a little bigger and add a second story over top of the first. We did not want to lose the cozy feeling of our home, where you can hear everybody no matter where you are in the house.”
Mark drew inspiration from the home’s spectacular surroundings and rich history, then took on the task of redesigning the house with advanced planning and better flow than it had previously. He was also very aware when he drafted and drew up the house plans to keep the home’s “cozy feeling” intact.
The kitchen now opens up to the second floor with a hallway overlooking it, making it feel connected to the upstairs, which is also home to the master bedroom, two bathrooms, the children’s rooms and the laundry room. With the help of Bob Flint of LG Flint who did their foundation work, John Joyner of Driven Builders who did the framing, Matt Kluender, the finish carpenter and Tim Columbus of Columbus Woodworks who customized the handrails, they added 1,200 square feet, bringing the house to a total 2,600 square feet, and nearly doubling their original floor plan.
“The great part of 1,400 square feet is everyone feels like we’re together—no one feels like we’re missing out on anything,”
Alice said. “[Now] our 2,600 square-foot house feels pretty big on the inside, but there’s an open flow and great connectivity. We use all of our space—no rooms that we don’t go into.”
Throughout their ongoing renovations, Mark got his children involved as well. The kids helped by using electrical pliers to get all of the staples out of the floors and using wire brushes to clean floors. The first Thanksgiving in the house, Mark handed each of his kids hammers—ages 4, 5, 7 and 8 at the time—and told them to start tearing down a wall. Alice said, “They were hammering at that wall as fast as they could.”
“We’ve done a lot of work on this project ourselves, with my husband leading the charge, teaching my children and me so much along the way,” Alice said.
“He has been a great leader with all of us, teaching the kids while doing it. It’s been a family endeavor and journey. Thankfully, Mark is really handy and has great carpentry skills. We’ve made so many trips to Home Depot as a family that the staff recognize us and if we happen to go in without our children then the staff always ask where our children are and how they’re doing.”
Even with the addition and all the changes and updates the Townsends have made, they still only have 3 bedrooms and 3 bathrooms for six people and three dogs. The three girls—Virginia, now age 14; Annie, 13; and Margaret, 11—all still share a space and though their youngest and only son, David, age 10, has his own room, there is a trundle bed under his bed for midnight guests so that no one is alone or missing out on something that might be going on in the family.
“We want to encourage our children to have great communication skills,” Alice said. “We want them to grow up together [and] sharing a room is a fun part of that.”
One of the many advantages to living in a small space is that less space means less to clean, which is definitely a positive aspect for a busy family. Alice says the key to keeping the walls from closing in on a small house is to keep everything orderly, clean and neat, so that it doesn’t take several days to clean the whole house. She said that she and Mark love having their children be active participants in all they do, so whether it is cleaning the house, gardening, folding laundry or doing weekend house projects, they always try to involve their children into the everyday.
“They are such great helpers, paying good attention with lots of guidance along the way,” Alice said. “It is neat seeing them learn through this and being creative. The children take better care of the house [than we do]—they are proud of the fact that they’ve helped and invested.”
One such moment where their investment paid off was when their son David helped problem solve in the midst of a construction dilemma.
Since they live by the river, they occasionally spot eagles on their property, so Mark decided to put an appliqué of an eagle on the center of their fireplace. They found a metal plaque but were puzzled with how to mount it.
Their youngest child, David, who was nine at the time, came up with the idea to use Liquid Nails—a construction adhesive. Having worked closely with his dad for the past five years, he had learned what supplies are available and how they function and was able to put that knowledge to good use for his family even at a young age.
The couple was very conscientious to preserve as many details from the original house as possible, including the heart pine floors, the oak wood paneling in the kitchen and the ceiling medallion from the old Hotel Carroll—a hotel in Lynchburg that was built in 1893 and demolished in 1959.
The last plaster that remained in the home was in the dining room but was lost when it rained. The couple used new Fypon crown molding reproduced from original plaster molds inspired by the plaster medallion in the dining room. Columns that existed in the home were repurposed for the fireplace mantle and a week’s worth of vacation was spent stripping 11 coats of paint off of and restoring the wood paneling in the kitchen.
In reference to the home’s architecture, there are not a lot of mansard-style second empire homes in Lynchburg, which makes its unique style even more satisfying.
“It was fun to take something that was fairly popular in the early 1900s and reconstruct that,” Mark said.
When they added the second level to the house, they looked for ways to integrate the same character and interest that had been passed down for generations to the new areas of the home. One such example is the stained glass that shines from the upstairs hallway. They incorporated it to look like windows and bring attention to otherwise bland walls. Even the oak beams in the kitchen are not structural but rather were installed to feel original and tie it all together.
Downstairs in the dining room, they wanted chairs that fit the scale of their hand-me-down table but felt modern chairs were too large for their space. By utilizing antiques, they added to the home’s expanding story—since each chair features a different needlepoint seat cushion, they have a diverse look even while the group of chairs feels like a collection.
Another feature that adds interest to the home is how the Townsends have tied modern elements into a historical house. Though not indicative of the home’s time period, they seamlessly incorporated a computer tech center into the kitchen. Alice’s grandfather had an old fir wood board that her mother had made into a sideboard table in the kitchen, which they use as a homework center. To downplay its modernization, they mounted mirror glass above the fireplace to hide the television. They found the frame at an antique store that happened to be the same size as the television and then put mirror glass in it. Even the staircase and the alcove for the grandfather clock were designed to maximize space and reflect the time period of the home.
“We wanted to make it feel like it had always been there,” Mark said. “Our hope and intent is that it feels like it’s original.”
Heather Cravens is a Lynchburg native with more than 10 years of experience in the interior design industry, including owning Becoming Designs. Heather is passionate about creating environments that inspire and build families through the hospitality of their homes. She mirrors that passion with her own family by spending time with her husband and their one-year-old son.
Photography by Tera Janelle Auch