My son, Dominic Eardley, purchased this house in June of 1999. It has been renovated incrementally ever since.
It is known as the Colonel A.S. Drake House, at 704 West Short Street, one of several single storey Greek Revival cottages occupying the south side of this last block in Lexington’s old Western Suburb, opened up in the mid 1840s.
The original building was built of brick, with a stone foundation below grade. It had a hall, two rooms, each with two windows and a fireplace, and a porch on the ground floor and two basement rooms . The rear basement room was windowless. The front basement room had a fireplace, the two windows seen here, and an outside entry door, which invites speculation as to its intended occupants: were they Colonel Drake’s tenants or slaves?
Perhaps in the 1930s, this side entry was reduced to a window opening when a new staircase provided internal access to it from the porch, which was enclosed. Subsequent additions of uncertain date increased the ground floor area by about 50%.
By the time that Dominic bought the house it had been used as a single family dwelling for at least two decades, but it nevertheless still had, in addition to its front door, a numbered side door entering into the kitchen, the kitchen back door opening on to the deck, and a further back door, disused and sealed up, that once had led from the deck into the his bathroom! It is hard to imagine how the house, including its basement room, could have accommodated even two adequate apartments, let alone three!
BASEMENT STUDIO (2000-2002)
One of his first priorities was a quiet and secure place in which to locate his computer studio. The largest room in the house, ideal for the purpose, is the front basement room (20 feet x 15 feet), but it was unfinished, junk filled, permanently damp, inundated whenever it rained, had rotted window frames and was far from habitable.
All the water was coming from the hardstanding of his neighbor to the north, who kindly allowed us to build a concrete curb along its edge and thus redirect the flow into the street. The basement stone half-wall was repointed and the bare brick above it plastered. New, double glazed windows were built to fit the openings. The mains electrical service was upgraded and wiring was installed in the ceiling around the room, power and cable drops forming an alternating rhythm with light cans. We painted the floor.
BASEMENT STAIRCASE (2003)
To improve the headroom, the solid basement stair wall was removed, the stair opening was extended to the limit imposed by an adjacent doorway and a new, light-admitting balustrade was built to replace it.
STUDY FOUNDATION/SIDE DOOR (2004)
Next, we eliminated the redundant side entry, repairing the rotted foundations under the enclosed porch, and replacing the doorway with a double glazed window.
FRONT STEPS (2005)
Then, the front steps collapsed, and had to be replaced, which gave us an opportunity to do a little better.
The steps next door, at 700 West Short Street, had recently been nicely refurbished, so we thought that to mirror them might embrace both a civic gesture and be a practical solution to the out-swing of the screen door.
MASTER BEDROOM & BATH (2006)
Now we could attack the Master bathroom. Reference to the Ground Floor Plan on page 2 will show that this bathroom, though narrow, is quite long. It was also underutilized. Moreover, the rest of the Master Bedroom Suite didn’t work at all. The big, walk-in closet was then the Laundry Room, while the space now occupied by the bed-head was taken up by a closet. In consequence, there was really nowhere to put a bed. But there was plenty of space for the laundry functions in the bathroom.
Out went the plastic Jacuzzi tub and its green plastic, faux marble bath panels (it might help to know that the last owner had been a patriotic Irishman), out went the extravagantly long vanity unit and its green plastic counter-top.
We changed the existing window for a smaller, double glazed unit with a higher sill to accommodate the washer and dryer, moved the bathroom door into the very corner of the bedroom to make as much room as possible for a queen-sized bed and a bedside table, installed a new tub-shower, had a little fun with the tiling, put the potty back where we found it, bought a new wash basin and connected the appliances.
With this behind us the bedroom was easy, but before we gave Dominic his newly recovered closet space in the old laundry room (seen here on the near right) we stole a few inches of its depth in anticipation of the time when his fridge would need it, as part of the future kitchen renovation on the other side of the wall.
KITCHEN WINDOWS (2006)
Then there were the Kitchen windows, all those unnecessary, nasty and drafty operable sashes to be replaced with more efficient glazing, and a little symmetry.
EXTERIOR PAINTING (2006)
With another replacement window in the enclosed porch, eventually to be a study, the exterior was ready for a coat of paint, and a new splash of color!
BACK SITTING ROOM (2007)
A layer of decorative and mostly inaccessible shelving was removed from the south wall of the middle Sitting Room, and the fireplace was given back its mantel, a replica of the original in the front Sitting Room.
In the future Study, a new utility closet was built in an unutilized depth of framed wall (below right), to permit the existing closet (center above) to be removed, to make way for a second window and a larger bookcase (below left) sharing the wall depth with a pantry in the kitchen beyond. The cat supervises. Her name is Cleopatra.
Finally, we were ready for the Kitchen.
Earlier on, we had trashed the suspended ceiling. Now we demolished the partition wall behind the fridge (above) to open up the space, diminish the length of a dreary corridor behind it, and give us another five or six precious inches of counter top and cabinet space.
In order to align its face with that of the new base cabinets, we nudged that fat object into a shallow niche in the generous space of the new clothes closet on the other side of the wall and brought it all together in a flurry.
The repaired and re-hung back door got a really nice old black iron rim lock with white porcelain knobs that I had been patiently saving for some such event for decades.
The red oak cabinets now provide a generous linear footage of drawers, cupboards and shelving, while Formica’s modest cost, made in China, white ‘Colorcore’ countertop laminate is matched by an all-white drop-in stove with a white microwave oven-cum-fume hood hovering above, and a white-glazed cast iron sink that has a mini dishwasher tucked in alongside it.
So Dominic is now fully equipped and can reach about anything he needs with just a little pirouette from one foot to the other. The slight rotation on the outer counter top reiterates the incline in the ceiling — homage to Juan Gris — and provides a generous work surface facing the guests gathered around the table or, more often than not, just the indifferent Cleo, crouched over her stoneware bowls.
The kitchen is now a cheerful, sun-drenched room commanding a panoramic prospect in three directions.
NEW FENCE/LANDSCAPING (2008)
As all this was progressing, Dominic agreed with his neighbor at number 700 to the south, to uproot the overgrown hedge along their fence line, resurvey the property boundary, and share the cost of a new fence.
This fostered renewed attention to the outdoors, including an extension of the earlier hardstanding to enable a car to be parked less obtrusively, inside the building line, a gate to replace the uprooted screen hedge,
and a renovated back garden layout, augmenting the old brick paving to make a low maintenance, outdoor room as an extension to the interior spaces.
FINAL STAGE OF RENOVATION
You will all recall that when Una died two Januarys ago Dominic left his house on West Short Street to keep me company on West Seond Street. He would return to his house daily to feed his tortoise-shell calico cat — the aging, imperious and appropriately named Cleopatra — and to work in his digital studio.
Well, in late Fall last year we brought her over here and after a week or two of fussing and hissing she settled down and made the place her own: she now has more rooms to sneak into, even though we shut doors with the diligence of prison warders, and more cupboards and closets to break into, and she really enjoys her bird hunting and squirrel chasing in the safety of her walled garden.
Eventually Dominic moved his computing equipment over here, and once he had done that, of course, it became rapidly obvious that the only remaining function his house could perform would be to provide him with a bolt hole in which to get away from me. But, for the price of a cup of coffee, he could do that perfectly well in Starbucks, where he could also bump into his friends, so we eventually agreed that his move was now permanent, and that there was no further point in servicing a mortgage and paying taxes on a disused house with an increasingly overgrown garden, threatening to revert to the state in which he found it.
Although we had been working on incremental renovations of Dominic’s house ever since he first took ownership of it some thirteen years ago, there were still a number of things that had been left half finished or unattended and would need to be dealt with before the house could be put on the market. Indeed, some of our earlier renovations were now getting so old that they were beginning to need revisiting.
So, about six months ago, we screwed up our courage and began to tackle them in earnest: a final blitz as it were, prosecuted with stern resolve to the very limit of our combined checkbooks and credit cards.
new double glazed units in the last remaining four window openings, all of which had rotting wooden sills that really required replacement with stone,
as did the poor old Greek revival front door, original to the house but much abused and sagging, and with such a thickness of old paint that at times my torch and scrapers could scarcely find the original wooden profile.
Then, our painter, dutifully repainting the “ink blue” walls of the exterior which had faded to blue-grey on the southern exposures, brought to our attention the unwelcome fact that there was not a lot of life left in our bituminous shingles, the cheap, silly excuse for a roofing material with which America chooses to replace the traditional wooden shingle, and which itself needs trashing and replacement every fifteen to twenty years.
So, early one morning, a crew of perhaps half a dozen cheerful Mexicans, brothers and cousins from nearby Richmond, Kentucky, arrived with a couple of pallets of new shingle, a massive trash container and a variety of trucks and vans, and with all the agility of mountain goats and the ease and grace of a well-rehearsed corps de ballet, they had the roof stripped clean of its old shingle within the hour — no “manana vale” with these guys –, and come noon and the exchange of $3000.00 in cash, their little convoy was on its way to some favoured cantina before the afternoon job, and we could boast a new shingle roof to a prospective purchaser’s building inspector, “materials guaranteed”…..for another twenty years!.
Meanwhile, in the interior, a little plaster was repaired and a quite alarming area of gypsum board, much of it covering insulated exterior walls, was taped and finished, disturbed base board and window architrave was reinstalled and replaced,
the “Half Bath” was renovated, complete with a non-conforming but quite pretty bottle trap to the lavatory basin,
and both old and new walls received their first coat of paint in well over a decade.
Floors were sanded and refinished, and now flush red oak doors replaced those depraved things with four or five full-width plywood panels that claimed some spurious affinity to the departed Arts and Crafts Movement. their cheap hardware was discarded for something more substantial, new light fittings were installed, and a huge package of most meticulously dimensioned Venetian blinds arrived to adorn all the windows, installed in an afternoon.
Then our cleaning lady spent two days in the place and everything gleamed. Dominic’s furniture was redistributed, then supplemented with one or two rugs and things from Second Street, causing another re-shuffle — but not really an improvement — and when finally, after all this sustained effort and expense, the house was at last totally habitable, the keys were handed to our good friend and real estate agent, Jim McKeighen, who donated the plants and set up his FOR SALE sign in the front yard.
The Front Parlor, looking out to West Short Street, into the Entry Hall and, at far right, through the Middle Parlor doorway to the Dining Room.
This thick wall, a theatrically mammoth beam and cupboards separating the Entry Hall and the Front Parlor was installed by a 1960s graduate of the the University of Kentucky’s program in Architectural Engineering, the precursor to the College of Architecture, who was clearly unmoved by notions of economical structure. We gave his cupboard doors new pulls.
The same U.K. graduate added this half-wall to the traditional double door opening between the Front and Middle Parlors, a useful device known to Pompeii and employed in modern times by Le Corbusier, among others. But our man couldn’t leave a good thing alone and repeated the Greek Revival square lintel blocks at the angles of his wall. We removed them.
View from the Middle parlor, looking North
View to the Half Bath door, through an unnecessary opening that I really should have closed back up.
View to the Dining Room, originally the screened outdoor Sleeping Porch, a feature of houses in this region before the advent of air conditioning.
Looking back from the Dining Room.
View to Garden
Looking back to Dining Room