Remodeling company renovates, updates 151-year-old home in downtown Summerville

Here's how the Coburn-Westmoreland house at 202 E. Richardson Ave. a block from Main Street in Summerville looked prior to its recent renovation.

Renovations routinely involve coordination with the client-owners, precision designs, intense planning whether the house is to live in or to sell.

But routine is hardly the way to describe G&S Home Remodeling's retailoring of 202 E. Richardson Ave. in Summerville, built in 1858 as a vacation home for a wealthy Charlestonian.

For one, company principals own the property known as the Coburn-Westmoreland House so they are both client and contractor. Designs have been flexible, since there isn't much to go by other than old photos and dog-eared accounts to see how the antebellum structure looked over the years. And planning was as much a case of "this looks good" or "let's try this" than ironclad outlines, says David Steele, president of the Ladson-based company.

Steele and Tammy Kiessling, comptroller of sister venture G&S Supply Company Inc., are heading up the project. They plan to either live in the 5,500-square-foot house or put it on the market as an executive home. The resurrection has taken 18 months so far, with about two months of effort left to go.

Reclaiming a century-old home has been an experience, they say.

"When you are doing a renovation for a home that's 20 years old, the design goes along," Kiessling says. "But with this, you don't have a clear (vision of) what kind of look you want."

Among the more trying tasks were dismantling aluminum siding installed in more recent years, peeling off a half dozen coats of interior paint, locating replacements for 19th century fireplace bricks that had to be removed for structural reasons, renewing age-old heart pine floors and reproducing stair rails and edging to their original 1850s style.

Or take an improvement effort now in the works, refitting the imposing front columns. Steele chose to reinforce the front pillars with long-lasting fiber cement. But milling factories don't make columns that size 16 foot in length. So the crew has had to attach two pieces and then painstakingly craft them together so they look like a single column.

At the start, G&S spent as much time tearing down parts of the home as restoring them. Steele says a demolition took out about half of what was built as a 3,000-square-foot home. The crew then created new rooms and wings in keeping with the decades-old style. The original section of the home is in the front, forming an L shape on the south side. At least one room addition dates to the late 1800s.

The three-story house has a wide front porch with decking made from sturdy Brazilian ironwood. Steele says the home when built likely had a wooden porch but it was replaced over the years by a concrete stoop.

Upon entering the home, a straight hallway serves as corridor to front parlors on the left and right. Steele says the two rooms are a throwback to the 19th century when men would congregate in one parlor and women in the other. The house has four bedrooms, three-and-a-half baths and seven fireplaces. The top floor has two wings and dormer window in the middle. G&S replaced a dormer on the west side, the location of the home's newly added sections.

A previous owner removed a double-stacked piazza on the front. The contractor closed off the second floor door and has plans to add a wrought iron interior railing but no balcony. The rear of the house has a newly built screened porch. Siding is extra-wide three-quarter-inch fiber cement, one of the first times the town's architectural review board approved synthetic materials on a historic house, Steele says.

Even though the house likely had a cedar shake roof to begin with and later shingles, the renovator installed a metal roof, which Steele says spotlights the home's overall appearance.

Unlike a typical remodeling job, the historic home went through a lengthy permitting stage. Steele says the town of Summerville was cooperative during each step of the process.

According to a 1997 article in The Summerville Journal Scene, a superintendent of the S.C. Railroad Co. built the house, in what was then known as the New Summerville neighborhood. The official, Peter Coburn, designed the Charleston single home as a summer cottage. It would have a host of owners in future years, although it stayed in the family of Horace Hendley from 1919 to the '90s. (Hendley's daughter Myrtle married Bill Westmoreland, and they lived there beginning in the 1920s). Rooms were rented out at various times, including during World War II.

Kiessling says G&S Remodeling is designing the house not only to preserve its 19th century charm but to showcase modern features that themselves will be historic someday.

Plans call for a plush master bath and an open kitchen with modern appliances. The original kitchen burned in a fire decades ago: quick-thinking kept the main house from being destroyed when a cistern on the roof was released to wet down the back of the house.

As part of the 21st century renovation, G&S Remodeling built a detached two-car garage behind the house with plenty of space upstairs for storage.

A host of specialists have helped on the project. Marian Chatfield of Chatfield Interiors is the interior designer; Deloreti Custom Woodworking in Mount Pleasant built the custom cabinets; and newels, handrail and balusters were made by Teklowe Design in Summerville.

The owners plan to host a tour of the house this fall to showcase its combination of new and old, Steele says.

"One hundred and fifty years from now, this should be here," Kiessling says.

For more information on the company, visit www.gshomeremodeling.com.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com