It took 24 years for Jennifer and Jose Velázquez to find the old, decrepit property they dreamed of converting into a bed and breakfast—though just one to transform it. Before stepping inside in 2011, the James Lee House in Memphis, a Victorian-style homestead dating back to 1848, had been abandoned for more than 60 years, unused and unpreserved despite its listing on the National Historic Register. Because of its historic pedigree, the couple had to promise "the property would actually be restored and reused in a timely manner," Jose tells the Huffington Post. How timely, exactly? Twelve months—ambitious considering the hearths were crumbling, the wainscoting was corroded, and every wall was either covered in dusty exposed brick or flaking paint.
In the 1920s, the property was was deeded to the city by the owner, Rosa Lee, to become the home of the James Lee Memorial Arts Academy. In 1959, the city took official ownership and leased the it all out to a preservation society, which held onto it for 50 years, gutting it and then letting it sit fallow. For a few years the James Lee House just sat in Memphis' lap. When Jose and Jennifer found out about it, they were captivated by "the stunning pier mirrors in the grand parlor, the fresco in the dining room ceiling and the intricate plaster moldings in the grand parlor and foyer."
They bought it for $1, though the fun was just beginning.
"A full historic restoration of this magnitude is challenging no matter how prepared you are. When you consider that this is our very first attempt at it, the level of intensity goes up exponentially," he tells Huff Post Home. The greatest challenges? Code compliance (anyone surprised?) and plaster restoration. They cycled through two plaster restoring craftsmen before getting one they thought was worthy.
The results, however, are kind of staggering. The suites, lined with tall, rounded windows and populated by fireplaces and fresh coats of paint, are bright and open. The common rooms are grand. The plaster? When it comes to plaster guys, third times's a charm. Have a look, below.
Common room before/after:
Isabel Suite before:
Isabel Suite after:
The James Lee House way before:
The James Lee House after:
· $1 Memphis Farmhouse Gets A Makeover You Have To See To Believe [Huff Post Home]
· The James Lee House photos [Facebook]
· All Renovations posts [Curbed National]