Gail Breneman had remodeled homes before, but her current turn-of-the-century property in Vandalia was certainly the most challenging. Her previous projects had been partial—modifying a room or two—but this was a total, roof-to-basement restoration and expansion. As Gail put it, “we ripped a house apart and re-did every aspect.”

Gail and her husband moved from their two-story farmhouse to their new home—constructed in 1903 as a dentist’s office and residence for Doctor W.W. Bland—in August of 2001 after purchasing it from Gail’s daughter, Deanna, who bought the property and lived there for about a year.

“It was available, and we could see lots of possibilities,” Gail says.

Of course, seeing those possibilities and bringing them into reality were different matters entirely. Gail said she and her husband remodeled “pretty much everything” in the house, since there were amenities they required that just weren’t there. For one thing, there was a single bedroom in the home and a “work room” where Dr. Bland had once seen his patients—that wasn’t working for the husband-and-wife duo.

Dining room

“We needed a master suite,” Gail says. “So we added onto the house and created a master suite with a bedroom, bathroom, and laundry room, which left us with two bedrooms.” She and her husband also enlarged the home’s vacant upstairs and turned it into a master suite with a bathroom, an enlarged bedroom, and a sewing room.

Making all those changes required the Brenemans to gut the whole house. She remembered how everything was gone; they took the house down to the two-by-fours. The pair took out all the studs, raised the ceilings back to their original, nine-and-a-half-foot height, replaced the transoms that had been removed, and added an addition to the back of the house that was constructed to match the turn-of-the-century feel of the property. They kept the original fireplace but re-faced it and stripped every inch of woodwork in the home—an excruciatingly challenging task that took two years.

Living room

Complicating the task even further, the Brenemans owned a hardware store, which meant they worked six to seven days a week.

In Gail’s estimation, the process “took way too long.” She said it took two years before they had a weekend where they weren’t “tearing into something.”

Gail now laughs as she recalls some of the challenges, but at times, the building process was uncomfortable. The timing of their remodel meant the house was gutted and unfinished during the winter months, which meant she and her husband had to live out of a friend’s camper for the season.

Kitchen

“That cured me of camping, let me tell you!” she says.

Gail’s overall goal in the remodel was to keep the home’s Victorian spirit, but to update it with modern technology. Examples of this philosophy in action abound throughout the property; “old-but-new” trademarks show in the patterned living room wallpaper, the vinyl siding made to mimic the home’s original look, and a wrap-around porch that Gail lovingly describes as “parade central” when there are festivities to be seen on the street.

The decor and furniture mostly migrated from their farmhouse, since it was era-appropriate. One notable—and stunning—exception is a crystal cream and sugar set, complete with a silver key service and a soap dish from the original owner of the house. These items came from Mrs. Bland’s niece, who saw Gail and her husband remodeling the home and took a keen interest in their project.

“When she died, it turned out that she had earmarked every possession she owned for a specific person,” Gail says. “In my case, because I lived in the house her dear aunt had built, she left me the crystal cream and sugar set and little silver key service. She left my husband a soap dish that her husband always used, and it still has a bar of his hand-milled soap that had his hunting dog as a pattern.”

For those interested in doing a remodel for themselves, Gail urges those with that adventurous and hardworking spirit to be realistic and think about allocating their time wisely.

Back of the home

“An individual can accomplish a lot,” she says. “Anybody can tear out a wall if you know what you’re doing; you just jump in there and go after it. You might want to consider how much time it’s going to take and how much it’s going to cost—more than you think!—but it’s doable.”