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Restoring an Antique Home Can Be Rewarding, But Do Your Homework

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Father and son Peter and Travis Gulick (along with Peter's son, Jackson) of Gulick & Co. in front of their office in the 1733 Phineas Meigs House in Branford.

Restoring a historic home to its former glory certainly speaks to the heart. Who, we wonder, once lived within those walls? What stories they would have to tell, if only we could ask them. It’s fun to let your imagination run wild, but there’s also a lot to ponder before embarking on a restoration project. Meet father and son Peter and Travis Gulick of Gulick & Co. in Madison. Peter has been restoring, renovating and preserving antique homes for more than 30 years and has even won an award from the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation for his rehabilitation of the 1720 David Field House in Madison. Travis, who has a degree in historic preservation from Savannah College of Art and Design, recently filmed a pilot for HGTV called Former Glory with wife Felicia that documented the company’s renovation of a home in Guilford. Here are their thoughts on a few things to consider if you’ve got your eye on a home with history.

First things first: Check structural integrity.

“It all starts in the basement,” Travis says. In simple terms: You need to know what’s “rot” and what’s not when it comes to those beams holding the weight of the “world” on their shoulders. “If the structure of the house can be saved, then anything can be saved,” Peter says. “You just need the time, the money and the desire.” To best judge how much of those you’ll need to invest, consider calling in a contractor with experience in restoring historic homes to take a look around before you sign on any dotted lines. Yes, you will likely need a licensed home inspector as well, but, truth be told, chances are rare that he or she has had much experience analyzing a few centuries of wear and tear. 

Are you a rule follower? 

Chances are you’ll need to be if your historic home happens to fall within the town’s historic district. There are “all sorts of rules, regulations and guidelines for what you can and cannot do to a historic home that depend on the town,” Peter says, whether in terms of windows or siding, roofing material or additions. One thing he says people sometimes “glaze right over” when house hunting is where a house is situated on a property. “Houses back then were built close to the road,” Peter says. “If you’re looking at adding an addition this could be a problem.” Check regulations ahead of time.

There’s always a story.

“Once you tear something down, its story will never again be told,” Peter says — so choose wisely. “We’re not purists,” he adds. “We don’t expect you to live like it’s still the 1700s, and can absolutely help blend in up-to-date amenities, but we do want to retain the character of the home and respect its architectural significance.” In other words, if a fully open floor plan is high on your list of priorities, a historic home with all its nooks and crannies is probably not for you.

We want to see you be brave.

Seriously, “Don’t be scared of what you see,” Travis says. “People take one look and think ‘I don’t want to deal with this,’” but it’s likely not as bad as it looks. “Old buildings were generally built with timber frames and expert craftsmanship that makes them solid enough to bring back,” Peter says. “Call in a professional to explain what can and can’t be done,” Travis adds. “It will ease your mind.” To find one, check out the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation’s Preservation Directory at cttrust.org/find.

This article appeared in the June 2019 issue of Connecticut Magazine. You can subscribe here, or find the current issue on sale here. Got a question or comment? Email editor@connecticutmag.com, or contact us on Facebook @connecticutmagazine or Twitter @connecticutmag.