Reinventing History

One Newport couple revives a long forgotten Victorian in the heart of the city


When Allen and Victoria McCoy first looked at a run-down, 19th century Victorian in a coveted Newport neighborhood, they didn’t want to imagine what might be lurking behind the ramshackle walls and underneath the shabby, soiled carpeting. What they did want to imagine was the shining gem the home could be. “My repeated comment was ‘gut job’ in the bathrooms, kitchen, everywhere. But we saw the potential,” says Victoria. “Even when walking through the house, I could see how we might use each space... the third floor was just calling for a master suite with two walk-in closets... opening the kitchen and dining room… a deck off the kitchen for grilling.”

They also saw the price tag, which despite the decrepit state, was undeniably low for the home with some undeniable high points: ample total square footage, spacious rooms, outdoor space and a roomy two-car garage (virtually unheard of in the City by the Sea). Oh, and three more outstanding attributes: location, location, location.

“While the house and land were in total disrepair, the price seemed low for the size and location which was our target neighborhood,” explains Victoria. The property was a short sale, which meant that the McCoys would have to be patient as the buying process would be considerably longer than a typical transaction. Working alongside Newport-based real estate agent Teri Degnan, the couple signed on the dotted line and were soon the proud owners of a long neglected, broken down century-old home.

“One of the first, biggest decisions we made was not to live through the project,” says Allen. “We had initially thought we might do it in phases [and] get to a point that where we could move in and then work other sections of the house over time while living in the house.” The benefits of a phased plan, he explains, would include moving in right away and embracing an incremental budget plan. “In the end, given the extent of the final design plans and the fact we had a place to live during construction, we decided to get it done in total. This was the right decision for us. We would have never made it if we had been living in the house during the project.”

Having restored a home once before, albeit not nearly to this extent, the two knew they would need contractors who listened to their ideas, their wants and their needs, but who could equally offer solutions and alternatives when design and logistical challenges stood in the way. For example, when they discovered the kitchen had a decaying foundation, they learned that the plumbing wasn’t up to code and was further complicated by Historic District prohibitions. The two were also keenly aware that the general rule regarding the initial building estimate was to allot an additional 20 to 30% more in order to get a more realistic number of what they would actually pay, when all was said and done. “This turned out to be a little shy for our project,” Allen concedes. Knowing they would face unforeseen situations and that they would typically opt for quality materials, including above average appliances, moldings, flooring, built-ins and custom cabinetry, Allen and Victoria took hammer in hand and did the bulk of the interior demolition themselves. “We also were actively engaged in recycling the metal – wire, pipes, radiators, tubs – which netted a couple thousand dollars we sank back into the project,” tells Allen. “Another cost savings (measure) for us, which we worked out with the general contractor, was to purchase and deliver many items directly, rather than having him purchase them and add in his surcharge.”

The custom kitchen was one of the splurge-worthy and most rewarding areas of the finished home. “We had renovated the kitchen in our house in Norfolk and felt we knew how we would use the space, but designing from scratch was hard,” admits Victoria. “We were worried that it would be dark because there were not a lot of windows, so we chose light cabinets. A large eat-at island or peninsula was always a priority as we like to cook and entertain in the same space. We also wanted a seamless transition to the dining room.” The well-considered plan paid off handsomely. “Whether we have 40 people or just one other couple, we all end up in the kitchen. We had a dinner party for ten and everyone stood around the island rather than sitting elsewhere.

Allen and I cook together or one keeps the other company without getting in the way,” says Victoria. Other must-haves included a fireplace in the living room, a large master suite with his and hers closets, vanities separate from the shower area, a laundry room and a mud room. “Given the weather and my aversion to seeing coats and boots piled up in the living space, it was essential,” Victoria says, laughing. Working with their architect, the McCoy’s came up with a side entry/ mud room solution that maximized unused space.

The couple’s ultimate goal was to reinvent this stately Newport home with loving details – inside and out – that would ultimately make a cohesive, comfortable impression, and they succeeded (albeit after commonplace construction delays, budget worries and a historically cold winter). “While we have antiques from both sides of our family and it is a large house, we want our friends to feel relaxed, snuggle up on the sofa or kick back on the patio. For us [the benefit] is to look around and see treasures from our own lives, as well as family pieces that evoke fond memories,” says Victoria. And this winter will be decidedly different than the last. “We’ll love having a fire in the fireplace to enjoy with a glass of wine to share with friends. Can’t beat that!”


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