In 2017 Michael and Bridget Sanbury were searching all over Cleveland for their perfect first home. As a project manager specializing in historic preservation, restoration, and rehabilitation projects with LDA Architects, and a member of the Cleveland Restoration Society (CRS), Michael’s eye naturally goes to Cleveland’s historic structures.
“It was going to be our first home,” Michael Sanbury recalls. “We were looking for houses, going to open houses, and looking for houses on the market. But we weren’t really finding what we wanted.”
Then Sanbury saw an ad for an open house of an abandoned turn-of-the-20th Century duplex on Daisy Avenue in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood.
Daisy Avenue home dining room after renovations.The house had been vacant for 15 years—left abandoned for the past eight years.
Squatters and thieves had broken into the house many times—they had removed a large amount of utility lines to sell as scrap metal—and it was obvious that the local wildlife was also using the home as shelter.
Additionally, there were structural stone foundation issues, roof leaks, and a collapsing front porch. By the time Sanbury spotted his future home, it was owned by the Detroit Shoreway and Metro West Community Development Organizations, which were looking to sell it to someone who would save the home from eventual demolition.
Sanbury knew the dilapidated structure was the house he wanted to buy.
“We took all sorts of measurements and figured out what we would do with the house,” he recalls. “And we bid on the project. Detroit Shoreway, Metro West, and CRS had all partnered to get this house purchased and renovated.”
With that, Sanbury spent nine months researching the property, drafting drawings, working with architects, and drumming up interest from contractors. By January 2018, Scalish Construction began an 18-month rehabilitation project.
The complete renovation—which entailed everything from structural work to restoring historical elements in the two-story, four-square house design—earned Sanbury the CRS’ 2020 Heritage Home Program award during CRS’ Celebration of Preservation this past July.
CRS typically gives out one to two of these award each year to people who have taken advantage of the Heritage Home Loan to save a home that was threatened or rehabbed a home in a challenged neighborhood to promote revitalization, says Margaret Lann, CRS manager of preservation services and publications.
Despite the disrepair, Sanbury says the house on Daisy met all their needs. “We were looking for a house we could make ours,” he says. “Some of the other houses in our price range needed a lot of work, and there wouldn’t be any money left over. Even with the restoration costs, [this house] cost what a normal house would cost. We could actually do a lot of the work and get it done the way we wanted to and make it our own.”
The Sanburys also used personal finances, a loan from Key Bank, and took advantage of Cleveland’s Residential Tax Abatement program to finance the project.
Repairs included upgrading all utilities, insulating the exterior walls and roof, refinishing all interior rooms, and fully redesigning the kitchen and bathrooms.
Outside work included rebuilding a portion of the failed stone foundation; repairing the original slate roof, damaged original wood siding, and collapsed front porch; and repainting the entire exterior.
Ornate iron railings on the front porch were stripped of layers of paint, cleaned, and repaired where rust had formed. They were then restored and painted before being set in the stone porch columns.
Daisy Avenue home staircase after renovations.But one of the biggest challenges to the restoration was that the house—originally a single-family home—had been converted into an up-down duplex at some point. Sanbury wanted his home to be the same as the original design.
“I could imagine it, and how it came to fruition,” he says. “I could see what it was like before it was a duplex.”
Sanbury the land was purchased by Charles and Mary Meyer in the 1890s and built the house between 1898 and 1904. “It was the dream house they built while living next door,” Sanbury says. The couple had two children before selling the house to the Lister family in 1919, according to historical records.
Sanbury says the original design, known as four-square because it had four square areas on each floor, had been altered when a previous owner combined two rooms to make one master bedroom and the two front rooms were made into one large living room.
The original radiators were flushed out, cracked fins were replaced, and they were stripped, repainted, and put back into service in the original locations throughout the house.
Sanbury also discovered a second set of stairs had been removed between the first floor and the upper landing to create a closet on the first floor. During renovations, the closet was taken out and the missing stair tread was rebuilt.
The original banister and railing were re-created using remaining stair details as a guide to rebuild the grand main stair details.
Sanbury says the stairs are his favorite part of the house, but he did convert the design to “scissor stairs,” where the staircase goes up to a large landing halfway up before turning and traveling the rest of the way to the second story.
“Now there are two stair risers going up—one off the parlor and one off the kitchen,” he explains. “It was not necessary, but what was needed.”
Sanbury says the kitchen posed some of the biggest headaches. “The toughest part of designing the kitchen was where to put the fridge,” he says, acknowledging that the original house wouldn’t have had a refrigerator.
But perhaps the renovation project that gave the Sanburys the most satisfaction came in restoring the maple and cherry inlaid floors.
“As soon as we walked in the house and saw the floors, we thought this is amazing, we can keep them,” Sanbury recalls. “Our flooring contractor did an awesome job.”
He does say that a three-foot section of the floor had to be replaced because of water damage, which was a challenge in making sure everything matched. “we’re really happy with the floors and all the details.”
Now that their home is completely restored, Sanbury sits proud as a resident of Daisy Avenue.
“This property was abandoned and vacant for a while and it was a big deal for us, that we got to bring it back,” he says. “I’m a stickler for that kind of stuff, and I definitely wanted to bring back as much of the historic nature as I could.”