Chuck Witt: Rehabbing homes can be challenging, but worthwhile

Published 11:13 am Tuesday, March 7, 2017

There is an abundance of beautiful, attractive, interesting and unique houses in Winchester.

Unfortunately, most people don’t recognize any except those very special houses which are simply more awe-inspiring because of their size, the way they sit in the landscape or their history.

Likewise, people driving the streets of town are usually not looking at the houses, they are concentrating (one hopes) on getting to their destination without hurting themselves or someone else.

Email newsletter signup

But walks along Boone or French avenue or South Main, Maple or College streets — or any of the other streets where reside smaller and less-impressive homes — will quickly reveal the wealth of beauty residing here.

There is virtually nowhere one can go in this community where there doesn’t exist some architectural uniqueness.

Even the smallest homes in the least impressive neighborhoods often contain elements which set them apart, reflect the time when they were built or tell stories about how they came together.

Sometimes the beauty in a home lies not in its overall impression, but in some simple detail that may set it apart from all its counterpart — a railing, a gable vent, some cornice trim or a brick pattern set inconspicuously over a window, around a door or decorating a chimney.

Even the houses which seem to be deteriorating or simply awaiting a kind hand to bring them back to life have some of these features just lurking there to be revived.

There are numerous TV programs such as “Rehab Addict” and “Fixer Upper” which illustrate how with care and talent older homes can be given new life and there is a good deal of this going on here in Winchester.

It takes dedication, skill and perseverance. Ideally, work on an older house results in bringing that house up to current standards in regards to plumbing, electrical and mechanical systems. When possible, these older homes should also be treated to upgrade insulation to provide greater comfort levels to those who will inhabit them.

All these fixes are not cheap, but successfully done, they will result in longer life for these outstanding examples of housing.

Many of these updates do nothing to alter the appearance of these buildings. But appearance often needs help as well — removing old, peeling paint or broken shutters, replacing deteriorating gutters and downspouts and roofing or even painting brick (not often recommended because of ongoing maintenance requirements).

Chimneys deteriorate and need to be rebuilt. Roofs wear out and can no longer keep the weather out (just ask the keepers of Holly Rood). Porches rot or get destroyed by insects and must be replaced. Windows cease to operate or are glazed with only single-pane glass and should be upgraded.

The list is almost endless with older homes and can present challenges that, in some cases, are just too overwhelming.

Each year, the city undertakes to demolish buildings which can no longer offer habitation and which have become so dilapidated conversion is either not possible or feasible.

Fortunately, a good many older homes are constantly undergoing upgrading, being brought back to useful existence.

It is a beautiful sight when one of these homes takes on its new persona, invigorating the neighborhood and providing another pleasing aspect to the community.

Take the time to look for them; finding one will refresh your day.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at