Libertas: Our Project to Restore an Historic West Palm Beach Bungalow
On my 58Th trip to West Palm Beach in the last 12 years – I’m guessing 58, it’s probably been more – my wife Andrea came up with a radical idea. Why not buy a place, so when work was done, we could enjoy the fun and sun? So we did! This is our story of bringing new life to a truly special little bungalow.
We started with dreams of a Mediterranean-style two story stucco master piece surrounded by tropical plants and with a pool to swim as we enjoyed the view of the intra-coastal water-way. Somewhere in the El Cid neighborhood would do just fine. We quickly found out that our budget wasn’t even enough to get one of the carriage houses in one of those iconic West Palm Beach residences; so we got resourceful.
The little 1924 bungalow on a quiet tree-lined street didn’t show that well at first. It was a little further back from the water than El Cid, though still in the historic district just south of downtown West Palm. It did have the pool we were looking for, but it was overgrown and dark.
The gabled front porch was lovely, and had a wonderful Dade County Pine floor, but it was darkened by the aluminum awning that had been there for decades.
Once inside, the six-room floor plan gave each room a feeling of being a little too small, and not quite fitting the purpose it was supposed to be used for. The place had seen some questionable renovations too. It was a 3 bed, 2 bath when we found it. I’m not sure it was supposed to be. The second bath was certainly an add-on, and the third bedroom was probably a sitting room before the latest renovation.
But there was a good shell, and we loved the humble workman’s house trim and finish the place still revealed through the renovations. We set out to bring out the best the home had to offer. We came up with a plan. We actually came up with about 100 different plans using Home Designer software – the same software they use to visualize renovations in 3D.
The final plan turned the 3 bed 2 bath into a 2 bed 2.5 bath, with an open plan family room, kitchen, and dining room, a new and much larger master, and views of the pool through four French doors that cover the entire back wall.
Demo Day was actually more like Demo three weeks for us. It was complicated by the requirements of the West Palm Historic Board, which strives to maintain the historic nature of the neighborhoods to the north and south of downtown. Through a public hearing, we discovered our major requirements were to not move or remove any windows or exterior doors, to try as hard as we could to keep the 90 year old rope and pulley windows in place, and to not remove the exterior portion of the chimney, even though we were removing the fireplace on the interior. With some good engineering and patience, we started to get there. Demo resulted in not only the interior walls being removed, but the entire back wall, so that we could reinforce the foundation and install the four French doors. Really weird to arrive at your house and see the whole back wall removed!
We welcomed the new open plan with open arms. And we really enjoyed adding in little details like the arch above the hallway to the master bedroom.
As drywall went up, the place began to lighten up and feel spacious and bright.
We originally wanted wood-look tile for the floor, and had the contractor spent a long time getting the durock underlayment in place for it. But we found that the floor flexed too much, so we opted for bamboo hardwood instead.
The white shaker ready to assemble cabinets bring a ton of storage and help to define the different areas in the open plan main room.
The granite ties it all together. We love the look of marble, but didn’t want the maintenance, so we tried to get as close to a marble look as we could. Without a doubt, the island in the center the main living space will be the heart of the house, and we made it large enough to sit six people while we entertain them with treats from the in-island cooktop.
The approach to the windows, doors, and trim were important to retain the feel of the house too. We hired a super talented neighborhood resident to work magic on the windows, replacing glass and getting the rope and pulley systems operational again. For the trim, we used a very simple approach of using 1x4, the same as the original house.
In the bathrooms, we modernized with larger spaces and upgrades like granite, rectangle sinks, and modern fixtures, but we also tried to pay homage to the original 1920s style with hexagon slate tile in the shower and plain white subway tile in the shower and tub enclosures.
Now, as we close in on a finished renovation, with plumbers, electricians, and heat and air guys buzzing around, we’re so excited to enjoy the space.
I was raised in Bermuda, where we name all our houses. To keep that tradition going, we named this one Libertas. Latin for Freedom. Andrea got these mugs made early on in the process to motivate us. Libertas, here we come!
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