Brown Street, historic district home gets makeover

Published 7:05 pm Thursday, August 29, 2019

It took one day.

Or at least that’s what it appeared to take for Rob and Val MacEwan’s historic district home to go from drab to dazzling.

“They painted the whole house in one day, so the people who walked their dogs in the morning and came back in the evening, it was an entirely different color,” Val MacEwan laughed.

The MacEwans bought their somewhere-around-a-century-old house on Brown Street in 2002. Val MacEwan said they hadn’t done much upkeep since; in fact, they considered selling the house and moving before biting the bullet and recommitting to the work it needed.

“The old girl needed a facelift. That’s how I looked at it. I just wanted to be proud of it. It was falling apart,” Val MacEwan said. “When you live in something, you don’t notice until you go away and come back, and that’s what we did. This house needed to be improved on.”

The couple decided to stick it out and stick out the many repairs that were sure to come — nearly all older homes have “surprises” in store for their owners. For the MacEwans, a major one was the exterior siding.

SPLASH OF COLOR: This amaryllis creates a splash of color against the backdrop of a newly painted exterior wall, just as the MacEwan home now creates a splash of color on Brown Street. (Vail Stewart Rumley/Daily News)

“We’re replacing like with like — about 70% of the exterior siding, and it’s never been replaced in 100 years. … We kind of knew (we had to) because of how it looked. We found out where we needed insulation and all kinds of fun stuff,” Val MacEwan said.

Over time, standards change. Matching the 1-inch-by-5 1/2-inch boards originally covering the house proved to be labor intensive.

“They don’t make them anymore. They had to rip a lot of the boards to make them fit,” Val MacEwan said. “It really pays to have a good contractor not just someone who’ll paint your house.”
Pepe’s Painting ripped and replaced siding, the whole house was primed and a first coat of a deep yellow-green shade — earthy, with a twist — transformed the house. It wasn’t an easy task, picking a color for a home that hadn’t been painted in many years.

“It’s the weirdest thing to do because there’s so much pressure to choose the color, you’re about to implode,” Val MacEwan laughed.

“They all looked so good, I couldn’t really form an opinion,” Rob MacEwan added.

The work on the MacEwans house represents an ongoing trend in the eastern part of the downtown Washington historic district, which may mean going before the Historic Preservation Commission board to have work approved, depending on what a homeowners plans are. For the MacEwans, since they were replacing “like with like,” the process simply required them to file a certificate of appropriateness.

“Because we’re not doing anything to the house, literally everything is like it was before, we didn’t have to go before the commission,” Val MacEwan said. “We did everything right.”

The paint is just part of the process. The next step is to rebuild the original front porch rail and paint the brick foundation a contrasting green. To the MacEwans, the effort, and expense, is worth it.

“Houses are worth saving,” Val MacEwan said. “It’s better wood; it’s better brick; it’s better everything.”

AGELESS: Throughout the MacEwans’ house are these unique windows, consisting of four long, vertical panes on top and a single pane on the bottom.