When Tom and Kathy Sparks moved to South Carolina in 2009, it took less than a year of hot weather and culture shock to leave them yearning to return to Bellingham.
In fact, they were so homesick that they waited until the young family that bought their Utter Street home could move to another place, and then repurchased the 1946 house and moved back in.
"There's just something romantic about this post-war house," Kathy says.
When they first lived in the house from 2001 to 2009, they made several upgrades, including an addition in the front, all with an eye to maintaining the 1940s aesthetic inside and out.
"When you're history buffs, it spills over into your house," Kathy says.
After returning from South Carolina they decided it was time for some more work. They rebuilt the brick chimney, which had been plastered over and was crumbling; replaced the indoor fireplace molding; and expanded the windowsill in the living room to make room for new slat blinds. They also tore up several layers of laminate in the kitchen and covered the floor with black-and-white checkered tile.
By early 2013, the Sparks decided it was time for some big-league repairs. With plans from JWR Design of Lynden, they hired Rose Construction of Bellingham to rebuild the roof, expand the master bedroom and replace the old, wooden deck in the rear. Construction began March 11 and was completed in May.
As with any major building project, there were surprises. Partway through the remodel, with sections of the roof torn off and a wall of the back office exposed, workers nailed down tarps and two-by-fours to hold everything in place overnight.
But winds that night ripped away the tarps and boards. Around 5 a.m. the Sparks woke up to water everywhere. Globe ceiling lights in the bathroom and office were filled with water and the bedroom ceiling was soaked.
Tom decided to take things into his own hands and get on the roof to re-cover the house. Kathy called DyLon McClary, the owner of Rose Construction.
"As soon as I called and said Tom was on the roof, DyLon said he'd make some calls and be right here," Kathy recalls.
One of the remodelers lives across the street from the Sparks, so he ran over to help while McClary was on his way. Workers were able to re-tarp the house, but the walls and ceiling in the master bedroom were ruined. It took three to four days to replace the drywall and dry out the house.
"After all that was fixed, we still finished on time and on budget," Tom says.
With the budget of $55,000, the crews were able to expand the master bedroom by 10 feet, install new wood flooring in the bedroom, add a three-quarter bathroom, and place a solar tube in the old bathroom for light.
They also removed the wraparound deck from behind the house, put in a new covering that mimics the pointed roofline, and constructed a rectangular deck using plastic composite boards.
While replacing the roof the builders discovered that much of the wiring was not up to code, so the Sparks hired an electrician to update the wiring, and still stayed within budget.
Many of the items removed from the house were given to The RE Store for reuse. Kathy says she was happily surprised a few months later to see the large, frosted-glass box window they had donated from their old bathroom was being reused in a nearby community garden.
The future may yet hold a few more projects for the old house.
"When you buy an old house," Tom says, "you don't own the house, it owns you."
Reach Samantha Wohlfeil at Samantha.Wohlfeil@bellinghamherald.com.