A North Carolina couple bought a rundown 107-year-old house for $320,000, and spent a year and a half restoring it on their own. It strengthened their marriage and preserved history — see how they did it.

The exterior of the house after the renovations were completed.

The exterior of the house after the renovations were completed.Paige Baratta

  • A North Carolina couple bought a rundown, 107-year-old home for $320,000 in October 2020.

  • Paige Baratta and Tripp Simmons then spent the next year and a half renovating the property on their own.

  • Baratta says that the project brought the couple closer and that “old houses are worth saving.”

Paige Baratta and Tripp Simmons were moving back to Asheville, North Carolina, when they were caught in a housing crunch.

A collage of Paige Baratta and Tripp Simmons with the exterior of their renovated home.

A collage of Paige Baratta and Tripp Simmons with the exterior of their renovated home.Paige Baratta

It was the start of the pandemic, and they were losing out on every house they bidded on.

“There were like 20 offers on one house,” Paige Baratta, a mental health counselor, told Insider. “We were putting in offers, but we were not getting anywhere.”

During their search, they came across a two-story American Foursquare home that they absolutely adored — only it was in bad shape.

“It was such a wonderful house, but it needed so much work,” Baratta said. Simmons, a cardiac ICU nurse, was still in school then, and the pair didn’t think they had the means to fix the place up.

As their search dragged on for months, the couple decided to reconsider the fixer-upper — which they ended up buying for $320,000 in October 2020.

The exterior of the house when they first bought it.

The exterior of the house before the couple renovated it.Paige Baratta

Baratta provided Insider with proof of purchase of the property.

The style of the house is known as an American Foursquare, or a Prairie Box, and it’s characterized by a cube-shaped layout, with four rooms per floor, Baratta said.

“One of the things that made us consider fixing up an old house is because fixed-up houses in our area go for such a premium,” Baratta said.

The old home they bought was twice as large as other houses at the same price point, and felt like something that was worth investing in, she said.

“We came to the realization that if we did most of the work ourselves and were able to put some of the projects off, we could make it work,” she added. “So we jumped in the deep end and tried to figure it out.”

But it was not an easy task. The house was built in 1915 and was poorly maintained by the previous owner, who had lived there since the ’60s.

One of the bathrooms when they first bought the place.

One of the bathrooms when they first bought the place.Paige Baratta

“Before we bought it, it was owned by a lady named Pearl,” Baratta said. “From what I understand, she had the house since the 1960s and didn’t move out until she was 96 years old.”

Despite owning the property for nearly six decades, Pearl “essentially kept the house original” by not changing anything, Baratta said.

“She didn’t rip anything out, she didn’t paint over the original woodwork, she didn’t try to cover up fireplaces,” she added.

As the property had been empty for about a year before the couple came along, everything in the house was covered in a layer of dust.

The kitchen before it was renovated.

The kitchen before it was renovated.Paige Baratta

Some of the wood panels in the house were also damaged by a termite infestation.

“They had gotten in the back of the house and it was all the way up one of the walls and they ruined a couple of the original windows,” Baratta said.

The couple started renovating the house on the same day that they received the keys, ripping out the carpet and the linoleum floors.

The entryway and staircase when they first bought the house.

The entryway and staircase when they first bought the house.Paige Baratta

This was not their first time renovating a house; the two of them also did some work on their previous property in Raleigh, North Carolina.

“It was a mid-century fixer-upper, so it wasn’t quite as old. We fixed that up and it got our toes wet with renovating, so we weren’t quite as scared to approach this big project,” Baratta said.

The day they closed the deal and got the keys to their new home was memorable for another reason: the couple signed their paperwork in the park.

“It was still in the thick of the pandemic, and they were trying to do most things either virtually or outdoors,” she said.

One of the biggest tasks was removing the asbestos panels that were covering the original wood sidings on the exterior of the house.

After taking out the asbestos panels, the couple uncovered original wood siding panels on the house.

After taking out the asbestos panels (left), the couple uncovered original wood siding panels on the house (right).Paige Baratta

Somewhere along the house’s 107-year history, one of the owners had covered the original wood exterior with panels that had asbestos in them, and the couple wanted them gone.

“It was a huge risk for us to remove that old siding because we weren’t even sure what was underneath it,” Baratta said.

But the gamble paid off as they discovered the house’s original wood panels in near-perfect condition, she said.

“Some of the boards had to be replaced and then we painted the exterior — that was a huge project and it was really messy,” she added.

Baratta and Simmons were on a tight budget, so they moved into the house within a month of buying it — even before the renovations were completed.

Progress photo of their renovation.

Progress photo of their renovation.Paige Baratta

“We do not have the money to have two houses at one time — that was totally out of the question, especially in the area we live in,” Baratta said.

Houses in Asheville, North Carolina, have a median listing home price of $506,900, per data from real-estate platform The median rent in the neighborhood is $2,600.

“Rentals are so expensive, and there was no way we could afford to keep a rental and work on our house at the same time,” she said.

Instead, what the couple tried to do was get one bathroom and one bedroom completed as soon as possible.

“That way, we could station ourselves in one section of the house while we worked on the other rooms,” Baratta added.

The two of them even found trinkets left behind by previous occupants, including an old children’s shoe, a pocket watch, and a pair of glasses.

The couple found items left behind by previous occupants during their renovation.

The couple found items left behind by previous occupants during their renovation.Paige Baratta

The shoe was found in the basement, while the other items were found under the porch, Baratta said.

The little trinkets that they’ve unearthed add to the history of the home, which the couple has been trying to trace with help from the neighbors and the local archives.

“A lot of the neighbors were here when Pearl was still living here, so they’ve told us bits and pieces that they knew. It’s been a community effort to try to dig up some of the house’s history as it’s not very well documented,” Baratta said.

One fun fact that they did find out was that the house was originally built for working-class people, she said.

“And almost 110 years later, it is still occupied by working-class people — which is awesome,” Baratta added.

After a year and a half of working on the house, the couple completed most of the renovations and named their new home the Mahogany Mansion.

The exterior of the house after the renovations were completed.

The exterior of the house after the renovations were completed.Paige Baratta

Their nickname for the house was a nod to its size and the amount of wood that was used to build it, Baratta said.

The name for their house started out as a joke, inspired by Chip and Joanna Gaines’ HGTV show Fixer Upper, Baratta said: “You know Chip names all of the houses funny names, and we were doing that as part of our house hunt.”

The work on the house is basically complete, except for a few small sections like the laundry room upstairs.

“We didn’t feel like we had to do everything all at once,” she said. “We figured that if we needed to, some of that could be delayed until we were ready and able to afford to do it.”

Baratta estimates that they spent around $80,000 on the renovation, which is within their initial budget of $100,000.

“We did more of it ourselves than we originally planned, partly due to the pandemic and labor shortages,” she added.

While renovating their home, Baratta and Simmons even got to know the granddaughter of one of the former owners.

The living room.

The living room.Paige Baratta

“The grandchild of somebody who owned the house in the early 1900s — probably in the 1930s — actually came to the house while we were renovating it,” Baratta said.

The elderly lady, who is in her eighties, would drive by with her husband whenever they were in town to see how the house looks. One day they happened to stop by while the couple was around, Baratta said.

“They walked around the house and they remembered where everything used to be,” Baratta said. “We’ve kept in contact with them and they actually made an Instagram so they could follow the renovation journey.”

Baratta’s favorite part of the house is the entryway because of the high ceilings and the wood details on the staircase.

The completed stairway.

The completed stairway.Paige Baratta

There used to be brown paint on the stairs and the couple stripped it to reveal the original wood underneath, Baratta said.

“I like to think that it looks really similar to how it looked 110 years ago when the house was built,” she added.

Baratta opted for a kitchen with painted cabinets — which is in fashion now — but says that she should have gone for a different style.

The kitchen.

The kitchen has mint green cabinets.Paige Baratta

The couple installed all the cabinets on their own, and had to do their dishes outside when they were renovating the kitchen, Baratta said.

“In hindsight, I wish I would’ve done a more original kitchen to the house, like wood cabinets, something like a scullery with more original details,” she added.

Baratta describes the interior decor as the “Grandmillennial” style, characterized by bold colors, patterns, and thrifted furniture.

The dining room.

Baratta and Simmons painted the walls of their dining room green. The table was a gift from a friend.Paige Baratta

Instead of plain, white walls, the couple opted for dark paint and flowery wallpaper.

“It’s kind of like our grandparents’ houses, but I also wanted to give a nod to the house’s original decor style, so it feels modern, fresh, and fun,” Baratta said.

Thrifting is one of Baratta’s hobbies, and most of the furniture and decor in the house are items that she got from antique and secondhand stores.

The bedroom.

One of the bedrooms in the house.One of the bedrooms in the house.

Other items like their couch and their bed are brand new from Crate & Barrel, while their dining table was a gift from a friend.

“One of our friends was moving and the table was too heavy for them to move, so they offered it to us for free,” Baratta said.

During the renovation, the couple even found two clawfoot bathtubs and decided to restore them.

One of the bathrooms in the house.

One of the bathrooms in the house.Paige Baratta

“They looked like they were being used up until whenever Pearl moved out,” Baratta said. “They were still intact but there was no shower connected to them.”

Although the bathtubs were worn and showing signs of their age, the couple felt that it was important to continue keeping them in the house.

“But it was difficult moving them around — they’re probably about 400 pounds because they’re made from solid cast iron,” she added.

Baratta started posting photos of the renovation journey on her personal Instagram account to keep her family and friends updated during the pandemic.

A small closet in the dining room is transformed into a butler's pantry.

A small closet in the dining room (left) is transformed into a butler’s pantry (right).Paige Baratta

“It really was just for our loved ones because we weren’t really seeing anybody, and most things were still locked down,” Baratta said.

But as their renovation project caught on with strangers online, Baratta ended up getting connected with others who were restoring old houses too.

“It was so nice to have that sense of community and encouragement, and it was also a place to share tips on what worked well and what didn’t,” she said.

One of their neighbors nominated them for a local preservation award, which the couple ended up winning for their restoration efforts.

Paige Baratta holding up a banner for the preservation award that the couple won for their work on the house.

Baratta holding up a banner for the preservation award that the couple won for their work on the house.Paige Baratta

Winning the award — which was presented by The Preservation Society of Asheville & Buncombe County — came as an absolute surprise, Baratta said.

“I was thinking they would choose people who had spent a lot of money, brought in specialists, and did all kinds of big, fancy stuff,” she said. “I think we were probably some of the first people to win the award when we had done a lot of the work as the owners.”

Looking back, Baratta only has one thing to say about her experience: “Old houses are worth saving.”

The exterior of the house after renovation.

The exterior of the house after renovation.Paige Baratta

“It takes time to do this the right way, and it’s worth it,” Baratta said. “Even if you’re not able to do it like an HGTV show where you just snap your fingers and it’s all renovated in six weeks.”

More than anything, Baratta says she’s grateful for the chance to have worked alongside her husband in building their new home.

“It brought us closer together because we really had to work as a team. In turn, we were able to preserve this piece of history, while also becoming part of its history,” she added.

Read the original article on Insider