Nancy and Tim Gilbert's Spanish-Colonial bungalow has quite a name: Casa del Rey. Developers gave it the rather kingly moniker back in the 1930s, when the area now known as Old Southwest Reno wasn't old at all.
Restoring vintage homes is an ongoing passion for the Gilberts, and they've snapped up about 10 properties in as many years. Each acquisition gets meticulous handiwork and historical research, but Casa del Rey — all 1,046 square feet of it — is one of the their favorites.
Care to tackle a restoration of your own?
We toured the little casa on Joaquin Miller Drive so we could better understand the Gilberts' creative process, and got a few tips along the way.
Count Your Pennies
Finances are a huge factor when it comes to buying any house, but one earmarked for restoration gets costly in a hurry. Labor isn't free, either, whether it's yours or someone else's. And if you ask Tim, a true overhaul can't fly without a trusted network of skilled contractors and artisans.
"You can't do this on a $20,000 budget," Nancy adds frankly, so plan to double that, at the very least. Some people even sail well past the $100,000 mark.
Buy Wisely, If You Haven't Already
Foundation problems are a predictable deal-breaker, but the Gilberts also forgo restoring anything with extensive 1960s or '70s remodeling, simply because it's so tough to undo. Tim thinks large houses (or medium-sized ones, by many folks' standards) are another red flag, as they're just too costly to fix.
Perfect specimens aren't necessary, however, if a building has the right bones. After all, part of Casa del Rey's roof was caved in when he and Nancy bought the house in 2012.
"The modern phrase is 'wow factor,'" Tim likes to say. "The design elements that collectively give you the feeling of a time and a place." Think hardwood floors, fireplaces, original tile, built-ins and the like.
"Even if [a home] is distressed," he figures, "years and layers of neglect can be peeled away, and missing elements restored."
Research and Recycle
This is the fun part.
Few people are lucky enough to salvage every element of an old house, but you can still channel its heyday by blending new features with original ones. "It's like a treasure hunt," Nancy says giddily.
She loves to point out a starburst-shaped light fixture in Casa del Rey's kitchen, for instance, because it inspired new, custom switch-plate covers.
She came up with the home's striking tile mosaics, too, but they're strictly culled from 1930s designs. A bright red sink scrapped from a dental lab adds another pop of color, and even the outside gates are throwbacks fashioned from an original wood door.
Nancy's inspiration comes from news archives, Pinterest and everything in between. She's also a regular at Reno Antiques on Wells Avenue, and credits store owner Doug Schuster with pointing her toward all manner of authentic finds.
Claim More Space
Like many houses from its day, Casa del Rey has a very modest footprint. Its clean design imparts a sense of airiness, however, and recent upgrades to a sunny, trellised patio encourage outdoor lounging and meals al fresco.
Period lighting and partial walls give the extra space the feel of a second living room, and the patio's trim looks especially authentic because any new wood has been hand-hewn to match the old. Nancy thanks Reno Lumber for that.
Prewar houses came with gorgeous craftsmanship, but appliances such as dishwashers weren't even around in those days. So forget about turning your home into a perfect replica. You can't.
When it came to restoring their bungalow, the Gilberts added granite countertops and stainless-steel kitchen appliances for modern comfort, then outfitted the bathroom with a trendy tile backsplash and custom sink. Wiring, plumbing and the HVAC system are all up to date, and even the original beehive fireplace has a new gas setup.
Nonetheless, the finished product feels like a blast from the past.
"You can remodel any place," Nancy explains. "But when you restore one, it's a whole different animal."