An 1890s “Painted Lady” home on Bellingham’s Eldridge Avenue recently underwent major renovations – and if you’ve driven past this colorful Columbia neighborhood gem, it’s likely caught your eye.
Pam Pearsall purchased the historic Bolster Home in 1981. It was constructed by Boston bricklayer Jim Bolster who used the structure as a way to prove to others that building with brick could be elegant, as well as fire-proof. Bolster also built downtown’s Bellingham National Bank Building.
“I love this old house,” says Pam, who lives in what used to be the home’s detached garage, converted in 1994 to a comfortable living space. As Pam aged, stairs became more difficult, so she created her own peaceful, nature-filled oasis, situated above a babbling stretch of Squalicum Creek. The main home has long housed renters.
Maintenance and renovation of a historic home never ends, and in 2015 Pam knew it was time to update one of the bathrooms and paint the exterior again. She called A-1 Builders, whose founder, Rick Dubrow, had worked with Pam in 1983 to renovate the home’s attic.
“The home’s color had faded, there were holes in the siding, birds living in the walls and missing sections of window covered with Styrofoam,” says Justus Peterson, A-1 Builders estimator and project supervisor. “It was in need of major rehabbing.”
A project that started as some window replacements, a bathroom upgrade and exterior paint eventually turned into two bathroom renovations, 34 new windows, decks, handrails, fences and a total front porch renovation.
Before exterior renovations began, the entire home was surrounded by scaffolding and tented. This was primarily for lead paint removal and employee safety and comfort, but also to protect the structure, materials and the tenants’ rooms, which could otherwise be exposed to the elements for many months.
As the crew removed existing windows, they found extensive damage to framing. “It was just powder,” Justus remembers. “We had to reframe all the openings and air seal everything. The project grew tremendously.”
Maggie Bates, design manager for A-1 Builders and Adaptations Design Studio, researched the Queen Anne Victorian style to ensure the project was done correctly. “Pam’s a very creative person and she called us in when she needed expert help,” says Maggie. “But this is her vision, absolutely.”
As Pam requested more changes, the scope of the job grew. “The project went on a long time and we worked hard to make it as painless as possible for her,” says Maggie.
Pam spent two years perfecting the home’s elaborate seven-color paint scheme, ultimately incorporating new white vinyl windows as one hue. The Victorian style of home is often painted in bright colors, but the ones Pam chose are particularly vivid, including shades of purple, teal, yellow and pink.
Replacing stained-glass windows with vinyl was a difficult decision, but the promise of energy efficiency convinced Pam – also, noticing that her favorite Victorian Painted Lady books showed many older homes switching to vinyl.
“In the end, preserving the old stained-glass windows wasn’t possible and we all grieved a little bit over that loss,” says Maggie. “Creating a weather-tight shell was a good choice that allowed the integrity of the overall structure to be preserved.”
The silver lining to a tough decision was that the simple windows allowed other details like the re-creation of the intricate trim and bright color palette to take center stage.
Maggie secured the permit documents, created drawings and submitted applications. Anything that needed to be permitted needed to be done to code, so her challenge was to marry the creativity of the project, as envisioned by Pam, with meeting the code.
“I felt like a facilitator of her creativity,” says Maggie. The only place I felt I needed to step in and give advice and drawings was on the front entrance.”
Maggie meticulously re-created the canopy over the front door, giving it a beautiful, structural brace. She swapped an oddly placed pipe railing with a spiral design, dreamed up by Pam, leading down to the street.
“We had to hand draw it and incorporate it into the concrete, which was very complicated,” says Maggie. “And then we had to add a graspable rail that was both compliant and beautiful.”
“The whole front is where my heart sang while I was working on it,” she continues. “Every inch of it.”
The A-1 Builders team painstakingly re-created the scrollwork on the home’s exterior, restoring falling apart and chipped details above all the windows.
“We took one piece that was intact and went over it with a graphite pencil, laid it on the paper, cut it out, and then transferred that to the wood,” Justus explains. They then jigsawed each piece, hand-sanded and reapplied them.
Local company Price & Visser Millwork re-created the original Queen Anne door, complete with hand-cut rosettes. They also re-used existing stained glass in the door’s new design.
“They did all of the exterior millwork, replicating all of the trim,” says Justus. “It’s beautiful work; they did a phenomenal job.”
Work began on the house in September 2016, with two bathroom projects, and then rolled into exterior work the following February. The new home was unveiled – quite literally, as the crew dropped the tenting – in November 2017.
“We had the scaffold guys get up there and get everything loose except for two wires, so they could cut it and the thing would just drop,” says Justus.
Throughout the project, passersby would stop and ask what was going on with the house. They watched the progress – though most of it was hidden underneath tenting – for over a year. When A-1 Builders finally took it down, people came out with cameras, cyclists braked, cars stopped.
“Pam got in her car across the street so she could watch it,” Justus remembers. “When it came down, it was so cool. And she needed that; she’d invested so much of herself in it and you could really see that sense of ownership and pride – the passion she has for the house.”
Justus and Maggie are quick to praise all of the subcontractors that were instrumental in completing this project.
One sub, Greggerson Painting, referred to the project as a giant coloring book.
“They took so much pride in this project,” Justus says. Even with the job complete, one of Greggerson’s guys, Jared, has been known to come by on his lunch hour just to admire the finished work.
“The relationship that all of our folks had with Pam is super special,” says Justus, speaking of the A-1 Builders and Adaptations teams, as well as the subcontractors. “She’s a phenomenal human being to work with and we really enjoyed her a lot.”
And Pam? She couldn’t be happier with the final results – and the folks who helped transform her beloved home.
“The major changes to my day-to-day and the new colors in my life are wonderful,” she says. “And working with A-1 helped keep my sanity intact. Having people and noise in one’s life for over a year can get to a person, but the crew was delightful to work with.”
“This is more than a house, it’s a home,” she continues. “And this is the swan song. I’m not going to paint it again.”
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Erin Crosby of Crosby Glass
Price & Visser Millwork
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