Restoration can be a full-time job laden with chance and coincidence, as Cathie and Dennis Caldwell of Orange, California, have learned. Cathie and Dennis have owned their pristine home for six years. It’s one of the oldest homes in the city, dating back to 1886, when it was built by hand for the F. B. Leavenworth family. It is one of the few remaining examples of the city’s Queen Anne style of residential architecture popular in the latter half of the 19th century.
The house owes its remarkable condition in part to the fact that it is constructed entirely of Northern California old growth redwood, a natural foe of the dreaded termites and dry rot. The 1,558-square-foot, two-story house is built on 28-foot solid redwood beams with exterior shiplap siding and interior lathe and plaster walls. It still has double-hung, wood-framed windows with vintage multicolored square glass panes.
Over the years, some modern conveniences have been added, but in no way do they distract from the home’s original style. Some electric wiring has been added, but much of the original knob and tube wiring is still in use today. Originally, the house had no indoor bathrooms and likely no kitchen. Most cooking was done outside because of fire and smoke hazards. The smallest upstairs bedroom was converted to a bathroom, and downstairs, what may have been a dining room has been replaced with a kitchen. This also doubles as their primary living room or great room.
All other structures that were on the property have either collapsed from age and poor construction or obsolescence. For practical purposes, the Caldwells built a modern-day version of a carriage house and tack room. They surmised that at one time there was likely a carriage house and corral for horses, so the garage and attached tack room are in character for the property. The tack room doubles as an event room for their many family and friend gatherings, while the garage houses their “iron horse.” Part of the backyard of the 2,000-square-foot lot is reserved for a future project—an authentic Victorian Garden.
The couple’s significant restoration was the house’s front exterior. Through several homeowners, the original front porch had been enclosed providing extra sleeping quarters. The goal was to restore the porch to its original condition and design. With extensive research support from the city’s Design Review Committee, historical authorities, local architects and contractors, the plans were approved. A local artisan known throughout the Historical District for his attention to detail and quality craftsmanship assisted Dennis to replace the original pillars and posts. Five different colors of paint on the house in the Victorian “Painted Ladies” style put the finishing touches on this historical sight.
By Dennis Myers
Photography by Mark Tanner