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Couple will restore historic Janesville home

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Marcia Nelesen
February 2, 2013

— Rebecca Washecheck stood in her future master bedroom suite, huddled in a down coat and mittens. Her breath frosted around her head.

Downstairs in the kitchen, her dad, Don, started up the space heater.

She laughed.

"We'll just live like real Victorians," she said to a visitor. "We'll go to bed early and wear our night caps."

"It's pretty exciting," said her partner, Charles Cooner.

To the collective relief of Janesville architectural lovers, Charles, 32, and Rebecca, 26, in March will move into the historic Lovejoy house at 220 St. Lawrence Ave.

They have pledged to restore the Victorian beauty to its former splendor. The home is on the National Register of Historic Places.

The couple will start on the outside first, making neighbors especially happy.

They have already agreed to be on September's historic home walk.

Many feared the structure was ruined after Brad Goodrich, a minister, staged his business from there. He removed historic windows and decorative features. He slapped stucco on the exterior until the city ordered him to stop. The wrap-around porch deteriorated.

The home has been vacant since the bank foreclosed on its mortgage in 2009.

Now, holes gape in ceilings, bathroom walls are sprayed with graffiti and plaster is exposed. A toilet hangs from a wall. Windows are taped.

The couple are ecstatic.

They see the exquisite parquet floor, the large windows that flood the rounded rooms with light, the detailed brass hinges and knobs, pocket doors and etched windows.

They marvel at the view of the city from the house atop the hill.

Rebecca has a bachelor's degree in art history and sells vintage clothes and jewelry on the Internet. He is a carpenter, specializing in old homes.

It appears to be a match made in heaven.

Charles likes to go through the house, boring holes in the floor looking for treasure underneath. Rebecca noticed such a gouge that exposed marble hexagon tile in a small upstairs kitchen on a recent tour.

She smiled at Charles fondly.

"I love that you did that," she said.

Rebecca patted a fireplace mantel, pointing to the Transferware Tile.

"For an art historian, that's pretty exciting," she said.

Both stopped to ogle parquet ribbon bordering one floor, pointing to the walnut, oak and maple woods used in the design. This day they discovered cherry provided shading, and they got excited all over again.

They recalled their first tour of the 6,500-square-foot home.

"We were like kids, running around screaming," Rebecca recalled.

Rebecca initially had reservations about buying the home, but she seems calm now.

"Several times, she's thanked me for not letting her get too practical," Charles said.

"As crazy as you'd have to be to do this, you'd have to be crazier not to," she said.

They recently closed the purchase for $150,000 and are working in the home on weekends.

They will settle in after renters move into the couple's 900-square-foot home in Monona.

The Lovejoy house has a small furnace, so they'll tack up plastic in the kitchen area to trap the meager heat. They'll make the kitchen livable for now and sleep on the third floor, which has is electric heat.

"I understand how Victorians lived," Rebecca said. "It makes a lot of sense. Small rooms with lots of fireplaces."

By fall, Charles hopes to have secured a used boiler.

He will spend the summer working on the outside, recreating the windows to resemble the late-1880s double-hung style but with insulated glass. He thinks he can strip off the stucco, replacing everything underneath. He'll also replace the decorative accents, using historical photos as his guide.

Eventual plans inside include a master bedroom suite—the couple already have a 16-foot cast iron tub—and a second-floor laundry room. Rebecca requested a butler's pantry, a wine cellar in the basement and a woodburning oven for pizza and bread and in her dream kitchen.

Charles already has removed the desk built into the foyer when the home was occupied by the YWCA. That exposed unpainted wainscoting of a beautiful burnished wood, so they are considering stripping the white woodwork.

They are not sure what will happen with Grace Hall, a connected structure built in the mid 1900s. They don't own it because it still has liens attached.

At first, the space in the home overwhelmed the pair, and they bought the massive house mostly to save it, Charles said. They have a pair of walkie-talkies just to communicate throughout the home.

Now, they see it could be a family home if they close off sections in the winter. Charles grew to appreciate how the 11-foot ceilings accommodate his 6-foot 5-inch frame.

"We'll fill it with pets and children," Rebecca said with a smile.

They're not even thinking deadlines. Because of the home's size, they figure they can just go to another room or floor if they feel overwhelmed with projects in a different area.

"We'll be working on this house forever," Charles said.

"That's OK," Rebecca said. "We have years."


 
 

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