15 Years and Counting: Restoring a Massive Victorian Home on Danville's "Millionaire’s Row"
by Shannon Lee
Some people spend their whole lives dreaming about buying and a renovating a big, old fixer-upper. Others actually take the plunge. Talking with Carla Minosh of The Danville Experience about her beautiful Victorian home is an utter delight. Her voice glows with warmth as the talks about the Sublett-Miller House, the home she and her husband purchased over 15 years ago in Danville, VA. Originally built in 1874 on “Millionaire’s Row,” the home offered a wealth of possibility, and was a promising challenge for the restoration-minded couple. They had recently completed work on their solid stone 1945 cape cod, and thought the Sublett-Miller house would be a “fun” new project.
Indeed, it was and is – almost sixteen years later, the restoration work is still going strong. Carla took time from her busy schedule to tell us more about the stunning Victorian.
Falling in love with an old house is like nothing else in the world. When did you know that this particular house was “the one?”
It showed up in the back pages of Preservation Magazine, and it was as though they took the house I was imagining, and pasted it onto the auction advertisement. It is Gothic, spooky, masculine, and massive. The fact that it was painted white wasn’t a deterrent, I could see the red brick behind the paint and wanted to own it right then and there. I wanted an “Addam’s Family” type of house with towers and turrets and asymmetrical massing, but in brick, and this was it.
The Sublet-Miller House – Before
I was sorely disappointed when I read that it was on “Millionaire’s Row,” as I couldn’t possibly afford a house like that. I guess I forgot to take into account the rate of inflation, since a million dollars back then translates into a couple of hundred thousand in today’s world. Ironically, the locals all refer to this home as the “Addam’s Family House.”
The Sublet-Miller House – During Renovation
What a project! This house has snowballed from a five-year restoration to a fifteen-year marathon. What was the most challenging project so far?
Contractors, of course. This is a small Southern town, and people with great talent eventually are lured away to some “big city” to make their fortunes. Sure, there are some people left who have talent who made a conscious choice to stay, but for the most part, it is hit or miss with the contractors. Mostly miss, of course. The other complicating factor is that most contractors are used to working on new homes, and the occasional historic home that comes their way is a mystery. They have no idea how our windows are put together, have never thought about how to run wiring in a finished home without stud walls to snake the wiring through, and have no idea that there is such a thing as historic mortar. We have done so many things over two or three times in the course of fifteen years…
Front Parlor – 1800’s
What’s the most interesting thing you have learned about your home’s history?
The history of the home was easy to discover, as we bought it from the original family who built it. The day we bought it was the first time the home had ever changed hands. It was fun to hear the curious anecdotes from locals about their memories of the last Mr. and Mrs. Miller (the Third) who lived there, and we found some of Dr. Miller’s (the 2nd) medical school notes and drawings beneath the attic flooring. A signature of Mr. Miller (the first) stood out as we were removing plaster from the 1890s wing during the construction of the master bathroom. They all left their mark on the house.
Front Parlor – Before
Front Parlor – During Renovation
Front Parlor – After
Tell me about one of your most surprising moments on this journey (other than the fact that it has taken 15 years and counting, of course!).
Surprising…that I have learned so much. I had no idea how little I knew about restoring an old house until I look back at my 33-year-old self and wonder what in the world possessed me to think I could handle such a project. Knowing what I know now, I should have run, screaming, in the opposite direction! But then again, I always was attracted to the “bad boys” who spelled t.r.o.u.b.l.e.
Kitchen – Before
It was the adrenaline of it when we got into these projects, the excitement of planning, the challenge of making something work, the thrill of seeing something brought back to its original state that got my heart thumping and made me feel more alive. I realize that this house has been truly the wildest ride I have ever been on. Though the ups were amazing, there were also points of disappointment, dismay, despair, and even depression. No matter, it has led me to live a life more fully than I ever expected I would. Most people never experience that, and think they are the smart ones playing it safe, never hitting those lows. I think they just missed out on the coolest ride ever.
Kitchen – During Renovation
Kitchen – After
Kitchen – Hidden Refrigerator & Freezer
What’s the next big project you are planning for this beauty?
Honestly, we’ve got to paint the pool. I don’t want to paint the pool, I hate painting the pool. I already know how to paint the pool and have painted the pool before, but I can’t find anyone in town who I can pay money to paint the pool, so I have to paint the dang pool again.
Music Room – Before
The more fun answer, though, is that we will probably take aim at the three guest bedrooms. They have newly-finished plaster, working outlets and fixtures, freshly sanded hardwoods, and a fresh coat of paint. Ceiling medallions and chandeliers are hung, and switch plate covers are on. Most people call that a finished room; we call it a blank canvas.
Music Room – After
The master bedroom is a jewel box. All hand-painted, with Lincrusta dado panels below Anaglypta wallcoverings, and a Lincrusta ceiling. The period light fixture hangs below a period-pattern ceiling medallion multi-chromed and gilded. The woodwork is painted a metallic gold, and the floor custom-stained to give the wood a hint of the colors around it to better-integrate it. The other bedrooms will be given the same royal treatment, it is only a matter of deciding on materials and colors to fill the spaces.
The Sublet-Miller House – After
To follow Carla’s adventures and to see more photos of her exquisite home, check out her website The Danville Experience.
AUTHOR SHANNON LEE
Shannon Lee has a soft spot for fixer-uppers that need a helping hand. Over the past two decades she has written about home improvement challenges and victories in blogs, articles, books and more. Though she has loved her share of old houses, today she and her family are finally settled into their dream home deep in the Pennsylvania woods, a place they call Marvel Hill.