Written by and photographs by Phillip Makselan, PensacolaHG.com Sept. 8, 2014
For nearly 100 years, the Vails’ North Hill residence was a multi-family dwelling.
The home was built in 1906 by Sue Moreno as a triplex and for many years served as such, until it was remodeled into a duplex and eventually purchased by the Bonnie and Chris Vail in 2005.
“When we purchased the Folk Victorian, it was configured as a duplex, and it was in terrible shape. We basically had to perform an entire makeover and simultaneously convert it to a single family residence,” says Chris, homeowner and owner of Urban Infill Corporation, a local homebuilding company.
MERGING PAST AND PRESENT
While the Vails wanted to preserve the historic style of the home, they also had the task of modernizing it to suit their 21st century lifestyle.
“While upgrading the structural components to meet the high wind speeds, as is done with the new custom homes Chris builds, we kept original construction materials where feasible,” Bonnie says.
“Pine lap siding was sourced to replace old siding, and all of the columns and balustrade were fabricated using Cypress wood sourced from local sawmills. Cypress has natural water repellents in the wood and has held up well in the hot, wet Pensacola weather. Despite being somewhat inefficient, the original windows were kept and made fully functional again,” says Bonnie, who notes that they also added cypress shutters for storm protection.
In keeping with the neighborhood’s historic facade, “the Exterior Historic Preservation Palette of colors was sourced for all of the exterior paint,” she says.
Much of the original trim on the interior of the home is original and stained, rather than painted and match the floors quite well.
“We salvaged and refinished the heart pine floors. Some of the new replacement flooring we sourced was pulled up from the bottom of lakes and rivers in central Florida. This perfectly matched wood was approximately 300 years old and in line with the age of the original wood used in the home,” says Chris.
Bonnie and Chris chose their interior color scheme from books and magazines in Chris’ construction library and over time added furniture and accent pieces to complement the home’s age and its modern sensibility. In fact, some of the home’s original light fixtures and doors are found throughout and blend seamlessly with the upgrades.
EMBRACING THE EXTERIOR
As porches were an integral part of historic residences, the Vails rebuilt the front double-gallery porches, while creating an additional porch at the rear of the home.
“The cantilevered rear porch roof was custom built using cypress rafters and beams. Chris’ father, Bruce Vail, planed and cut all of the decorative components, which should get another 100 years or so of use,” Bonnie says.
A detached garage and loft area was constructed in 2011 after the birth of the Vails’ daughter (which also saw a nursery addition to the home) in order to provide more space for the family.
“One of our favorite features of our home is our New Orleans-style rear courtyard. The courtyard has a sense of privacy and is great for entertaining,” Bonnie says.
An antique three-tier fountain added to the space by Patrick and Penelope Elebash, and while it was in need of restoration, now flows beautifully. New Orleans-style courtyards are quite popular and no doubt will continue to be so.
The space is beautifully landscaped with evergreen plant life, and the Vails are working to weed out non-hardy plants and trees so it will stay beautiful even if Pensacola experiences more cold snaps. Being that Chris works on new construction projects, he added accent lighting to the courtyard and front of the residence, something that isn’t as often seen in older residences.
THE DOWNTOWN APPEAL
“We love living in North Hill for several reasons. We are close to downtown and can walk to many of the restaurants, outdoor festivals and Blue Wahoos Stadium. Our neighborhood association, The North Hill Preservation Association, puts on many family-friendly events throughout the year, which allows us time to get to know our neighbors. Most of all though, we enjoy living in a historic neighborhood where all homes have their own story to tell,” says Chris.
As downtown continues to see a resurgence in popularity, there’s no doubt that many more faded residences will be revitalized and create a new stories for the families that love them.