Restoring America

Once empty and condemned, a Barber Victorian comes back to glorious life

Marketing unique and customized products to a nationwide audience may be commonplace in the Internet era, but it's hardly new. At the end of the 19th century, the Knoxville-based architect George F. Barber sold more than 20,000 sets of house plans via mail order. As a result, cities, small towns, and farms across the country remain dotted with his designs. A fair number, as best I can determine, are variations of this house, Design #33 in The Cottage Souvenir #2. One of Barber's more popular designs, I've stumbled across variations of it in numerous books on Victorian homes, instantly recognizable due to the pairing of the turret with the distinctive circular detailing of the upstairs window.

This house, however, hasn't always been so easy to recognize. Sure, it's stunning today, but it was once among Parkridge's biggest eyesores. Cut up into a multitude of apartments, turret and porch missing, windows bricked up, it would have been hard to tell its true identity if it hadn't been for that unmistakable window up top. By 2006, it had even sat empty and condemned for several years.

That year, however, an amazing thing happened: Knox Heritage bought the house as part of the Restore America initiative. A partnership between HGTV and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the program has provided more than $4 million in matching grant funds for restoration projects across the country since 2003. Fixing up this house, in both Barber and HGTV's hometown, was a natural fit.

It was not, however, an easy project. Restore America's grant of $50,000 only covered a fraction of the cost. Knox Heritage had to raise the rest before construction could begin. Then, guided by Barber's original plans and old photographs, workers from High Oaks Construction (Knox Heritage's contractor) spent months rebuilding the porch and turret, uncovering bricked in windows and re-siding the second floor and roof with modern synthetic slate to mimic the missing original. They also adapted the 116-year-old house to modern living. The result is an essentially brand new house incorporating up-to-date conveniences like a kitchen full of stainless steel and granite alongside historic details like hardwood floors, the home's original staircase, a claw-foot tub, and period mantles.

Once again on the market, it's a great opportunity to buy a totally restored Barber home, the only example of this particular plan still standing in Knoxville.