Renovation on 10th Street
Photos by kc kratt
Sicilian immigrants have sought refuge on the Upper West Side of Buffalo since the turn of the twentieth century, but, in recent years, the area has welcomed a variety of immigrants, turning the Grant-Ferry commercial district into an international hub. This dynamic melting pot has led to the revitalization of both Niagara and Grant Streets, and adjacent neighborhoods—such as Black Rock, Allentown, Lower West Side, and the Elmwood Village—are thriving as people discover and enjoy the eclectic community.
Raelyn Woltz and her fiancé, Jonathan, grew up in West Seneca and Clarence, respectively, but fell in love with the historic area while living above Sweet_ness 7 Cafe on Grant Street. Woltz was initially hesitant to invest in the area, but couldn’t deny its convenience to restaurants, pubs, and bustling neighborhoods. The couple searched for a fixer-upper, and found a house that was built in 1900 and had been in a family for generations. By the time they bought the 1,800-square-foot double for $69,000 through the First Time Home Buyers Program, it had been vacant for two years and had fallen into disrepair. But Jonathan, a technology teacher, and Woltz, senior designer at room buffalo and Michael P. Design on Hertel Avenue, were eager to take on this DIY renovation. Living in a studio apartment on the second floor, they spent a total of $20,000—they originally budgeted $15,000—to complete their dream home in just fifteen months. That studio apartment is now a rental, and will be renovated this spring.
In the kitchen, everything needed to be completely stripped, including the walls and ceiling. The wall between the kitchen and dining room was removed, but the dining room wall and archway to the living area was kept to maintain as much of the integrity of the home as possible. In the kitchen, the couple poured remarkable concrete countertops on both the side counter and center island for $300. “It’s crazy how little it costs when you do it yourself,” says Woltz. “We had to have five people help us flip and move them, but we saved a lot of money, and it’s totally worth it when you’re getting quoted $100 a square foot for someone else to do the job.” Woltz custom-designed “10th Street” into the subway tiled backsplash to give it a real subway feel.
The closet-sized kitchen pantry became part of the preexisting full bathroom, thereby doubling its size. As the only bathroom on the lower level, the added space resulted in spa-like aesthetic not at odds with the old world feel of the home. The bathroom is accessible from not only the kitchen but also the master bedroom, and is separated by a sliding barn door.
Shiplap walls in the master bedroom were handmade from plywood for $150, a huge savings over costly tongue and groove. The shiplap project involved cutting the plywood on a table saw, nailing to the walls, filling in the holes and finally painting, which took about twenty hours. One wall of the bedroom once sported clumsy chimney remnants; the relic was repurposed with supportive shelving to maintain the rustic brick that remains.
Off the master bedroom, a walk-in closet used to be a dry shed, but now has beautiful sturdy built-ins, shiplap walls, practical shelving, and plenty of space to hang clothing. New insulation and flooring completed the closet that now looks like it has been there forever.
Both the dining room and living room boast original floor-to-ceiling fireplaces that were hidden behind plaster. The process of exposing them involved removing layers of chicken wire from beneath the plaster, a task that was both arduous and annoying, says Woltz. Once revealed, both fireplaces were in great shape and needed no additional masonry work.
The front porch is accessible through two recently refinished original French doors, circa 1900. The couple looks forward to spending many summer days and evenings on the porch in years ahead, and are eager to start exterior work this spring.
Throughout the renovation process, the couple sought to maintain the original character of the house; they didn’t want to live in a “new old house.” The floors, for example, “were in such bad shape I didn’t think we would be able to save them,” Woltz says, “but we sanded them down and refinished them a dark color to hide any imperfections, and they really came out great.” They also strove to keep or replicate original moldings throughout the home.
Since they moved in this past year, three homes on the small block have been sold to young couples or families. The house directly across the street was purchased at auction and has since seen major improvements including a new porch, new siding, and an addition. A large brick house with a double lot was purchased by a young couple from Hamburg who recently gutted the first floor. Another home further down the short block was purchased by the former owner’s granddaughter, who is gradually making improvements with the intention of staying put.
“Being here over a year now, I feel very safe,” Woltz says. “I know all our neighbors. It is the West Side of Buffalo so things do get loud, just as they would in any urban community, so that is not surprising. Our house was owned by the same family for over 100 years and many family members live on this street who have connections to this house, so people have been stopping to say hello and see what’s going on inside since we bought it. It’s just got a great energy. People are genuinely happy that the house is being taken care of again.”
To would-be DIYers, Woltz says, “You have to have a lot of stamina. Also double the time you think it’s going to take. When it was all ripped apart, there were times when we were like, ‘OK, maybe we should just sell it. It’s just so much work, but totally worth it in the end because our investment is now going to be double or triple what we paid. Being able to live here now, getting to know all our neighbors, and being so central to everything has made it all worthwhile.”
Holly Metz Doyle works at Sacred Heart Academy, writes freelance for local publications, and is an estate sale/DIY junkie.