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All photos © Stephanie Munguia for Cheap Old Houses

Who’s Afraid of a Cheap Old House?

Episode 1

$100,000
Come Along as We Restore This Cheap Old Firehouse

c. 1872  Whitehall, NY

If you tuned into the premiere episode of our HGTV show Who’s Afraid of a Cheap Old House, you know that this Victorian-era firehouse was in dire need of love! It had been on the market for over 600 days before Bill and Joe found it, fell in love and decided to become key-carrying cheap old house owners.  They saw what we saw: a diamond in the rough, with original beauty hiding under layers of peeling pain, sad drop ceilings, claustrophobic partitions, and unflattering fluorescent lights. The significant square footage was a huge bonus for Joe, especially, who had his sights set on something that would allow him and Bill to host his large family: 14 siblings and 91 grandchildren (you read that right!).

Turning a former firehouse into a home is a daunting proposition, but one that also comes with so much freedom. This building has never had a kitchen, bedrooms, dedicated spaces for entertaining, which means our team could dream big with the homeowners to find a new and creative layout for this old building. Joe and Bill’s reaction to our plans: “fearless!”

All photos © Stephanie Munguia for Cheap Old Houses

Who’s Afraid of a Cheap Old House?

Episode 1

$100,000
Come Along as We Restore This Cheap Old Firehouse

c. 1872  • Whitehall, NY

If you tuned into the premiere episode of our HGTV show Who’s Afraid of a Cheap Old House, you know that this Victorian-era firehouse was in dire need of love! It had been on the market for over 600 days before Bill and Joe found it, fell in love and decided to become key-carrying cheap old house owners.  They saw what we saw: a diamond in the rough, with original beauty hiding under layers of peeling pain, sad drop ceilings, claustrophobic partitions, and unflattering fluorescent lights. The significant square footage was a huge bonus for Joe, especially, who had his sights set on something that would allow him and Bill to host his large family: 14 siblings and 91 grandchildren (you read that right!).

Turning a former firehouse into a home is a daunting proposition, but one that also comes with so much freedom. This building has never had a kitchen, bedrooms, dedicated spaces for entertaining, which means our team could dream big with the homeowners to find a new and creative layout for this old building. Joe and Bill’s reaction to our plans: “it’s fearless!”

Revealing the restoration to homeowners Bill & Joe.

Interior designer Jennifer Salvemini shares what inspired her about the front parlor.

The primary facade is now warm and welcoming as a home.

The After

Front Parlor

From the moment we stepped inside, the firehouse’s historic tin panelling blew us away! When you’re fortunate to come across original historic building fabric in such remarkable condition, you celebrate i! Restoration of the panels was a top priority, and our new design scheme could harken back to the past influence of fire and the patina it left behind through color and materials. Add to the list a bit of elbow grease to remove non-original floor coverings and a sander to rid ourselves of even the most stubborn of carpet glue and the historic wooden floorboards were able to breathe once more.

In the episode, we explain how we fell head-over-heels in love with the rainbow (lollipop?) patina that we discovered on the tin. We believe it developed from heat produced back in the day by engines that were powered by steam. However, as we got into the process of removing the lead-based paint from the surface of the tin, we discovered that was impossible to retain the patina. Once our our team pivoted from the rainbow patina plans to this glowing hue (see the drama unfold in the episode!), the room came together! We leaned into Bill & Joe’s beautiful collection of antiques that played perfectly off of the tin panels. And what better way to reuse the old walk-in safe than as a speakeasy-style bar?!

Mayor’s Office

A dark and stormy color palette of deep navy blue was a fun nod to Whitehall’s connection to the founding of the U.S. Navy, and a way to draw inspiration from the spectrum of colors that we found on the tin panels. The checkered floor further distinguishes this study from the grand parlor.

Kitchen/Dining

It’s no exaggeration to say that the kitchen was a truly exciting space to plan. Because it meant bringing the room back to its original layout! It started with knocking out non-historic walls, recalling the building’s past life as the Town Hall when individual offices were required, and seeing, for the first time, this completely open room. It allows you to fully appreciate the siting of the firehouse along the canal.

With Joe’s big family gatherings in mind, we kept the room open with the ability to flow and interact seamlessly between the kitchen and dining area. The deep purple hue on the tin panels continues to take inspiration from the rainbow patina and adds an elevated touch.

Every old house restoration needs a splurge! The dining room is anchored by a remarkable chandelier from family-owned Authentic Designs, in nearby West Rupert, Vermont. We took our interior designer, Jen, along on a field trip to see where these beautiful pieces are fabricated and to learn more about this particular design’s history; we took viewers along, too, on Who’s Afraid of a Cheap Old House?!

We always believe that if you’re going to splurge, you should do so by supporting local craftmanspeople. It felt to be able to practice what we preach while also beautifying Bill + Joe’s dining room.

The architecture of the building continues to shine through in the kitchen, where we kept upper cabinets and shelving to a minimum to truly appreciate the lovely brick and form of the historic firehouse. Café Appliances, KraftMaid cabinets, Charleston Hardware Co. pulls and knobs, countertops from MSI Surfaces, and fixtures from Vintage Tub & Bath all came together so seamlessly for a final design that we’re so proud of.

The People

Our Team

Our deepest gratitude to architectural designer and fellow champion of old houses, Scott Reed, for his invaluable insight and guidance on so many aspects of honoring this building’s era and history. Thank you to the tiny-but-mighty design and build team, lead by interior designer Jennifer Salvemini, who collaborated with us to restore the firehouse while celebrating its history and character.

It takes a village, and we’re so fortunate to work with a team of preservation-minded contractors, designers, fabricators, and more to achieve our vision.

Design & Build

Kent Hansen
Hansen Complete Remodeling
General Contractor

Brian Crabb and Ruth Storc
Design Producers

David Figueroa
Build Producer

Edin of Edo’s Home Renos
Painting

James Waterhouse
Jack of All Trades

Production & Filming

Ann Lewis Roberts, Jenny Daly,
Jon Beyer, and Bill Gaudsmith

Executive Producers

Phil DePietro
Line Producer

Steve Bowler
Supervising Producer

Cory Dross
Director of Photography

Mike Spencer
Audio Mixer

Kathryn Zavistak, Alex Nam, Greg Corwin,
Carlos Escoto, Kirk Murray, and Dan Tivin

Editors

Nick Batchelder, Paul Celello,
Owen Goldstoff, and Alec Wright

Production Assistants

Amy Goodfriend-Nussbaum
Clearance Supervisor

Kelly Taylor
Post Production Coordinator

Victoria Chiaro Snyder
Executive in Charge of Production

Elizabeth Finkelstein
and Ethan Finkelstein
Executive Producers

Erika Smith
Supervising Story Producer

Ann Marie Lizzi
Segment Producer

Bill Keller
Camerca Operator

Tori Dunn
DIT

Kurtis Endreson
Production Manager

Jon Earnest, Kevin Lowe,
and Sam Rubin

Story Producers

Andi Nunez
Post Production Supervisor

Gregory McClintock and Goga Sordia
Assistant Editors

Elizabeth Stephenson
Associate Producer

Brand Partners

With our sincere thanks to our incredible partners:

Dunn-Edwards DURA
Exterior paint

SpongeJet
Interior paint removal

Authentic Designs
Dining room chandelier

Porcelanosa
Tile

Charleston Hardware Co.
Hardware

Juniper Print Shop
Decor

Mettowee Mint
Custom planters and plantings

Café Appliances
Appliances

MSI Surfaces
Countertops

KraftMaid by Cabinetworks
Kitchen cabinets

Vintage Tub & Bath
Kitchen fixtures

Kichler
Lighting (non-vintage)

Don’t Moving & Storage
Logistics

The Before

Our first visit is always the archives! What can we learn from the building’s history? What design cues can we take from vintage photographs or other records? We were so fortunate, in Whitehall, to find color postcards that depict the firehouse back in its heydey, when a full mansard roof and large doors for the horse-pulled water wagons were still visible. Lucky finds that the homeowners can now display inside and flash back to these earlier days.

Front Parlor

The tin paneling was in miraculously intact condition, even with so much white paint flaking off. After doing our due diligence to research cleaning and restoration methods, we enlisted SpongeJet and were excited to learn about their process.

Mayor’s Office

Kitchen/Dining

More From This Episode
  • Before + After: Transforming an Office Space into a Moody Kitchen!

    What's more daunting than turning a firehouse — later a Town Hall and court — into a welcoming home? Turning its warren of municipal offices into a spacious, functional kitchen! READY, SET... It's before + after time!...

  • How We Revived a Victorian Storefront with Flowers

    The nursery at Mettowee Mint, in Dorset, VT, is a magical place, fragrant with seasonal blooms and always bursting with colors. When the paint had dried and it was time to complete the exterior transformation of Bill and Joe’s former firehouse into a home, the Cheap Old Houses team wanted to borrow a bit of that Vermont magic. One call to Sarah Linford of Mettowee Mint, and we had a plan!...

  • Our Favorite Place to Buy Reproduction Lighting for Old Houses

    Stepping into Authentic Designs, family-owned lighting designers for three generations, in West Rupert, VT, you’re overwhelmed by the absolutely beautiful pieces that Michael Krauss and his team have created....

  • How to Remove Paint from Historical Tin Panels

    In the premiere episode of our HGTV series Who's Afraid of a Cheap Old House, Bill and Joe fell in love with an old firehouse. Inside, the gorgeous, historical tin panels that had been caked in multiple layers of paint that was peeling off. We are so grateful for the partnership of SpongeJet, who helped us remove the old paint safely and effectively!...

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