Leila Beem Núñez
Kristin Luna had never planned on moving back to Tennessee.
Over the past several years, the freelance travel journalist had bounced from New York to California, and her husband, Scott van Velsor, had grown up in San Francisco. Tennessee unexpectedly became an option, in part due to the rise of the tech field in the state.
“We both had journalism backgrounds but also had lived in San Francisco during the digital boom so we had, I’d say, a more advanced digital background,” said Luna, a Tullahoma native. “[San Francisco] was so expensive – there were just a lot of difficulties living there – so Scott asked if I’d be open to moving back to Tennessee.”
Now, nearly seven years later, the couple is in the later stages of the restoration of a century-old Victorian home in the heart of Manchester.
“We were big fans of old homes with character. Scott had worked in some form of construction for over a decade, and he’d restored all these amazing multi-million dollar homes in the Bay Area, all these Victorians built in the 1800s. It was our dream to own something like that, but it just wasn’t feasible in San Francisco.”
The couple’s search for a house began in Nashville, but they couldn’t find anything they loved. Luna, who had been used to living in cities, was slowly warming up to the prospect of returning to her roots in rural Tennessee. The couple eventually narrowed the search down to Manchester due to its rural setting, interstate access and proximity to Nashville. Several months later, in 2012, they got an alert for a Victorian home on Manchester’s Main Street, originally used as a boarding house.
“We called our real estate agent right away, and he got us in the next day. We both said, ‘We want to buy it,’” Luna said. “We’d looked at all these other houses that had no character, and when we saw this we knew this needs to be our house.”
While staying in Luna’s parents’ home in Tullahoma, the couple began going in on some of the bigger renovation tasks, going to the house after work and on weekends. They hand-scraped, sanded, patched and sprayed all the ceiling in the home. All the windows – now custom, Queen Anne style – needed to be replaced. A surprise came when the roof needed to be replaced due to leaking through a main light fixture, which eventually turned into all the house’s siding needing redoing.
Luna and van Velsor plan to finish painting this spring, with about a week left of work. Van Velsor’s experience in construction, woodworking and painting, Luna said, has made many of the projects possible. They also built and painted their 250-foot picket fence surrounding the property.
“Luckily Scott was a professional painter for a long time, so that’s something that we can tackle. I say ‘we’ – I hold the tool belt and run around and get all the things he needs, patch all the holes,” Luna laughed.
He also tore out and replaced the plumbing in the upstairs bathroom that needed reworking and moving so that a tub built under a low, characteristically slanted Victorian ceiling could be moved and used for showering. The laminate bathroom floor was also torn up, and plywood and tile put in its place.
Tricky spaces like the bathroom present challenges, but all it takes is some creativity. Low, mid-century furniture, Luna said, helps solve the low ceiling problem.
The couple says the challenges make the house all the more charming, and the results more fulfilling.
“You appreciate it more,” van Velsor said. “It makes me happy every time I come home, and I think a lot of that is all the work we’ve put into it.”
With most of the critical things off the restoration to-do list, van Velsor said, he and Luna are just nibbling around the edges. With aspects like security, mold concerns and energy efficiency basically out of the way, the couple is making smaller improvements, currently working with an interior designer for the downstairs living spaces. Eventually, the couple would like to rework the kitchen, and perhaps build a greenhouse made of the house’s original windows.
Costs and time make the process a little longer than they would like, but Luna said it’s been helpful to use local businesses and talent in their renovation endeavors. They have frequently gone to Manchester Building Supply next door to get much of what they have needed, and recently found a business run from the home of a local couple to custom build a rolling kitchen island from scratch.
“It’s so nice to find local talent that we can use in assisting us in some of these projects,” Luna said. “We want to use local whenever we can.”
The projects, though arduous, have for the couple been a way of keeping pristine part of the charisma of Manchester. The house, off the city’s historical zone by a block, is not otherwise preserved. Over the years, the restoration has provided a way to do that, one roadblock at a time.
“When we bought the house, people said that nobody does this. They don’t want to touch it or fix it up,” van Velsor said. “I do feel like this house is part of Manchester, and we’re preserving it forever by doing this work, and taking our time and doing it the correct way.”