words and photos by: Scot Zimmerman

Perhaps it’s the reduce-reuse-repair-recycle messages of Earth Day, but my thoughts this week turn to historic home restorations.

I am looking back to homes built a hundred years ago give or take 20 years. It was a time when skilled labor from Europe joined the large influx of immigrants to the United States, and the mansions of the time were the beneficiaries of their skills. Salt Lake City, as you know, is a haven for beautiful historic homes. There are few places, especially in the West with so many. Restorations challenge today’s craftsmen to duplicate the skill of the past, and these featured projects demonstrate just how skilled they are.

The Utah Governor’s Mansion, formerly the Kearns Mansion, was updated about 20 years ago with era-appropriate fabrics, carpets, and colors under the direction of designer Ellie Sonntag Stephens. The décor stands out among US governors’ mansions. It’s truly worth seeing, and tours are available so it isn’t necessary to run for governor or get an invitation to see the interior

Juxtapose Design of Park City worked with the homeowner’s family pieces in this Federal Heights update. The woodwork in the base, case, windows, and floors are amazing, and it is difficult to tell what is original and what is new.

For another Federal Heights’ location, John Ford of J. Ford Construction remodeled this home. When I made the photos, I had the feeling I had gone back in time to the year it was first built rather than seeing an older home. It was true to the era but felt completely fresh.

For the same home shown above, the kitchen presented a choice between a historically accurate kitchen (when maids washed dishes instead of a high-efficient ultra-quiet dishwashers) or a modern high-functioning space with modern conveniences. The hybrid solution has the best in appliances, but true to the woodwork elsewhere in the home, John Ford handcrafted the cabinets from quarter-sawn oak. The apron-front sink, glass-fronted cabinets, hardware, backsplash, and pendant light fixtures all help to set the era.

Capitol Hill Construction returned an Avenues mansion to its former glory as a family home, having to negate the damage from a number of unfortunate conversions. Carpenters tell me that the true test of workmanship is the challenge of pocket doors. I can testify that these glide without a hiccup.

This is the grand central staircase from Capitol Hill Construction’s Avenues mansion. I showed the parlor and music room above. The stairs, railings, balustrades, wainscoting, moldings, window frames, and ceiling beams—the restoration is truly breathtaking.

This Craftsman home is also in Federal Heights, and CRSA Architects worked on the design for the remodel. Craftsman and Prairie homes are probably my favorite designs. I love the rich wood and the horizontal elements, the art glass, and the earthy colors. If you are wondering what the exterior looks like, look at what’s playing on the television.

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