In 1892, when Charles and Jessie Avery no doubt relaxed on the expansive front porch of their newly built house in Webster Groves, they could not have known what the next century would bring. A series of subsequent owners would considerably alter their stately home, sometimes with unfortunate results. It wasn’t until a few years ago that builder Bob Robben restored its elegance and exquisite detail. Robben, owner of Robben Contracting, was awarded the coveted ‘Award of Excellence in Craftsmanship’ by the city of Webster Groves for his work on the storybook Queen Anne home.
The two-phase renovation began in 2006 with a comprehensive overhaul that included a two-story addition to the back of the house. Seamlessly blending old and new construction, the addition expanded the home to 13 rooms for the current owners and their four children. With a larger family room, new gourmet kitchen and a convenient second-floor laundry room, the 19th century lady was ready for 21st century life.
“This was a very rewarding project,” Robben says. “The owners have great respect for their home’s history and they were very open to suggestions and ideas. Our company has been renovating historic homes for over 30 years, so this restoration was perfect for our niche.”
Renovation often means unexpected surprises, and this property was no exception. “We were puzzled by the kitchen ceiling,” Robben observes. “The rest of the house had the original 10-foot ceilings, but the ceiling dropped to eight feet in the kitchen. When we broke through, we discovered plumbing running the length of the room. To protect the pipes from freezing in the uninsulated space, someone had once wrapped them in electric pipe-warming tape. and the tape was still plugged in!” Robben says with astonishment. “It was a fire waiting to happen!” After removing the fire hazard, Robben also removed a steel column that had been built directly into a kitchen counter. “It was really strange,” he says. “The column went straight through the countertop. With the ceiling opened up, we built a new structural support beam and removed the steel post.” The 2006 phase also included all-new plumbing, new HVAC (heating, ventilation and cooling) and new energy-efficient windows throughout the house.
The second phase of the renovation began in 2008. After discovering an old photograph of their home, the owners hired Robben to bring back the original splendor of the front porch. Inspired by the photo, Robben restored period authenticity by meticulously recreating the detailed columns and railing. He also expanded the dimensions of the porch and wrapped it around the side of the house. With southern and eastern exposure, the new space provides the ideal spot to enjoy the home’s award-winning landscaping.
Because the house is in a neighborhood listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Robben knew that Register rules would guide design and material choices. “Besides the National Register criteria, additional permits are usually required, depending on the city where the home is located,” he explains. “In Webster Groves, for example, all plans must be approved by an architectural review board. We have experience in many different historic neighborhoods, so we understand the process. The homeowner doesn’t have to research the requirements because we take care of all those details.”