10 Great Ways to Eco-Renovate a Multi-Family Victorian

May 24, 2021

10 Great Ways to Eco-Renovate a Multi-Family Victorian


Here's a list of our best do's and don'ts garnered from our five month




Choose the worst of the eyesores and transform them into something beautiful. At first glance we could see the 150 year old Victorian Grand Dame was full of beautiful possibilities. The house practically begged for attention. We chose the worst of the cosmetic blemishes to address. The biggest problem child of the bunch was a cave-like, sloped ceiling bathroom that had an unfortunate yellow plastic shower surround and no windows. Adding daylight, raising the low sloped ceiling to the attic peak, applying a mold preventing lime plaster on walls, and new ceramic tiles on the floor and shower stall in the top floor bathroom created the best feature in the third floor apartment.


Leave mediocre design offenses for another day. We knew both steam and money had to be carefully parsed so not everything on the wish-list was renovated. Vinyl kitchen floors were not great but practical so they stayed. We knew that taking out the shower stall tiles pictured below would turn into a Pandora's Box so we opted to leave those but tore out the more objectionable baby blue ones. We custom mixed and applied dark Marmorino plaster on the walls to bridge the visual gap between the grey floor tile and off-white shower tiles.



Re-use, recycle, re-purpose. In all 3 kitchens we kept the existing cabinets and renewed them with fresh new paint colors and hardware. Resources were saved, waste reduced, money and labor preserved, which allowed us to splurge on important items that made big updates, such as granite counter tops and Energy Star dishwashers.



Shop local Habitat for Humanity Restores and other used building materials outlets. We found beautiful vintage doors, antique moldings, medicine cabinets, etc., all for a fraction of the cost of what we would pay for new.



Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Donate all of the unwanted light fixtures and building materials to the same places, like Eco-Building Supplies in Springfield MA, and keep as much waste out of landfills as possible. I wish I had taken pictures of the car load of items dropped off at their door, but you get the idea!



Fix Whatever you can. Unless it was horrible, ugly, or beyond repair, we fixed it. A trip to a big box hardware store meant hours wasted, so my mantra became "Don't send me to (rhymes with Dome Cheapo)..." .Phone calls and Iphone pictures of a stove that didn't work to an appliance store allowed us to order parts that we installed with a screwdriver! Loose stair treads were shored up, door knobs were stripped of eight layers of old paint, hinges were tightened.



Get rid of nasty wall to wall carpeting and restore wood floors. Stop the cycle of discarding old, unbiodegradeable carpet into landfills every 7 - 8 years. Even badly damaged floor can be sanded, puttied, primed and painted. And if it takes hard work to bond with a place, we are now intimate soul-mates with this house. We pulled nails and staples, sanded off old carpet glue and puttied and caulked large gaps. Some gaps were so wide we used an old school technique of filling them with rope! Instead of refinishing we chose to reduce the time and work of making them perfect and applied an excellent floor paint, California Paints AllFlor Porch and Floor Acrylic Enamel, in a light putty color. A small windowless bedroom with stained W2W carpeting now has double windows and a diagonally striped floor.




Shop the house itself for re-purposing items. We found glass blocks, a vintage cabinet, a slab of granite and lots of coated metal shelving that all came in handy for bathroom storage, pantry shelves and a new transom window over a door to a windowless bathroom.



Preserve as much of the original architecture and details as possible. If windows and doors need to be replaced save the old casings. So much of it had been lost in this house but we are slowly switching out the newer trim for historically correct belly moldings. The stained glass windows are intact and a joy to walk past every time we go up the stairs. We're saving the best for last when we create something amazing and fun in the front stairway and paint the exterior. And you can bet we won't skimp on color when choosing a palette that stays true to its Victorian spirit.



Be creative and colorful. It just wouldn't be right to be decorative artists and paint all the walls off-white. So we added surprising pops of color throughout with Dove White by Benjamin Moore for the default wall and trim everywhere else. The bedroom with the original window seats is painted peacock blue which was the one of the main reasons the new tenants wanted that apartment! The back stairway is now the Red Velvet Stairway to Heaven and the top floor apartment has a faux painted red carpet runner. We took our cues from the original stained glass windows and painted an accent green wall, a bright yellow door in a kitchen and celadon green on the 3rd floor kitchen cabinets.