Renovation Inspiration


I’ve been conducting a secret love affair with an old house in Healdsburg. The truth is I wanted to buy it, but my husband speculated that the stress of the remodel might undo our marriage. I’d like to think he was exaggerating, but the house was in such terrible shape it might cause Odysseus and Penelope to split. I’ve been walking by the stately home for years and looking at it as the one that got away. Maybe I lost it, but it was found by an incredible couple.

Recently I met the men who leapt in where my  family feared to tread. Mark Goff and Phillip Engel bought the house in 2009 and have been doing the massive remodel themselves, learning how as they go. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, but not only is the craftsmanship impeccable, their efforts are inspiring. In our July/August issue (launching in digital and print editions on June 23), I tell their story and will continue to follow the progress through our blog. But today I have a bit of the backstory.

The house was built in 1871 by John Marshall, the local blacksmith.

But, by the 1970s it had already started to fall into disrepair. Due to its shabby appearance and the wild vines that grew around it, the local kids started calling it the “haunted house.”

Of course, when Goff and Engel bought the property, it looked a good deal worse than the photo above. After learning about Healdsburg from their friends—one of them had a grandson who lived in the area—they started looking for a house there. At first, they were turned off by the scope of the work. But Engel kept talking about it, and eventually Goff came around.

Their adventures are covered in their blog The tales can be hilarious. For instance, the post about the discovery of a treasure trove of vintage pornography under the floorboards. As Goff speculates: “You really have to wonder what was going on in this city…to have this big, vacant, spooky house full of men’s magazines and other sorts of adult periodicals.”

In a more recent post, Goff tells about the photoshoot we conducted at the house (and how we made them change out of nice outfits into their torn, paint-splattered work clothes). Here’s a photo he took of us in action:

In the article I wrote, I left out the details of one interesting story Goff told me. They discovered an old key in the backyard, one that’s perhaps nearly as old as the house. Goff wears the metal object on a chain around his neck. When asked why, he explains: “It could be the key to the hidden treasure. When we find it, I want to make sure I have the key.”

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