Nathan Williams and John Culhane, 1004 Alvarado Terrace, are all settled into their large home, but they had some work to do to get there. This included some cleanup and restoration. And then they started a bed-and-breakfast.
Nathan and John are experienced travelers, so it was natural that the home was used as a B&B for six years after the 2012 purchase. The inn closed in May 2018, but it was a fun dream and a great experience for them.
“We looked at a lot of houses,” Nathan says. “We were thinking: Wouldn’t it be fun to have a B&B? We like to travel and meet people who like to travel.”
It seemed ideal for them: the size of the home, the location, off-street parking, close to downtown and Whitman College. They saw a huge potential.
The house also seemed to be the one that was meant for them.
“It had been for sale for a couple of years,” John says.
They visited Walla Walla from the Puget Sound area several times to see what the weather was like at different times of the year.
They had looked at the house before, exterior photos online and then while standing nearby. After some more time, they saw some interior pictures of it and, even though it needed some work, they were very interested.
The 1906 home has three floors, a large garage and an unfinished basement, used for storage.
It also has four bedrooms, three and a half baths — including a bathroom in the garage. The water there has been turned off, but could easily be turned back on if they had a large number of family and friends visiting. Total area in the home they estimate at somewhere between 3,400 and 4,000 square feet.
Filled with optimism, they bought the house, and the work began.
Nathan says they gutted three bathrooms and replaced everything.
Then there was the wallpaper.
On the entire main floor, the wallpaper was all one pattern, and they wanted it gone. John worked on that, but once they got the paper off they had to repair the cracks in the walls. On the second floor, the wallpaper situation was much worse. They scraped five layers of wallpaper off. To complicate matters, it had all been painted in between layers, making it much more difficult to remove.
“John got this kit to remove the wallpaper,” Nathan says. This was a brilliant method of putting a liquid on the wallpaper, and the paper dissolving.
“With one layer, it’s simple to dissolve,” John says.
However with five layers and paint in between, they had to resort to the time-tested scrape and peel method — much more difficult and labor intensive. The walls on the upper stories had to be repaired as well. Although they didn’t want to change its character, it’s an old house, and the walls aren’t going to be smooth. One wall had a big hole in it filled with the end of a coffee can.
The repairs and renovations were a lot of work, but they kept at it. They had the help of contractor Ricky Reyes, from Inspired Enterprises Inc., for his advice and for the jobs they just couldn’t do.
“We tried to do the basic labor ourselves,” Nathan says.
John would do one wall of paper removal then go for a walk to release stress, then come back. Nathan was still working during the week, so he would drive over here on the weekends, work on the house and then drive back.
They could see some of the repairs that had been done over the years and where they needed to take the next steps. The windows had been replaced somewhere in the 1950s, with aluminum-framed windows, Nathan says. The sunroom wasn’t level and needed to be rebuilt. They replaced all windows on the second and third floors with thermal-pane windows, they updated the electrical system, replacing knob and tube wiring and the stairway to the second floor was rebuilt, with a support beam underneath.
Nathan took up all the old carpet and refinished the floors, narrow-plank oak downstairs and fir upstairs. The third floor was more challenging as the carpet had been glued down to the floor. So a new bamboo floor was installed to replace it.
The elegant living room has a fireplace with marble facing from the demolition of a downtown building, although they’re not sure which building it was.
They found all sorts of interesting details in the home beyond the time capsule contained in the layers of wallpaper. They located a shaft that must have been the dumbwaiter. Nathan says the original owners must have cooked in the basement and hauled the dishes up through the dumbwaiter.
As they worked on the project, they got clues to past events and situations in the house. They even found evidence of a small fire in the home at some point.
They kept many structures in the home — cabinets and built-ins — but tore out and reconfigured areas to reclaim space, especially on the third floor. Nathan also says they had a coal chute and a large oil tank to deal with in the renovation. Those were removed, and the large home now has an efficient gas furnace.
They love the whole house, but they really are fond of the sunroom. It’s south facing, nice and warm with an expansive view of trees and sky.
“It’s good to watch the great storms,” John says. “It fills the room with lightning.”
Nathan says he enjoyed seeing guests at the B&B relaxing in the sunroom. “It was nice to see them enjoy the house,” he says.
John says, “We had two guests from LA. They were having a drought and wanted to see some rain. We can’t guarantee rain. It doesn’t rain here much. However, when they were here, it rained both days of their stay. They sat in the sunroom just watching and listening to the rain.”
With the big projects completed, the home is renovated and very comfortable. There are a few things they still want to update.
John says, “We think about doing the kitchen at some point.”
Nathan says, “In the future.”
They are now just enjoying the home, having recuperated from the initial renovation project.
John also says the foundation, although solid, needs work.
John researched different painting techniques for the upstairs, to use on the old walls with uneven spots. He tried out many samples on the garage wall. So they still have a palette of experimental painting techniques in the garage. But since old walls are lumpy and bumpy, they decided to go with flat latex and not try to hide the flaws.
“It’s character,” Nathan says. “We wanted an old house, and old houses have imperfections. We were very lucky. We’ve got great neighbors who put on potlucks and get-togethers.”
“It’s a very nice neighborhood,” John says.
To the side of the living room is an entryway with a piano. Nathan and John suspect the area used to be a porch that was enclosed. Just past that, the whole dining room is in a large bay window structure brimming with natural light. They have a display of the beautiful dishes they enjoy buying on their international travels on a plate rail around the room.
The home has tall ceilings, 10 feet on the first floor, 9 on the second floor, 8 feet on the third floor.
The second floor bedrooms each have their own character: the maple room looks out at a beautiful maple tree, another bedroom is painted in light and dark blue for serenity, the other bedroom is accented in a dynamic teal color.
Bathrooms have heated tile floors, keeping feet warm and happy. Nathan and John are home from their travels, settled in and comfortable, in their renovated historic home.