On the Map Stories | Submitted by Gibson and CJ Stanton
Gibson and CJ Stanton bought their home in July 2013, but they don’t really consider themselves the owners. The couple prefers to think of themselves as the stewards of their 1909 house in St. Paul’s Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood, and they are committed to taking good care of it until the next stewards come along.
Over the last five years, Gibson and CJ have poured countless hours into rehabbing and restoring their home. They have discovered stories about the house and its former occupants and they have fallen in love with its quirks. The woodwork on the first floor has never been painted, and the variety of wood grain creates a warm, authentic atmosphere. They’re keeping original door knockers and hardware original to the house, or lovingly added by former occupants (the Stantons are only the third family to live in the house.) By investing in their home, Gibson and CJ know they are contributing to its history and ensuring it is lived in and loved for another century.
Learn, then do
Early projects included a kitchen renovation and an overhaul of the house’s electrical and plumbing systems. Their most recent house hurdle was refinishing the wood floors in the living room, dining room, entryway, and kitchen.
After taking Rethos' (then the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota) Wood Floor Basics workshop in February 2017, the Stantons felt ready to tackle the project themselves that summer. Before diving in, they came back to us and generously offered to open up their home as a “Rehab Lab” for our next Wood Floor Basics class. The Stantons saw the value in restoration education, and they knew that hosting a class in their old house would help create a richer learning experience for other homeowners.
Last August, we held our floors class in their living room and dining room, giving students a firsthand view of what it really takes to refinish floors. The group walked through the entire process with a wood floor contractor and sanding coach. They could correlate their own homes to the Stantons’ and ask questions like: "What do I do about radiators? How do I navigate that weirdly angled wall? Where do I put all my furniture? How much time is this really going to take?"
One of the most valuable lessons learned at any class is whether you want to take on the project yourself or hire a pro. If the former, go you! If the latter, now you know what to look for in a contractor. Either way, classes are an important way to make rehab projects less daunting and more doable.
After turning their house into a classroom for a night, Gibson and CJ dove right into sanding. Those who have done it before know it’s no walk in the park.
[Class attendees] could correlate their own homes to the Stantons' and ask questions like: "What do I do about radiators? How do I navigate that weirdly angled wall? Where do I put all my furniture? How much time is this really going to take?"
“You’re exhausted, you hurt; it’s hard!” Gibson recalls. But with a detailed plan, commitment to their checklist, and help from friends and family (someone needs to bring the beer!), they put the final coat of finish on exactly one week after the class. Gibson says, “You can’t buy the amount of pride you feel when you’re finished.” They felt a tremendous confidence boost after the project was over and their furniture was back in place. Realizing that with time and patience, they could take on a huge project - and do it correctly - was an exciting step.
So, what tips do they have for homeowners considering a big rehab project? Gibson and CJ learned that no amount of passion can teach you how to restore or rehab your home properly. Talk to experts. Learn what questions to ask them. Have a plan. Know that there’s no instant gratification, but the sweat equity you put in pays off.
During their house hunt, the Stantons were looking to buy a bit closer to downtown St. Paul. Instead, they settled on Dayton’s Bluff. The neighborhood offered affordable options and the opportunity to invest in an area actively being revitalized with a community-wide passion for preservation. Through the late 20th century, Dayton’s Bluff saw decades of disinvestment, increasing numbers of vacant homes, and crime. In recent years, fueled by both private investment and rehabilitation of homes by the City of St. Paul, the area is becoming more vibrant, safe, and popular for first-time homebuyers.
Gibson and CJ knew when they purchased their house that they were giving up the ability to walk to trendy bars and shops, but they were seizing a unique opportunity to be part of the forward momentum of a neighborhood with a rich history.
By taking time to educate themselves, doing rehab projects the right way, turning their home into a Rehab Lab, and inspiring preservation activity in their neighborhood, Gibson & CJ are demonstrating exactly what it means to be a steward of an old house. We can’t wait to see what they tackle next!