While Lewiston’s Normal Hill is known for its historic homes, some of its finest gems have fallen into disrepair over the decades.
That fate was starting to befall a dignified late-Victorian-era home on Fifth Street, one block west of St. Joseph Regional Medical Center. Among its many problems were a settling, cracked foundation that threw much of the home out of square, and a roof so threadbare that stars shone through its cracks.
But a husband-and-wife team of Lewiston cardiologists bought the home in 2014, and have spent the last few years on a careful restoration that not only brought it back from the brink, but placed it in the ranks of the city’s finest historic structures.
“I knew what I was getting myself into,” Dr. Mirek Sochanski said. “But the question was how to do it.”
Lewiston history enthusiast Steven Branting said the home was built in 1900 for photographer Henry Fair. Fair sold it to P.R. Bevis around 1907, and it stayed in the family for decades.
Originally from Warsaw, Poland, Sochanski and his wife, Dr. Hanna Konarzewska, chose the home because it was the only available property they liked that was within walking distance of the hospital where they both work.
And even though he inherited the analytic mind of his civil engineer father and labored through home renovations before, Sochanski realized he and Konarzewska couldn’t live in the house until much of the work was done. So they decided to build a detached garage in the backyard with living space above where they could stay in the interim.
An architect designed the garage in the same style as the home. It was such a success that the Lewiston Historic Preservation Commission gave the garage an Orchid Award in 2016 for new construction that is sensitive to historic preservation.
Having the separate, new living space allowed subcontractors to fully dig into the renovations, like rewiring the whole structure, jacking up settled portions and replacing part of the foundation. Sochanski and Konarzewska still put in their share of sweat equity, though, working on plenty of tedious projects like stripping wallpaper and tearing the carpets out of the second floor.
One subcontractor who restored the red oak flooring on the ground floor confirmed the boards were original, based on their length. Sochanski proudly paced off one example, estimating it to be 12 feet long.
Sochanski and Konarzewska kept and restored many of the home’s other period details. Doors are still hung on their original ornamental hinges. The single-pane, double-hung windows all function perfectly thanks to repairs to their counterweights and the use of historically appropriate glass. And even when major alterations were made, they honored the design of the home.
For instance, when a door needed to move, they reused all the old trim and hardware in the new opening. Or when Konarzewska wanted to add windows, she went on eBay to buy leaded glass that looked right at home. Several light fixtures from when the home was originally wired are also still in use.
Restoring – and renovating
Much of the work was relatively cosmetic, but the kitchen, attic and bathrooms all got major overhauls. Sochanski and Konarzewska combined the tiny kitchen with an equally small, adjacent dining area to create a much larger space. Konarzewska filled it with modern appliances built to look like antiques and chose colors that give the room a light, yet warm, feel.
A contractor converted the original steep, narrow staircase to the attic into a small hall closet and built new stairs in the master bedroom that lead to what could now be considered a third floor. The new stairway had to be placed where the bedroom closet used to be, but they had new closet space added to the attic when it was remodeled.
Konarzewska and Sochanski also completely redid the bathrooms and added a powder room on the ground floor by closing in part of the home’s porch. There is some work left to do on the interior, like adding bookcases for a small library space, but much of the project has moved on to landscaping.
Speaking of outdoor spaces, the yard has also fallen under the meticulous eye of Konarzewska, who Sochanski said is the driving force behind the overall effort.
“I just did the research on what kind of materials to use,” she said of making sure even the pavers and plantings match the overall historic vibe.
Konarzewska also lamented the state of some of the other old structures in the neighborhood.
“There are so many beautiful homes that have basically been destroyed by lack of upkeep or partitioning into apartments,” she said.
But thanks to their efforts, the Fifth Street Victorian won’t be one of them.
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