Michael and Christine Peters transformed a run-down, vacant house on South Woodland road into a contemporary home – with a difference.
By Rory O’Connor
When Michael and Christine Peters moved to Shaker in 2013, the 7,400 square-foot, six-bedroom house that they bought out of foreclosure for a little more than $200,000 was, as far as they were concerned, uninhabitable.
But they didn’t plan to live in the house immediately anyway. Taking an apartment near Shaker Square, they totally gutted the newly acquired house on South Woodland Road and began a massive renovation and preservation effort that, as Michael says, “would respect the home’s character, but adapt it for a modern family.”
The house, designed by Cleveland architect Chester Lowe and built in 1931, had been vacant for two years, and had dangerous defects in the foundation that could have caused collapse. And fixing the foundation – after a complete excavation and state-of- the art waterproofing – was only scratching the surface of what needed to be done over the next two years to achieve what the Peters had in mind.
When the Peters applied for the Cleveland Restoration Society/AIA Cleveland’s 2015 Outstanding Residential Preservation Award – which they won – they wrote, “There was a very conscious effort to demonstrate that a house of this age can be renovated to be an extremely efficient, modern, and comfortable house while retaining its historic nature and character.”
The Peters worked with Cleveland architect Matt Wolf of Wolf Maison, who devised a preservation plan that “fit the age, character, and significance of the house.”
Retaining the historic character of the home meant, among many other things:
Repairing the original slate roof.
Removing the original stucco on the front of the house to repair the sheathing, installing a vapor-permeable barrier, then replacing the original stucco.
Rebuilding 10 of the diamond-panel leaded glass windows and repairing the remaining original windows.
Restoring the fountain – yes, a fountain – in the sunroom.
Retaining and restoring the original oak paneling in the den.
Retaining the parquet flooring in the living room, dining room, and den.
Restoring the original bathtubs in two of the five full baths.
The historic preservation work went hand-in-hand with the work of adapting the house for contemporary living. Some highlights from that half of the equation:
Installing a new water-supply line and new sanitary and storm sewers.
Installing a hydronic snow-melt system in the driveway area.
Installing lighting controls integrated with an alarm system.
Combining the former kitchen, breakfast room, and service entrance to make one large kitchen.
Making two pantries and a coat closet into a laundry room adjoining the butler’s pantry.
Almost completely reconfiguring the second-floor bedrooms and bathrooms, opening new space on the third floor for a home office, and insulating the exterior walls of the basement’s playroom (there are two very young Peters).
Installing a whole house steam humidifier.
Installing all new plumbing, electric, and mechanical systems, including a geothermal heating and cooling system, which required 200-foot wells – 15 of them – to be dug in the back yard, where deer come up from the golf course to graze next to the gazebo.
There are a number of green homes in Shaker that have been built from scratch. What the Peters did was take an historic Shaker home and make it green without sacrificing the original character.
The renovation was designed to meet Enterprise Green standards and Energy Star standards. Most of the materials were locally sourced and/or reused from the original home itself. Michael functioned as the general contractor. He renovated the house according to what are known as “passive” building standards – design principles used to achieve a quantifiable level of energy efficiency within a specific comfort level.
“Passive building reduces energy demand by 75 percent or more from conventional homes while delivering indoor air quality that’s similar to hospitals, all at a price that is comparable to ‘regular’ new construction,” he says. The main reason Michael acted as general contractor is the scarcity of passive building expertise among contractors in Greater Cleveland.
“I think it’s important that Shaker homeowners, or those looking at acquiring a home in Shaker, know that you don’t have to tear down a historic home to have a modern, functional, and low maintenance home, and that you can have an energy-efficient home without breaking the budget.”
Furthermore, the experience led him to change the focus of his company, the Coventry Land Company, from commercial real estate consulting to passive building development.
He founded Coventry in Manhattan in 2010. He moved the company to Shaker when he and Christine – a human resources consultant – and their young family moved here. His office is now at Shaker Launchhouse.
It all started with a successful career in commercial real estate investment banking. Immediately prior to starting Coventry, he opened Wells Fargo’s real estate investment banking office in London, and has raised capital for projects worldwide.
He developed a strong interest in sustainability and the economics of sustainable design through his work on the 58-story Comcast Center in Philadelphia – a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) platinum project – and on other projects in Europe and the Middle East. He has two LEED AP credentials, a green roof professional accreditation, and is a Passive House Certified Builder.
Now, with Coventry, he’s putting all those credentials to work for him – and, he hopes, for Shaker as a community. “We’re developing high-performance buildings in partnership with the architect on our house, Matt Wolf. We’re planning our first project for Shaker.”
While Coventry’s focus is on new construction, “I love rebuilding older historic homes and we’ll continue to work in that field too, in a similar manner to what we did with our house. “I think it’s important that Shaker homeowners, or those looking at acquiring a home in Shaker, know that you don’t have to tear down a historic home to have a modern, functional, and low maintenance home, and that you can have an energy-efficient home without breaking the budget,” he says. He says it doesn’t necessarily need to cost significantly more if you’re already doing a substantial renovation. “It just takes knowledge of modern building science and the right team to implement it. But you need to do your homework.
And don’t accept ‘because we’ve always done it that way’ as an excuse.” The restoration of the South Woodland home has had its own particular impact on the community. “Given that the house was an abandoned foreclosure on a major thoroughfare within Shaker Heights,” the Peters told the Cleveland Restoration Society’s awards judges, “the impact has been increased visibility of historic preservation.”