BARRE — Karen Lauzon should be smiling today, because the woman who starred in a Granite City version of “This Old House” did what she set out to do.
The Reynolds House is now back in business, thanks to Lauzon and her husband, Thomas.
The Barre couple acquired the iconic property in 2016 and has turned the fire-damaged structure — a fixture on South Main Street since 1892 — back into the showplace it was when G.J. Reynolds built it for his family more than 125 years ago.
Mission accomplished, according to Karen Lauzon, who knew she had her work cut out for her when she stood in a second-floor hall littered with plaster and paint chips, not far from a closet where a cracked PVC pipe was literally hemorrhaging water into the house.
“You have to appreciate the ‘before,’” she said at the time. “Because when we’re done, it’s going to be beautiful.”
Nearly two-and-a-half years later, that comment proved prophetic, and Thomas Lauzon will tell you he wrote the checks and made some suggestions about heating and lighting while his soft-spoken wife did all the heavy-lifting.
“This is her baby,” he said during a recent tour of the bed and breakfast, now called The Reynolds House Inn, which quietly opened Monday and will host two parties this week.
Newly minted innkeepers Eric Tuper-Giles and his husband, Jeffrey, will have more to say about their vision for the business after the frenzied run-up to Monday’s soft-opening is comfortably behind them and their May 20-24 grand opening approaches.
While the Tuper-Gileses still have work to do, the Lauzons did what they set out to when they bought the mother of all fixer-uppers: a sprawling Queen Anne Victorian that had bigger issues than damage caused by a 2014 arson.
The roof was buckling, water was spewing into the building from a cracked roof drain, the heating system had been out of commission for two years and the plumbing needed to be replaced. Other than that, the entire house — and it is no small house — needed to be completely and carefully redone.
Enter Karen Lauzon.
If the Reynolds House is her “baby,” she just put “Octomom” to shame with a renovation and restoration project that dwarfed any she’d done before.
“It went on and on and on,” Thomas Lauzon said. “It was like a normal renovation times 10 because of the sheer size of the house.”
“I can’t believe it’s finally finished,” Karen Lauzon said during a tour of the house that only remotely resembles what it looked like when she started.
It cleaned up well in a project that was heavy on restoration, but saw at least one area — the carriage barn — completely reconceived.
“It looked like a playground when we started,” Karen Lauzon said, recalling ladders that led to the three levels of the barn that was used mostly as storage.
Two of those three levels are now gone. One was replaced by an indoor terrace that circles the perimeter of the new event space, providing guests an unimpeded view of the cupola high above.
Once used mainly for storage, the carriage barn sustained the most fire damage but was still structurally sound and provided an opportunity to create the kind of space Barre is lacking.
Able to accommodate parties of up to 50 people, the space is equipped with its own bar, a catering kitchen and a name — “Cleora’s” — that is a nod to the last Reynolds to occupy the property.
Karen Lauzon said Cleora Reynolds died in 1995, and her sister, Anita, sold the family home in 1996 and it was converted into a bed and breakfast.
The fire put the latest edition of the bed and breakfast out of business and turned the historic Barre building into an eyesore. Despite boarded up windows and mounting internal issues, the house had good bones. Even at its worst, it wasn’t hard to spot things worth retaining or replicating, from the acorn-shaped shingles and the front porch skirting on the outside to the ornamental cast iron radiators and the hardwood floors on the inside.
The floors, like the curved windows, were restored. That includes the quarter sawn oak floor in the main entry to the birdseye maple and flame red birch in other portions of the spacious ground floor.
Karen Lauzon said she set out to create a “homey” feeling that would seamlessly blend the house’s original features with newly introduced modifications, blurring the line between old and new and creating a welcoming space.
“That’s something I always kept in mind,” she said, noting it drove everything from her selection of paint colors and wallpaper to the placement of light fixtures.
“I had everything in my head how I wanted it to be,” she said.
At that point only two tiny tasks remained: Dismantling and moving a 158-year-old piano, a W.P. Emerson that was destined for the Lauzons’ home on Nelson Street, and hanging a refinished ladder in the carriage barn.
The Tuper-Gileses have their own grand piano, and the ladder was the last in a long line of discovered treasures Karen Lauzon dusted off and reused.
Some are what they appear to be. Take the mirror from a medicine cabinet removed from one of six upstairs bathrooms. The mirror — not the medicine cabinet — now hangs above the sink in what Karen Lauzon has dubbed “the Harry Potter bathroom” (it’s under the staircase.)
Wooden cupboards salvaged from the basement are displayed behind the bar in the converted carriage barn, and a once-busted stained glass light fixture she discovered in the attic was repaired and installed in the kitchen.
“As soon as I saw it, I knew where it was going to go,” she said.
Ditto the half-door that once hung on a horse stall that’s now mounted on the wall of Cleora’s — a window to its late-19th century past, while being part of its 21st century future.
Not all of the objects Karen Lauzon re-purposed are easily identified. Contractor Trym Chouinard built a wall using wood from old crates that were once shipped from T.B. Arms Co. in Portland, Maine, to Reynold’s & Sons in Barre, creating a conversation piece and built-in Reynolds’ relic.
Not all of Karen Lauzon’s special touches are Reynolds-related. The cupboards behind the bar were gathering dust in the basement, but the handles were salvaged from the former Homer Fitts department store, which is currently undergoing a makeover of its own.
The lamp in the inn’s lobby was once used at the Country House Restaurant when Karen Lauzon’s father owned the well-known Barre restaurant that he sold long before it gave way to Sean & Nora’s and, most recently, Asian Gourmet.
Thrifty by nature, Karen Lauzon said there’s an added bonus to her penchant for re-purposing.
“It helps with the budget,” she said, provoking an eye-roll from her cost-conscious husband.
All kidding aside, Thomas Lauzon said he’s beyond pleased with the end result and confident the Tuper-Gileses are set up for success. On Friday, the Lauzons are hosting a party for contractors and others who contributed to the project.
“It’s a pretty long list,” he said.
Karen Lauzon is at the very top of it and her name is the only one — besides G.J. Reynolds — mentioned on a soon-to-be-installed bronze plaque telling the tale of an old house that looks new again and is included on the National Register of Historic Places.
Though his wife has managed more than a dozen other restoration and renovation projects, Thomas Lauzon said none brought her more joy.
“She smiles the whole time she’s in this house,” he said.
“I enjoyed it,” Karen Lauzon said, taking pleasure in a job well done, while sharing the credit. “It was a team effort.”