Miracle On Main Street
“Remodeling an existing old home is definitely a way to live greener while preserving history, thereby keeping the soul of the house together.”
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Pfister Home Renovation Retains Its “Soul”
By Cheryl Robichaux
The grand old homes in the historic district on Main Street in New Iberia each have a story, and some are more colorful than others. The Pfister home located at 667 East Main Street was built in 1906, and had a variety of interesting residents who used to live there.
Older folks vaguely remember a woman who used to wear heavy rouge; hence her nickname, “Mrs. Rouge.” Then there was supposedly a lady who had many cats and wore short mini-skirts. This was way back in the day when short skirts for women were definitely frowned upon. As the memories faded, so did the house.
Showing Its Age
Over the years the home had not aged gracefully and was in a state of extreme disrepair. Old air conditioning window units were sitting on wood way past its prime, vines and brambles were growing into the house through broken windowpanes and the exterior staircase was a danger to anyone who dared to climb it.
The home was originally built for the Pfister family at the turn of the 20th century. They owned Pfister Jewelery Co., which was established in 1897 at the location which is now known as Victor’s Cafeteria on Main Street.
Not only did the Pfisters sell fine jewelry, but spectacles as well. Back in the 1930s glasses were priced from $3.50 to $10—a far cry from the prices of today. Some of the architectural remnants of the jewelry company still remain at Victor’s Cafeteria, including the old safe.
In 2011 New Iberia native Tribbey Thornton purchased the Pfister house because he knew the craftsman-style home had potential. He is the president of Thornton Properties and is involved in property development and management. Thornton has a degree in architecture from UL Lafayette and is also a realtor with Caffery Real Estate.
“What I like to do now is to try and keep as many of the original features in the house as possible, but make it a modern floor plan, make it work for a modern lifestyle,” he says. In the past he has renovated eight historic homes and the Pfister house was in dire need of extensive work, both inside and out.
The home now has 3600 square feet of living area, three full baths, one half bath, four bedrooms and a party room upstairs. Thornton served as the contractor but hired licensed plumbers and electricians for the project which would take six months to complete. He bought recycled lumber from Washington, La. and from Teche Lumber Company in New Iberia. Many of the new materials were purchased from Doug Ashy Building Company in New Iberia.
The home had to be totally redesigned to accommodate the modern family. “People don’t live like they did 100 years ago,” says Thornton, “they want open rooms and large, airy spaces. They definitely need larger closets.”
The trees in the yard were trimmed and the vines and brambles which had made their way into the home through the broken windows were removed. A total of 85 broken windowpanes had to be replaced. Thornton was able to reuse doors and move them to different places in the home as he expanded closets and bathrooms. All of the doors are original and have several coats of paint on them.
The lovely antique door knobs were painted with a hammered metal spray paint, giving them a wonderful metallic look. One small closet in the downstairs foyer has new life as a half bath. There is ample closet space in every room of the house, as walls came down and new ones were erected.
Thornton had the original clawfoot tubs refinished and elegant marble floors were installed in the bathrooms. Marble and stone accents were added to the fireplaces for visual interest. The master bath space was enlarged by extending it to the back porch and removing a wall. The glass shower from Simon’s Auto Glass gives the master bath a contemporary, clean feeling while the six-foot antique tub nearby is timeless in its beauty. The porcelain inside the tub was in perfect condition, so only the exterior was painted.
New plumbing pipes were installed up through the kitchen ceiling for the bath and wet bar upstairs, and central heating and cooling replaced the old window units. The home was also thoroughly insulated for energy efficiency. The kitchen ceiling was actually dropped one foot to accommodate the beams above so Thornton could run the plumbing for upstairs.
Throughout the process he stayed heavily involved in all aspects and was meticulous with all of the details. The dining room boasts intricately carved pocket doors, a built-in china cabinet with glass doors, and a long bench with secret compartments near the windows.
Previously the upstairs area was subdivided into two apartments for boarders. It also received an extreme makeover and the results are incredible.
Today facing Main Street a raised kids’ area takes in lots of sunshine. It’s a cheerful room in which to paint, draw, read and play. An upstairs wet bar in the party/family room makes entertaining easy.
The party room opens to a two-story deck and staircase and the upper deck is a great spot for a barbeque pit. “Guests can access the upstairs for a party through the double deck instead of going through the main entrance of the house,” says Thorton. He did retain part of the home’s original deck.
Most of the old cypress floors were kept and refinished while new pine floors were added to the expanded kitchen area. One portion of the kitchen flooring has what appears to be several horseshoe prints imbedded in the wood. Those were left as is. “It gives the house character,” laughs Thornton. Beautiful Victorian moldings surround the skylights in the kitchen and the crown molding and finials add the final touch. Custom window treatments are forthcoming from Kimberly’s Interiors in New Iberia.
Relics From The Past
Remodeling an existing old home is definitely a way to live greener while preserving history, thereby keeping the “soul” of the house together. In the attic Thornton found a few toys including a discarded cabbage patch doll, and he left them there for good luck.
Also left behind is a piece of an original metal bridge near the sidewalk in the front of the home that dates back to the1800s. A canal went under Main Street in this area, and as the story goes, it was called Lover’s Bridge. Some of the bricks in the home were made from the clay dug out of what is now Devil’s Pond in New Iberia City Park.
Once the renovations were completed, the Pfister home was featured on the Shadows-on-the-Teche annual Holiday Tour of Homes in December 2011. A local growing family has since leased the home with an option to buy.