For 15 years Joel Sauer drove by the house at 1110 W. Washington Blvd. on his way to work and never noticed it.
Now it's his home.
Sauer and his wife, Ellen, bought the house in April 2012 and moved in last September after a massive renovation. Their home will be on the West Central Home and Garden Tour this weekend.
Before moving to the historic West Central neighborhood Joel and Ellen raised their three children in a New Haven home with a spacious back yard. Every year the family would take a carriage ride during the holidays through West Central. "We're more old-house people than new," Joel said.
As they began to see an empty nest in their near future, Joel and Ellen started seriously contemplating moving to West Central. They almost bought a renovated house in the neighborhood a couple of years ago, but it was already substantially finished. "We wanted to rescue a place," Ellen said.
When that 110-year-old wood-sided house that Joel had ignored for all those years came on the market, the Sauers decided to have a look at it.
They were smitten as soon as they walked in the door, when they saw the massive curving staircase and decorative nook built into the wall.
"So we bought it," Ellen said.
The house had been a third-floor rental, and was empty for awhile before they bought it. "It was pretty rough," Ellen said.
So began an intensive five-month process of remodeling and renovating. The Sauers acted as their own general contractors, hiring and overseeing 33 contractors. Here's a partial list of what they had done: new wiring and plumbing; a new HVAC system for the whole house; insulation; windows; removal of a wall to reconfigure the kitchen; new flooring; drywall; and painting.
"Our mantra to the guys was, 'save as much as you can,'" Joel said.
Joel and Ellen did all the unskilled labor, such as some of the deconstruction and cleanup. Last summer was a hot one, and they were there working about every day before going back to their house in New Haven to shower, cool off and sleep.
Joel is a health care consultant and Ellen is an artist. She was at the house most of the time when the contractors were there. Joel once overheard a contractor telling another, "the woman with the clipboard is the one you have to look out for."
The Sauers didn't want to share what they spent on their house, but did say the renovations cost twice as much as the purchase price.
Outside renovations included a new roof, downspouts and gutters, and chimney repairs.
The most expense went into the kitchen, which has new oak cabinets, a quartz island and counter tops, and stainless-steel appliances. It's thoroughly modern and spacious, and would rival a kitchen in any new home.
With five bedrooms and 4 1/2 baths the Sauers didn't exactly downsize, but they do have a much smaller yard. And with both of their extended families living out of town, their new house has plenty of room for family gatherings, as well as space when their own kids come home to visit.
They received a hearty welcome from their West Central neighbors. Often a walk in the neighborhood turns into a stopover at a neighbor's for a glass of wine.
If they feel the need to get out into some green space, they can walk their dog a short distance to Swinney Park.
Small projects inside remain to be done, such as staining some balusters and baseboards. The Sauers eventually would like to re-create the wrap-around porch the house originally had, and remodel the garage so they can get their cars into it.
Because the house is in an historic district, all outside changes need prior approval. The Sauers have already worked with Don Orban, the city's historic preservation planner, on the windows, gutters and roof and expect to use his expertise again when they move forward with outside changes. "Don is definitely one of our city's gems -- so patient and knowledgeable," Ellen said.