Virginia transplants renovating here|[11/26/05]

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 28, 2005

This is one in an occasional series of stories about the City of Vicksburg’s attempts to clear decrepit and vacated housing and residents’ attempts to save some of the properties.

Troy and Laura Weeks have an addiction. They’ve caught the renovation bug and are showing no symptoms of slowing down.

&#8220It’s very trying and it will stress you out, but it takes us away from ordinary life and lets us express our creativity,” Troy Weeks said.

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&#8220If you don’t get a divorce over it, it’s addictive. You can’t stop at just one building,” said his wife.

The couple moved to Vicksburg from Virginia Beach, Va., in May in search of a &#8220mid-life change” and found solace in the renovation of 1103 Washington St.

&#8220We looked at this building and about four others. The others were tempting because they were a bit bigger and had more developed commercial areas around them,” Troy Weeks said. &#8220While this one had a lot of work to be done upstairs, the first floor had recently been renovated and needed minimal work.”

So they settled on the building at 1103, next to The Attic Gallery. The building was built in the 1870s and has housed numerous businesses including clothing, antique jewelry and toy stores. In the 1980s it was part of Miller’s Still bar and most recently housed a massage therapy and pilates’ studio.

Although there was a lot of work to be done, the Weeks were no strangers to the renovation process.

In Virginia, the couple lived in a 1920s cottage overlooking a freshwater lake just blocks away from Chesapeake Bay.

&#8220Laura found the house. It was near destruction, but I bought it sight unseen,” Troy Weeks said.

As a career, Troy Weeks is a facilities engineering consultant who helps put together long-term plans for modernizing and updating existing spaces. Renovations are what he does every day, but not to his own home.

&#8220The house was built as a vacation home, and you knew right away it was meant for relaxing,” he said.

After some cleaning and minor fixing-up, the couple decided they’d stay in the house and took the big step toward major renovation.

&#8220We took the house down to the studs, but we were really careful not to change the character or original structure or footprints of the house,” Laura Weeks said.

The renovation took two years, but it was worth it, she said.

&#8220It was fun because we could do it together. It was all us,” Weeks said.

The Weeks’ home is featured in an upcoming episode of &#8220Generation Renovation” on Home & Garden Television.

&#8220We thought it was a long shot, but they chose us as one of the five they featured. We were thrilled,” she said.

Weeks said she was proud to save an old house, regardless of being featured on a hit design show.

&#8220It’s different in Virginia Beach. They were just tearing buildings down. There weren’t any as historic as the ones here in Vicksburg. The most vintage you could get was from the ’20s, but there was no respect for that,” she said. &#8220It was almost like witnessing the extinction of a species.”

The recent nationwide trend of the reurbanization of downtown areas has taken root in Vicksburg within the past couple of years, and that’s exactly what brought the couple here.

&#8220Vicksburg has done a lot of historic preservation downtown. There’s already a lot to work with. We want to show everyone that it can be done, and it can be done by ordinary people,” Troy Weeks said.

They started with the exterior of the 3,200-square-foot building after getting approval from the Board of Architectural Review.

&#8220We reconstructed windows as close to the originals as possible and did some rearranging of doors and windows in the back,” he said.

Laura Weeks said making the styles fit the appropriate timeline and where the original structures were in the building was like putting together a puzzle.

&#8220It was like solving a mystery,” she said.

Then came masonry work and tearing out plaster to expose the original brick.

&#8220Upstairs we had to stabilize the roof before we could do much of anything,” Troy Weeks said.

Now the second floor, which they call the loft, is 60 percent complete with the rooms framed. Weeks said the loft should be move-in ready by February.

&#8220The floors will be the next big step. We’re using reclaimed wood from parts of the floor and salvaged wood from the same era,” he said.

When complete, the upstairs will be the couple’s spacious one-bedroom loft living area and the downstairs will house Laura Weeks’ newest endeavor, Lorelei Books, which she hopes will be ready by late spring.

&#8220I’ve always wanted to open my own bookstore, and I think that’s something downtown Vicksburg could use,” she said.

The couple is living in the downstairs area while finishing upstairs refurbishments.

&#8220We’re camping out right now, but fortunately there’s not a lot to do down here,” Troy Weeks said.

He said they would love for the building to be used as a model for anyone wanting to refurbish a downtown building.

Laura Weeks said she hopes downtown will once again return as the hub of the community.

&#8220I think we’re getting a good syntergy with the blend of old Vicksburgers who know the community and new people who want to move in to make things happen,” she said.

Troy Weeks said the best part of renovating an old building is working with what’s already there.

&#8220It’s been a challenge. The highs are really high, and the lows are really low. But it’s so rewarding. I just want to remind people to not forget about downtown. There’s a lot going on down here,” he said.