Showcase home rises from ruins

By Susan Gamble, Brantford Expositor

Talk about everything old being new again – Dan and Carol Lyn Brown have torn down an old house and created a startling new home in the form of a historic, but ruined, old building on Tollgate Road.
The couple, who have renovated and flipped 31 houses together, were intrigued by the 40-year abandoned house at 162 Tollgate. They outbid others, including builders who could have used the deep lot to put up several semi-detached homes, and began a renovation process on the house, which dates back to about 1885.
“We bought the house sight unseen and it wasn’t until we started taking the flooring off that you could see the crawl space,” says Dan.
Once some of the brick was carefully removed early in 2016, it revealed the home’s worst secret: experts came in and confirmed the foundation had been destroyed.
The Browns had already sold their own home with plans to move into the renovated Tollgate house. They had also invested considerable time and money in having the drawings done for the planned renovation and addition to the building.
“We didn’t want to waste all the money but we could have easily chosen to go with a more modern house,” says Carol Lyn.
However, there was a great deal of history in the little building, huge public interest and just the right amount of challenge in recreating the house – just as it looked from the street – but brand new.
So, from the brick on the front, which came from England, to the reclaimed brick on the back – designed to look as though it was added in another era – the house reflects the historical building yet is fully modern and surprisingly large.
The couple spent $165,000 to buy the property and added at least $250,000 in materials, doing the bulk of the building, except for the foundation and framing, themselves.
With an addition, the new house is about 2,500 square feet with three roomy bedrooms, a bath and a laundry cubby on the second level and a new three-car garage in the back. The front and back yards – once left to grow completely wild – have been neatly manicured and gardened.
And it’s turned out to be a business boon for both Browns.
Through the process, the Browns have become experts at sourcing materials that are either antique or that perfectly reflect the time period they were recreating.
“One of the biggest compliments is when we tell delivery people to look for the new house on Tollgate Road and they can’t find it,” says Dan. “That’s a compliment to what we’re trying to do.”
He’s developed a reputation in the area for “building old” and the couple’s intensive research for the project has educated them on sources for all sorts of materials that can be tapped into for historical renovations. Carol Lyn has begun taking on jobs as a “home beautifier” as people start to see the finished, decorated project.
While the Browns always planned to live in the house for a while and then sell it, once they found themselves rebuilding from scratch, they were shocked by the interest from people near and wide.
The Facebook page for Dan Brown House Reconstruction has more than 1,600 followers with people wanting information on everything from suppliers to the colour on the front door – Nifty Turquoise.
“Now people are asking us to do work for them so this is kind of our showroom,” says Dan.
He’s always looking for new renovation projects to buy or be hired for and he figures, one day, he would like to build old again but it will require just the right house in the right spot.
Meanwhile, people are hugely curious about the old/new house and the Browns want to invite the city for a visit.
The couple currently is in discussions about a late spring or early summer tour that would be managed by and benefit the Grand River Grannies, which supports the Stephen Lewis Foundation’s work helping African grandmothers care for children orphaned by AIDS.
“We are passionate about the work we do,” says Carol Lyn. “This whole process – the history, the physical labour and the relationships we’ve built – have made the whole thing so rewarding.”
“People looked at this old decrepit thing for 40 years,” adds her husband. “We wanted to give them something beautiful to see.”