Saving the 1895 Dairy Farmhouse Fireplace

Fireplace before

When you’re rehabbing houses, you have to be ready to change plans at a moment’s notice for something amazing. Like waking up on a December morning and seeing a photo like this posted with an emergency call to save this beautiful piece of history. A friend of mine posted that the house containing this fireplace was going to be torn down on Monday, so we had a day to save it.

The house was part of the Newens Sanitary Dairy business and when efforts to move the house failed, it was slated for demolition. As much as I hate to see a 100+ year old building torn down, I was happy to be the first volunteer to rescue the fireplace, especially since it was around the corner from our project at 1161 22nd Street. 


It was a messy job, but we got the tile, firebox, and mantle out in their respective pieces. I can’t wait to see it in its new home around the corner! I am left with one question for my fellow rehabbers:

1895 Fireplace Tile

The tile came out in chunks, like this. Some came out still attached to the slate behind it. I’d like to reuse the tile, but how do I get the adhesive off the back without damaging the tile? Here’s what the adhesive looks like:


Stay tuned for the install of the mantle at 1161 22nd Street (and the tile likely going to the Hatton House). Any ideas on unsticking the tile, please tell me in the comments!

Urban Blight….A Photo Essay

When we first moved into River Bend, I owned a baby shop downtown called Simply for Giggles. We had only lived here a couple weeks when I realized I had to close my store because I wanted to spend more time with my family, and in my neighborhood. I feel so comfortable and happy in this place, it made me sad to go to work every day. I also realized that this neighborhood needed my skill set. I love to take risks, I have a degree in Interior Design, and I’ve done construction. There were so many houses in my neighborhood….heck…on my block, that needed a champion. Hat Trick Renovation is the continuation of that idea.

My work gives me a heightened awareness of the urban blight problem Des Moines means to address with the 1% sales tax vote on Measure A this Tuesday, March 6th. City Councilman Josh Mandelbaum wrote a great breakdown of how I feel about the measure here. One of the biggest reasons I’m voting yes is I hate getting to the store and realizing I’ve left my 30-40% off coupon at home. I want roughly 1/3 of this money to come from outside the county.

But that’s getting ahead of myself. I’ve seen many people pose the question that we don’t need this money in the first place. We just need to belt tighten. This view is so out of sync with my daily worldview, I had to take people on a visual tour of what I see every day to show why I feel voting yes is the least regressive option. Des Moines’ urban core needs our help, and this sales tax is the lowest impact way to help those neighborhoods. I decided to:

  • one hour
  • a half mile from my house (I initially thought 1 mile, but I had more than enough in the first half mile).
  • photograph any house that was blighted (boarded up) or that I knew had been blighted since I moved here 7 years ago.

This is not an exhaustive essay. I’ve already realized several I forgot to photograph. I did not systematically drive every block. I wandered. I photographed houses I drive by every day and fantasize about fixing up. I photographed houses that I worry kids will get hurt in. I photographed a house that burned one night and I got a call at 3 AM that my house was threatened. Here is that house:


Twice restored, this gorgeous house was called “the Burn Victim” when we moved in. There had been a fire, and it was abandoned. There were several attempts to get the selling price low enough to save it. It was almost completely restored, when a fire started in some staining rags left in a bucket. Abandoned houses are a huge fire risk because people will break in and start fires that get out of control. I never want to get one of those 3 AM calls again, so fighting urban blight is important to me.


Before and After. The Twice Fire Survivor next to our latest project, The Sister House. Here’s a better photo:


Oh, the hours I’ve spent thinking about this house on my block. One city employee told me they were sure if would cave in before the tens of thousands of bad debt were cleared from it. There isn’t enough money in the city budget to free these Victorian queens from the tax, water, and other bad debt. Restoring historic homes is a huge financial risk. You don’t know the final bill until you start tearing into walls and assessing damage from years of neglect. If you have to start by clearing $50,000 in debt, it just isn’t feasible, even with Historic Tax Credits.  But this house was one of the lucky few that can get saved in the current budget, and hopefully in a few years, it will look more like the golden yellow house next door with another family living on our street.


Not every house is so lucky. I’ve looked at this one many times, and considered fixing it, but now I fear it is too far gone. That yellow caution tape marks a caved in basement.


And here is the other side….also falling off its foundation. I consider myself the patron saint of lost causes, but this is likely too far for even me. If Des Moines had better funding for dealing with blight, we could have saved this.



This one burned. That orange fence isn’t keeping anyone out. It’s dangerous and unhealthy.


It’s boarded up, but this could be a really cute, affordable house for someone.


So many boarded up houses.


We talk about the lack of affordable housing….when it’s sitting right here in front of us, boarded up and needing funding.


This is another one I fear is too far gone. When houses sit waiting for funding, there can be roof damage, or urban mining that strips the house of plumbing and electrical, and architectural detail. All those things add dollars. It saves money to get houses out of blight situations faster.


This house has someone chipping away at projects. Hopefully, it’s one the mend.


This is where I started to get depressed. This is ALL within a half mile of my house. These are just the boarded up houses. Not the sketchy rentals that need more housing inspectors than the current budget allows. There is so much potential here if we make the investment.


I had to cheer myself up. This is one of the wins. A house that got processed through tax sale, got a new foundation, and is now fully restored, waiting for a new family to move in.


Across from my carpool drop. Every school day, I think about this house.


I dream about making this into a community center where we could have a workshop to help neighbors fix up their houses. So many dreams, so little funding.



When I moved here, the neighborhood owned this house and got it turned over to a rehabber who has been working on it ever since. It’s slow, but there’s progress, but it only moves forward with a kickstart from the city or county.


It’s so cute!! Or it could be.






Houses. This one went to a tax sale and we have started renovating it this winter.


Why are the big ones so alluring to me?


This one has the most gorgeous roofline detail. I won’t be able to stand it if this one decays before the city can save it. I can’t think about it. Let’s do two big wins:


The city turned this to the neighborhood when we first moved in. Doing volunteer tear out of this one is the beginning of how we become house rehabbers. Now it has a family with kids living there. It makes me so happy.


How is a vacant lot a win? Before Tuesday, this was a house that was in the worst shape. Here’s a photo I took to torture my husband:


What you can’t see in this photo is the entire side roof caved in. I did fantasize about stealing that wood trim off this one, but look again at the open lot. I didn’t know this had been torn down when I went looking for it this morning. That lot felt like a breath of fresh air. I literally felt relieved. No more worrying about kids getting in trouble, or fires, or further cave in. Just a quiet, open lot. That’s a power of funding dealing with blight. Instead of sketchy boarded up, caving in houses, you get lots ready to build upon or houses in an affordable neighborhood ready to be fixed up.

There’s more (so many more, even just within the half mile circle) but you get the idea, right? There are so many more houses in blight than funding to deal with them. We need Measure A to pass. Vote YES on the sales tax to fight blight and all the other improvements we so desperately need.


Save the Iowa State Historic Tax Credit!

Just one neighborhood dramatically impacted by State Historic Tax Credits. This is on 7th Street in the River Bend Neighborhood of Des Moines, and six years ago, 60% of the houses here were abandoned. From left to right, there is an owner occupied current SHTC ongoing renovation, an eligible structure, a new restoration project that Hat Trick Renovation started in 2017 made possible by SHTC, and a completed project by Barnum Construction that would not have been possible without SHTC. These SHTC projects create jobs, increase home values, and turn abandoned buildings into tax generating, gorgeous homes.


The Iowa Senate Ways and Means Committee is meeting today, February 22, on a tax bill that will reduce and then eliminate the Iowa State Historic Tax Credit (SHTC). This would be a huge loss for neighborhoods and main streets in Iowa. Many of our projects at Hat Trick Renovation are only viable because of SHTC. They are a vital part of our work in saving historic buildings in Des Moines, but these tax credits are also good for the financial health of our state.

  • Job creation: 6000 construction jobs and 4600 permanent full time positions created by SHTC investments
  • 284% increase in assessed value of impacted buildings
  • Anticipated to yield a 5.04:1 return on investment by year 3, ramping upward to 19.7:1 in year 10, and to 32.1:1 by year 15, based on direct economic outputs alone.

In other words, SHTC are a budget positive impact on the Iowa Budget. This is a program we should be expanding in our tight state economy, not cutting and eliminating. Please contact your State Senator and the Senators on the Ways and Means Committee (linked). They need to hear from you immediately to save this vital program.

Below you will find files that will help you learn more about the SHTC program.

IA HTC_2page_v7

IA HTC_Full Report_direct pages

Siding Progress

One of our first projects was replacing the roof. Guardian Roofing did our replacement and set us up with new soffits as well. It’s a jarring juxtaposition with the burned out siding, so of course, we had to start ripping that off. It’s the construction equivalent of the children’s story “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.”Soffits

Step 1 was ripping the old siding off:

Before siding2

An update for those of you following the Dumpster Count, this started 30 yard dumpster #10. Already, the house is looking better with part of the burn damage removed. It’s important to us to reuse materials when possible, so we saved the siding from removing the front porch and we’ve started the installation on the south side.

Siding progress

I really want to get this primed, because I think it will look amazing. It’s refreshing to see this building come back to life, and we love the support and encouragement we’ve gotten from the neighbors.

Delightful Discoveries

Most days in renovation of old houses are dirty, dusty, and drudgery. Every once in a while, we get a bright spark of something fun. At the 22nd Street house, we discovered a roof inside the walls, evidence of a sleeping porch that had been converted to interior space. My favorite architectural discovery was the historic porch ceiling on the front porch. This house was so big, we felt the highest use of the front rooms was to convert them to porch, which we suspected was there in the beginning. Imagine my delight when we started to pull down the ceiling and….


PORCH BEADBOARD!!! Vindication is mine! I spent the whole day muttering “I knew that used to be a porch!”


It’s gorgeous. Really. I’m going to do my best to preserve it.

1161 Numbers

A close second was the old (original?) house numbers found attached to some boards underneath the siding. We think it was part of the remodel that enclosed the porch. Luckily, they were too lazy to take the numbers off the boards they were reusing.

And then there are the strange and weird findings in renovation. One of our day labor guys found a couple bottles in one of the ceilings we were tearing out.

We tried to track down some information on Hazelwood Whiskey, but we didn’t get very far. We encourage all history buffs to share information on these bottles with us. Hope you enjoyed this peek into the archaeological adventures of 1161 22nd Street!

House 1: The 22nd Street House

Year 1 side by side

The Drake House came to us at the end of several rounds of hot potato. The house had been cut into 8 or 9 apartments and had suffered a fire in the back corner. It had been passed through a few different owners before it found us finally willing to dive into the restoration. This house has been our project since July 2016. This photo shows some of the exterior progress we’ve made in the past year.


Meet Hat Trick Renovation

Meet Hat Trick Renovation…a family of old house lovers living in Des Moines, Iowa. It all started when an Iowa boy asked a Jersey girl to dance at a fraternity party in 1991. They fell in love and settled in Iowa. It wasn’t long before his construction and engineering education and experience met her degree in Interior Design and started to create projects. Their first home was a 1988 built home to which they added a 2.5 car garage and master bedroom suite. That went well, but the inner city beckoned and in 2011, they moved to the River Bend Neighborhood of Des Moines into a 4000 sf Victorian on the National Registry. The Hatton House projects are chronicled in this blog.

The longer they lived in the Hatton House, the more thankful they became to the people who had worked to save the house from demolition. After assisting in a few neighborhood projects, they decided to pay it forward and Hat Trick Renovation was born!

As for the Hat Trick name, it’s a nod to the family obsession with soccer and the trio of apprentices….or kids…in the family business. The third kid was a long awaited, nearly impossible to score “hat trick” baby. In this family, Hat Tricks are long-sought-after, beloved, things of beauty that bring great joy, just like we hope our restoration projects are for their future owners.