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Mason Hearn's restoration project on cover of Richmond Magazine
from Richmond Magazine, April 1997
Inside 2023
by Jessica Ronky Haddad
Photography by Beth Horsley

Excerpt from article—

You probably know the house. It’s the big, formerly decrepit white Tudor Revival on Monument Avenue that any fixer-upper worth his hammer has dreamed about renovating. Some used to call it the white elephant of America’s most beautiful avenue.

Today, most would simply call Tom and Mary Horton’s new residence amazing.

The story of saving 2023 Monument Ave. involves a committed crew, from contractors, subcontractors, building suppliers and decorators to concerned neighbors, real estate agents and neighborhood foundations. The list is so long that all the names have been immortalized on the back of a commemorative T-shirt created by contractors McGuire Hearn.

Years of neglect and abuse by its many tenants led to the deterioration of the once-grand home. Its large rooms were divided with haphazard partitions. Broken windows and roof leaks caused water damage. A fire in the carriage house left it, and the car inside, in ruins. The property eventually became uninhabitable. The house lay in shambles, a mysterious eyesore on Richmond’s most stately street.

Yet, bad as it was, the house still held promise. Its grand front gable and rows of diamond-paned windows gave it a distinctive personality. Decorative quatrefoils punched through the wood porch rail and other arts-and-crafts details stood as testament to the care and craftsmanship that went into the building of the house.

Second Leg

In January 1995, the couple looked at 2023 Monument Ave. just for fun. “I walked in and the light was just pouring in and the staircase was just as it is today, but the house was just trashed,” Mrs. Horton recalls. As bad as it was then, it had been worse. The Historic Monument Avenue Foundation had already put about $10,000 and countless volunteer hours into the house just to make it look presentable.

But the Hortons could not stop thinking about the house. “One night Tom said to me, ‘I think we should buy it,’” Mrs. Horton says. “All I could say was, ‘Are you crazy?’”

Apparently so, but not crazy enough to do it without first conducting an extensive investigation.

“We interviewed a handful of architects and contractors before we even said we would buy it.” Horton says.

The couple met with the contractors to get their opinions on the house. Things finally began to click when they met with McGuire Hearn, a local design/build firm. “Hunter McGuire and Mason Heard did more research and estimates up front and more investigative work than any of the other people,” Horton says. “I’m not sure the others even thought we were serious.”

The 4-year-old firm of McGuire Hearn was very serious about wanting to renovate 2023 Monument Ave. “The house presented a real challenge to Hunter and I personally,” says Hear of the firm’s desire to win the contract. “It was a daunting task, but the Hortons seemed committed to doing a good job. We all saw something that could be, pardon the pun, a monumental structure.”

Hearn particularly remembers the reaction of one skeptical guest. “Somebody said, ‘Either you guys must be really good or really stupid,’” he says, laughing. “I think it panned out that we’re really good.”

Down To Studs

Demolition began in August 1995 and took nearly five months. Because the house was in such bad shape, all plumbing, mechanical and electrical systems had to be replaced, which required taking the house down to the studs. “We went in with the attitude that we were going to gut it completely,” Hearn says. This ensured that any hidden structural problems could also be detected and repaired.

Throughout the renovation, the Hortons met at 7 a.m. every Monday with the architect, contractors and decorators over bagels and coffee. “We spent a lot of time walking them through every detail of the house,” Hearn says. “It’s easier to do that in the design stages than after something is already built. The Hortons were very meticulous about the way they wanted things done.”

The meetings were also helpful to McGuire Hearn, which had never tackled such a large project. As a design/build firm, the company usually handles the entire building process from conception to final construction. Because the project entailed so much work, a “bridging” collaboration was established with Scribner Messer Brady and Wade Architects. Scribner architect Hugo completed the architectural design work. From Hugo’s ideas, Hearn then generated the actual working plans. McGuire served as building supervisor on the job.

The Hortons wanted to restore the house to its original art-and-crafts style while making it comfortable for a busy modern family. “The Hortons realized that this was a very important structure,” Hearn says. “They knew it would have been terrible not to preserve the architectural essence of the house. But it was not strictly a preservation project. It’s more of an interpretive restoration. We tried to preserve and restore as much as we could, being mindful that the owners had to live in it in the ’90s.”

Important elements such as the unique stepped main stair railing, Moravian tile fireplaces and millwork indicative of the original arts-and-crafts style were preserved to the fullest extent. Where features were damaged beyond repair, they replicated and replaced. Architectural elements such as the elegant proscenium arch that forms an inglenook for the living room fireplace were repeated in other areas of the house. “It was amazing how many people from the neighborhood had to stick their heads in to see what was going on,” McGuire remembers. “They all told us how happy they were that somebody was finally doing something to the house.”

Once construction was under way, the Hortons visited the site nearly every day, keeping up with every last detail. “With a renovation like this it takes a fair amount of patience and a huge time commitment on the part of the owner,” Hearn says. “It’s a huge commitment to make it uniquely yours. Every detail was decided by the Hortons.”

The renovation was first class all the way. All mechanical systems in the house are state-of-the-art from the whole house intercom and sound systems to hot water that comes out hot without a wait. Radiant heat warms the marble floor in the master bath. A “magic” glass window allows for privacy without the use of conventional window shades that would have detracted from the home’s diamond-paned windows. A flick of a switch activates liquid crystals that form a film over the window. Hearn says the window represents the first application of the technology in a private home.

“It’s a great success story,” says Mrs. Summers, who restored her own Monument Avenue home in 1986 after it was gutted by fire. “The Hortons deserve a tremendous amount of credit to take on such a project. You have to have vision and you have to have passion — thank goodness the Hortons did for 2023.”

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