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Monday, March 18,2013

A step back in time

Renovated house opens window into the past

by Nyssa Rabinowitz
Bow windows are one of the unique features in the duplex at 127 and 129 Leslie St.
Monday, Aug. 22 — Sometimes a renovation does more than fix a home, it opens the doors to history.

After over 18 months of hard work Dave Muylle of Muylle Community Builders unveiled his latest home renovation to the public last Friday.

The home, 127 and 129 Leslie St., is the last of three duplexes built in a row in 1915, when Lansing was rapidly expanding east. The other duplexes were torn down before they could be renovated, but not this one.

“When you look at something like this you can’t really replace this or replicate it,” Muylle said at the open house. “There’s something about this house standing here for 100 years and just absorbing the life that’s gone on inside and outside. It’s not just the materials and the trims and stuff, it’s really something hard to describe.”

Rather than tearing down the home and building anew, Muylle painstakingly restored everything inside from the beautiful bow windows in the second-story bedroom to the door handles and hinges on every original door. The rooms are painted the original colors and every bit of wood and architectural detail has been preserved.

Muylle said the home was in “pretty tough shape” when he started working on it. The roof was leaking and areas such as the kitchens in both sides needed to be gutted and started anew.

While Muylle kept most of the homes original features, he also added some more modern touches such as a half bathroom off the kitchen on the first level of the homes, new appliances that would never have been found in the original design and shelving units to increase storage space.

“You’ll find little places where he’s managed to build in some storage space,” said Joan Nelson, director of the Allen Neighborhood Center. “He manages to restore these old houses to their original pristine beauty with all this original wood…but he also gets it that people today like things like closets that in 1915 they didn’t do.”

Nelson said Muylle’s homes are often displayed like this after a renovation to try and encourage others to do similar projects in their own homes.

In addition to the updated kitchen and added bath, the duplex also features benches in the mudrooms which were crafted from the fireplace mantels of the duplexes that were torn down and long gold chains that hang from the rafters of the home to serve as water spouts for the water to run down during a storm.

This is one of many projects that Muylle has completed in the neighborhood. He also completely restored the neighboring house at 139 Leslie to its original glory from a completely gutted interior and is currently working on restoring the next house down at 141 Leslie.

“We can connect with history with reading autobiographies, we can read quotes from old dead guys and women, and all those things, but to have an intimate relationship with history is to walk into an old house like this,” Muylle said. “This is exactly the same physical space that people lived in in 1915 and they went through the Depression and World War I and World War II and all those things and the house still stands. There’s a lesson in that.”

Muylle said his favorite feature of the duplex were the windows, which he compared to the eyes of a human face that reveal the house’s soul.

But Muylle’s part in the house’s history is now over, he said. Both sides of the duplex will now be leased out to people who will appreciate the history and value of the home and who will take care of the property. One side of the duplex, 129 Leslie, already has tenants.

The open house is Muylle’s passing of the torch to the next chapter in the house’s existence.

“At the end of it you have to turn it over,” he said. “It’s not yours anymore. It belongs to whoever’s going to live here and I feel like it belongs to the public, to the community in a sense. So after today, I’m done with it. It’s been my mistress for a year and a half. Almost two years we’ve had a romance, and now it’s time to move on.”

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