Islanders dig deep to restore an old Lost Bayou house
If the walls of this 1890 Galveston cottage could talk, they might say thank you to homeowners Barbara Canetti and Carlos Rios.
A classic vintage raised cottage in the Lost Bayou neighborhood, next door to popular eatery Sonny’s Place, the Airbnb rental called “Speakeasy” features lovingly restored interior walls and ceilings made of irregular strips of shiplap wood, often called barn wood — repurposed boards from other constructions patch-worked together to form a solid surface.
Outside, the cottage is painted soft shades of peach and blue. Inside, its walls are multicolored earth and sky tones, reflecting the various sources from which the boards came.
Originally built before the 1885 fire that destroyed many blocks of residential properties in Galveston’s East End, Speakeasy was rebuilt in 1890 as a tenant house, a rental for port workers. At that time, a field somewhere on the island served as a dumping ground for knocked-down houses and a place for homebuilders to salvage wood for rebuilding, Canetti said.
“If you look, you’ll see that the boards are not uniform,” she said, running a hand over a stretch of living room wall. “Here’s a piece of beadboard, and these are wider than these.”
Put together, the walls resemble rough-hewn barn walls, but they have been lovingly refinished to a smooth, touchable surface.
“We sanded them lightly but wanted to maintain the colors where we could,” Canetti said. “Then, we painted over them with a polycrylic, two coats of glossy to bring out the wood grain and a matte coat on top.”
Clear caulking sealed the walls and ceiling from dust and air, making an air-tight interior that feels something like a tree house — open, bright and airy.
Beyond those signature walls, practically everything else inside Speakeasy is made from recycled or repurposed wood and designed to honor the house’s age and original time period, Canetti said.
Take, for example, the towel racks on the wall in both modern bathrooms, made by Rios from old stairway spindles, or the built-in storage seat in the back bedroom, made from an antique bed headboard.
In the bright, modern kitchen, the central island, painted white, is built around a repurposed chest of drawers. And in the enclosed patio garden, raised flower beds about thigh-high were constructed of 8-inch-by-8-inch wood pilings more than 100 years old found in the bottom storage area of the house, Canetti said.
Canetti and Rios, who live right around the corner on the other side of Sonny’s, kept and restored everything original to the house that contributed to the integrity of the structure, like interior doors with glass transoms atop for air circulation, a common feature pre-air-conditioning.
Rios pointed out the large glass-transomed passageway between the living room and kitchen.
“Someone had put an arch here and when we got down to the frame, we found that it was square,” he said. He took two original door frames from the downstairs storage and put them together to make a wide passage, maintaining the architectural detail of the wood frames while allowing an open feel to both the kitchen and living room.
Light streams in everywhere from tall windows, all meticulously framed and restored.
Furnishings are tasteful and relatively spare, many of them gifts from friends.
“Practically everything in the house is recycled from friends, from estate sales or from the downstairs storage,” Canetti said.
A huge chandelier in the living room, sculpted out of metal in a palm motif, came from a friend’s house in the neighborhood.
But it’s the walls that really give Speakeasy its unique voice. For many years, they were covered with plaster, and beneath that, a canvas of cheesecloth. When Canetti and Rios bought the house, just more than a year ago, and began digging back to the original walls, they hired one worker to pull out thousands of small nails used to tack up the cheesecloth. And though most of it was rotted away, pieces of it had to be burned off by hand, with a small Bic lighter, Canetti said.
The house had been abandoned for years after its last owner died and the couple bought it because of its proximity to their own home, to keep it from further decay, Rios said.
“Somebody just needed to breathe a little love into it,” he said.
Work on the house was only recently completed and visitors so far have commented on its great location, 1212 19th St., with the beach, downtown and multiple restaurants all within comfortable walking distance.
Oh, and that name? The front door, original to the house, has a small, grilled peek-through panel at eye level that opens from the inside to identify visitors. Nothing illegal or untoward here, however, just a lovingly restored cottage awaiting its next visitor.
Full disclosure: Barbara Canetti is a contributing writer for Coast Monthly.