Making a rundown house livable in just 6 months (© Tria Giovan)

© Tria Giovan

Revived, turreted Queen Anne

My fiancée, Merle, and I wanted an old house and found ourselves drawn to Newburgh, N.Y., where the streets are lined with Victorian mansions. An 1887 Queen Anne, encased in asphalt shingles but with its grand octagonal tower intact, stood out from the crowd. We joked that with five bedrooms, two baths, four fireplaces and about 2,200 square feet, it was big enough to ride our bikes around in. At $46,000, it seemed like an unbelievable deal.

We knew it needed work. At some point, the house had been converted to a two-family home, with bleak little kitchens upstairs and down. None of the fireplaces functioned, the plumbing and wiring were kaput, and holes in the roof invited in rain, destroying much of the third floor — where Merle, a filmmaker, envisioned her office. Shortly after closing, the former owner's daughter dropped by for a farewell look. Walking around the kitchen, she suddenly felt her foot go right through the floor.

Did I mention that the house had been condemned? The kitchen floor was soggy because a blocked waste pipe had leaked, sending sewage down inside a wall. Moldy carpet, peeling paint and dangling ceiling tiles greeted us at every turn, and the water-damaged third floor was an unheated no-man's zone.

Shown: Colorful vinyl siding, new roof shingles and a porch re-created with salvaged period trim brought the Queen Anne back to life.