Sweeny spotted her future home about a year before she purchased it. It was also featured on the beloved Instagram account Cheap Old Houses in May 2020.
Buying and renovating a historic home can be, well, an epic challenge. But for Betsy Sweeny, that’s part of the fun. “I’ve loved historic architecture since I was a little girl,” she confesses. And so, it should come as no surprise that the architectural historian turned Instagram celeb (and soon to be TV star) was in the market for something old and charming—and ended up purchasing a deliciously darling 1892 home in May 2020.
The home, with its Italianate brick design and asymmetrical façade, immediately caught her eye on a walk through the neighborhood in East Wheeling, West Virginia. “I love things that are intentionally off-balance, and so, this house had my attention right away.” Small issue: The nearly 130-year-old house had been vacant for 30 years, and it showed. At the same time, though, it was the right fit for Sweeny. “I knew I wanted a project, and this one definitely was,” she explains.
A native of Pittsburgh, Sweeny has a background in art history, anthropology, and historic preservation. Her love of history is “the lens through which I view everything,” she comments.
“I believe anything can be fixed with enough knowledge and willpower, but the condition was pretty bad,” Sweeny admits. There was water damage due to a lack of gutters, missing windows, roof issues… the list goes on.
If you’re working on renovating or restoring a historic home (while updating and modernizing it for today)—or even just thinking about embarking on your own renovation project—Sweeny has lots of recommendations on how to go about it.
Start slow, and start with the big picture
For Sweeny, it made the most sense to approach the panoply of issues her home faced from the top down. Because of leaks and issues with the roof that affected interior spaces, she made fixing the roof a priority and then approached the rest of the home systematically, discovering and resolving problems one by one.