The Ice House

The Journey of the Ice House: 

The Ice House, named by the good folks at Fort Worth Magazine, was a 5 year journey for Melissa and I. I have worked on 25 houses in my short career as a home renovator, but the Ice House was my biggest challenge. It was my "Moby Dick" so to speak. It has and always will be my dream home, but it took me 3 years to figure out a way to buy it and then when I finally did it was a BEAST of a project. 

The house is 4,240 sq ft with 6 bed rooms, 3 bath rooms, & a huge unfinished basement. Yep, that's right it has a basement! I didn't even know they had basements in Texas. It was built in September of 1920 for $22,000 by Joe Schwartz and it is located in the historic district of Fort Worth. The neighborhood is up the road from BREWED and is Fort Worth's own mini version of Austin.  I am not gonna lie, our neighborhood is fun and unique. We have hipsters, a community garden, people have chickens in their backyard, everyone rides bikes, and folks are way into recycling and protecting feral cats. It is the "funky" side of Fort Worth.


I did some research and was able to track down the original deed card. Pretty cool right??

To make a long story short the house sat empty and abandoned for almost 6 years. The previous owners ran into some financial troubles and had 4 different liens against the house that added up to WAY more than the house was worth. As a result, they were unable to sell it. At the same time due to the type of liens that were on it and because of how many there were, the banks were unable to foreclose on the property. So the owners just abandoned the house and left it to rot. It had leaks in the roof, so every time it rained it would cause damage to the sheetrock and floors. To make it worse, all of the windows were busted out, so homeless people and raccoons used it as a temporary home. It sat in "house purgatory" for 6 years. Progressively it got worse and worse and it fell victim to vandalism and the elements. 

Melissa and I lived right down the street and would often take walks down to this house. One time we snuck in through the broken back door and walked around it, dreaming about what it would be like to one day live in it and bring it back to life. The house was across the street from Jimmy & Waverlee (our best friends), it went to a great school, was close to BREWED, and had a big office downstair that Melissa could use for the Net. This was our dream home!

It wasn't on the market and no one lived in it, so in 2012 I did some digging and I was able to get a hold of the previous owner who verbally agreed to sign over the notes to the house (a short sale). We got really excited thinking we would get to buy our dream home, but things got complicated and the owner eventually disappeared and stopped answering my phone calls and emails. Two years went by and Mel and I would still go on walks by the house, dream & pray about the house and I would try to call the owner once every few months. I also started calling the bank that held the main loan against the house, to see if and when they would eventually foreclose on it or could sell it to me. But each time it was always a dead end.

In 2013, I got wind that the house might finally be going up for auction. When a house is foreclosed in Tarrant County they will auction it off in front of the Court House steps in downtown Fort Worth on the first Tuesday of the month.  It was scheduled for auction 7 times. Each time I went hoping it would be sold, but because of the crazy liens it was pulled from auction every time and I would have to wait 3-4 months for the next time it was "scheduled" for auction. We prayed about the house a ton and would often ride by it. We would get super excited thinking we would have a chance to buy it, because every few months it would be scheduled for auction again. I would always go down there, and each time it was pulled from auction last minute. It was an emotional roller coaster. 

Fast forward to June 2014, while on vacation in Mexico with our friends Jimmy & Waverlee (our friends who live across the street from the Ice House), I decided to list our current house (that I just finished remodeling) on Zillow to see if anyone would bite (not thinking it would really sell). Well, while in Mexico without anyone even seeing it beyond the pictures online, we got 2 offers for what I was asking. Melissa was not happy with me that I listed our house and did not want to move. But when we landed back in the states I got a notification on my phone that the 6th ave house was once again scheduled for Auction. I thought maybe it was a sign! We went down to the auction the next week and this time the house was actually on the schedule. Not a single person bid on the house (because it was in such rough shape), so I bid "$1 more" than their asking price .....and Won! I couldn't believe it, we just purchased OUR house......and it was a mess!

For almost 3 years I had been trying to buy the house and we finally got it. Now that it was ours, it meant I also had to remodel a 4200 sq ft house that had been rotting for 6 years. This thing was a mess! It was filled with trash, had all sort of damage, the front porch was rotted and collapsing, it needed foundation work, it was infested with fleas, and needed a complete makeover! I immediately got busy and it took me and my guys 5 months of insanely hard work to get it in livable shape. But it was worth every bit of blood sweat and tears! 

I rebuilt the entire balcony, salvaged the 100 year old pine floors, re-floated every wall in the entire house with a smooth hand sanded finish, dug 12 feet under the foundation to add new piers, new cabinets, new tile, new marble counters, made an island countertop out of 1950's boxcar flooring, updated the HVAC, replaced a ton of plumbing (it flooded my basement every day for a week when we finally turned on the water), all new fixtures (except for the original chandelier in the dining room), new landscaping and grass, and lots and lots of paint, caulk, and sanding! We have officially been in the house for almost 2 years now and we have loved every minute. I still have a To Do list a mile long of things I want to eventually do with the house (I am already planning my next kitchen renovation & basement conversion), but it's our dream home and we plan on staying here for years to come. 



Before & After Shots

The Birchman House - Our 1st Home & Remodel!

The Birchman House - Our 1st Home & Remodel!

The Birchman house was the house that started it all! This house gave us a lot of of firsts. It was not only our first home (we moved into right after we got married), but it was the first house we ever bought (we rented it for 2 years before buying it from our landlord), AND it was our first ever remodel. This was the house that started my love affair with remodeling old homes! 

When we first got married we rented this cute 1940's 1350 sq/ft house from a nice 70 year old German lady named Helga. We were young, in love, and excited to be in our first house together. 2 years into marriage we began praying about what it would look like to buy our own home instead of renting. We started looking around, but could not find the right house within our budget. We approached our landlord Helga and asked if we could buy the house from her, and she quickly responded with a hard "No". But we kept praying that God would give us wisdom on making the right choice and provide a house for us. Two weeks later Helga came back and told us that she had changed her mind and that she wanted us to have the house. When she told us the price she wanted, we were thrilled! God provided us with the perfect house and it was exactly in our budget. The only problem was that the house had not been touched since 1985. It had yellow counters, yellow cabinets, yellow linoleum in the kitchen, brown shag carpet in the bedrooms, pea green tile in the bathroom, and cheesy wood panneling. To say it was outdated would be an understatement. 

We had big dreams for the house, but had almost no budget. I called a few contractors out to the house to get bids and was blown away by how expensive their quotes were. Their prices were WAY out of our budget. Around that same time, Melissa and I felt called to start getting to know the homeless population in Fort Worth. We started going down to a park on East Lancaster called "Unity Park" where all the homeless would hang out every Saturday. We soon made a ton of friends and great relationships.  One of the things we discovered was that most of the people we met did not have a pressing need or want for food, clothes, or shelter. They had several options for places to stay and had access to all the food and clothing they wanted from all the great non profits on Lancaster. What we found, was that most of the homeless people we met deep down really wanted friendships and good conversations. They wanted someone to share their stories with and for someone get to know them. These Saturday morning hangouts with our homeless friends would eventually be the inspiration for what would later become The Net.

It was  on one of those Saturday's that I got to know my friend Carl. Carl was Vietnam vet, who had his own contracting business for many years. He later traded in his own business in for a more stable job as a maintenance man at an apartment complex. He worked at the apartment complex for 8 years, until it eventually got purchased by a new owner who had his own maintenance man. The new owner soon let Carl go and 2 weeks later Carl found out that he had lung cancer. Because of his cancer Carl could not work and wound up on the streets, which is where Melissa and I met him a few years later. He was in better shape after his battle with cancer, but could never get back on his feet after losing his job. 

When I heard he used to be a contractor, I told him about our new "old" house we just purchased and how I one day wanted to remodel it. Carl looked at me and said, "Well Jamey, I can help you work on it. I can teach you how to remodel......lets start tomorrow." And teach me he did. For an entire summer, Carl would wake up at 5:30am, catch the 6:30am bus, and arrive at my house at 8:30 (if you have ever taken public transportation in Fort Worth, you know it takes FOREVER). At 8:30 each morning I would open my back door to see Carl hanging out on my picnic table having a cigarette, until I invited him in for a cup of black coffee (which he would drink 5-8 cups per day). Carl turned out to be one heck of a handyman! He came to my house 5 days a week at the same time every single day for an entire summer. He taught me how to hang sheetrock, redo hardwood floors, lay tile, paint, texture, install fixtures and a ton more! We remodeled my entire house in about 2 and a half months. Even when I would head out for shows, Carl would still show up everyday to help out.

I didn't have a ton of money, but was able to pay Carl a small daily wage. It was enough for him to save up and get his own apartment. I will never forget how excited he was to have his own place. After we finished my house, some of my neighbors started hiring Carl and he wound up with a nice little business. I am sad to say that a few months later the lung cancer caught back up with Carl and he passed away a few years ago. 

I will never forget the lessons Carl taught me. He inspired in me a love for old houses. He also taught me the value in taking a chance on someone and to never judge a book by his cover. Carl's legacy played a huge role in my future house projects and also launching The Net. 


At the Birchman house we did a ton of work. We knocked out walls and expanded the kitchen, we opened up the archway from the dining room to the kitchen, installed can lights, new cabinets, granite counters, new tile, we moved the master bedroom and added walk in closet, we pulled down the old wood panelling, and we repaired and redid the hardwoods (that were hidden by carpet and linoleum) throughout the entire house. It was a lot to say the least. We transformed the 80's yellow interior to something we loved living in. We felt like God gave us this house, because it helped launch my career in renovating and it paved the road for The Net.