The Story Behind the Restoration of an Abandoned 1924 Cape Cod in Camp Washington

How the ”sista girl with skills,” Venus Kent, found herself and her style while restoring a 100-year-old house.

Photograph by Natalie Grilli

In 2017, Venus Kent rescued an “abused and abandoned” 1924 Cape Cod, buying it and an adjoining lot from the Camp Washington Community Board for $10,000. She tracked her three-year DIY restoration journey on the blog Sista Girl With Skills, not realizing she’d attract readers from more than 60 countries, rack up 70,000 views, and garner local attention that landed her a spot on the Cincinnati Preservation Association board of trustees. We caught up with the Cincinnati native to hear what it’s like learning to restore a 100-year-old home on the fly.

How did you find your restoration dream home? Tell us your secrets.

I knew I wanted a fixer-upper, so I was drawn to doing something where I could put my own mark on it. I had lived all my life in my childhood home [in Forest Park] and never knew my style—I was looking to finally find me. My secret is when I walk into a house, if I could see myself living in it and if I could see what I would do to it, then I would put in an offer.

What was it like restoring a 100-year-old home? Is it really like what you see on HGTV?

I would say it’s exactly what you see on the TV shows, especially ones like Rehab Addict and Good Bones—although those houses are a little more extreme, and they tear down more and add on wings a lot. I started with architectural plans. When you bought a house from the community board, they had an architect at the time and you got his services. I had planned to do much of the work myself from day one.

How did you jump in and start DIY-ing?

I consider my project a restoration, not a renovation. It didn’t need to be changed, it just needed to be saved. The day I closed on the house, I came inside and there was this giant old plumbers wrench, a tiny little hammer, and a really rusted handsaw. I just started knocking holes in the wall.

I was so fortunate all of the house’s original wood molding was still here. Before my demo crew came in, I removed every piece of molding and wrapped them in plastic to be able to put them back up. My house is a “she.” She was abused, beat up, set on fire. She stood all that abuse, and she’s smiling now.

You blogged that your greatest accomplishment was preserving the home’s original built-in cabinet. How did you make it look like new?

I knew I was going to relocate it to the kitchen. Really everything in this house, especially the woodwork, just needed to be cleaned. There were a couple of drawers that were damaged beyond use, and one door was missing. I watch too many TV shows, like Vanilla Ice Goes Amish, where I got the idea of working with the Amish. I took a tour in Amish country and saw these drawer boxes, so I ordered them. I didn’t even bother putting in drawer slides, because 100 years ago they didn’t have drawer slides. I added one twist, putting food bowls in the bottom drawer to feed my dogs so their bowls didn’t take up space in my kitchen.

Photograph by Natalie Grilli

What’s your advice for anyone in Cincinnati considering restoring or rehabbing a historic home?

There are some key contractor positions you need to have, so get a good architect, a good plumber, and a good electrician. I failed my plumbing inspection three times. And plan for more time than you think you’re going to need.

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