Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Are you ready for a little history lesson about the Robinson family of Sugar Creek, Louisiana?

I'd like for you to meet JACK ROBINSON. (Click on the photos to enlarge them.)

JACK was born in THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK in 1922, the son of Armintie "Mintie" Belle Sims Robinson and William Franklin Robinson. Mintie's parents bought THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK from the Taylor family in 1902, when Mintie was only 11 years old. Mintie inherited the house some time prior to 1916, and Jack was the third Robinson born on the property.

As you can easily tell by the uniform in Jack's photo, he fought in WWII. And while he was fighting in Germany, this telegram arrived for his parents. I can only imagine how terribly afraid I would be to receive such news about my son. Can you imagine what it would be like to be notified by telegram that your child was seriously wounded in battle?

Thankfully, Jack's story doesn't end with that terrifying telegraph. He slowly began to recover from his wounds, and a month later (yes, a month!) Mintie and William received this news from the war department:

Here's a photo of Jack during the time he recovered from his wounds.

Other than the robe, it's quite difficult to tell that Jack was injured. And according to the telegraph that he sent back home, Jack really was recovering nicely.

JACK ROBINSON went on to live the remainder of his life in the Sugar Creek area. His son (JACKIE) lives within walking distance of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK today. Because of the Robinson Family's sentimental attachment to the house, my hubby and I have learned more about the history of the home, and of Sugar Creek, Louisiana, than we would have ever believed possible. We have copies of dozens of historic photos of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK, which the Robinsons call "THE BIG HOUSE." And after talking to many of the Robinson relatives, I'm pretty sure that we're only getting started on the history of THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK. There are stories of cotton fields, and stories of courtship. There are recipes that the Robinsons have shared with us that have been prepared at THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK for four generations.

As hubby, the children and I begin our new life out in the country, we're so very thankful for the generations of Robinsons that loved the old dog-trot long before we even knew it existed. They took incredibly good care of this very special home for one hundred and nine years before we came along. And with any luck, it will be another hundred and nine years before THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK will be in need of a restoration again.

So here's to the next one hundred and nine years of life in Sugar Creek, Louisiana. But mostly, here's to one hundred and nine years worth of Robinson family history that took place within these dog-trot walls. To the Robinsons: THANK YOU, from the bottom of our hearts, for sharing your wonderful family home with us. And in return, we promise to always share it with you.

// signed //
Shaun and Jackie Lewis

Monday, March 26, 2012

my future OFFICE SPACE

How do I love my new office? Let me count the ways...

First, there's the painted wooden ceiling that we discovered beneath drywall, very early on in the renovation. Then there's the amazing, original hardwood floor that cleaned up nicer than Cinderella on the day of the Prince's ball. I mean, really... what's not to love about beautiful, historic hardwood floors? I love them when they're scratched and dented, scuffed in heavy traffic areas and worn smooth in others.

But the floors weren't really the centerpiece of the office renovation this weekend. We spent most of our time working on drywall. Here's a pic of hubby removing the old drywall in my future office and finding termite damage beneath... but luckily, the old wood on the ceiling was untouched by those pesky bugs. As it turns out, the termites were not trying to eat the original wooden walls. They had eaten the old wallpaper and cheesecloth that was sandwiched beneath the old wooden walls and the "new" drywall. (Drywall circa 1940s.)

Here is the same room after we spent much of a day removing the drywall, but before we cleaned up the debris. I know what you're thinking... it's gorgeous. I thought so, too. (haha)

Those photos were taken almost a year ago, and the room has been awaiting its moment in the spotlight ever since.

But this past weekend, things began to take shape in the room that will become my office very, very soon. My father, my hubby and I (mostly my father and my hubby) went to work measuring, cutting, and screwing drywall up in the room. They had to rebuild a wall first, but that only took an hour or so. Here's a photo of my father and my hubby just after they began working on the drywall project. And by the way, Shaun and I have very little drywall experience... we knew this would be a tough project. But staying true to our dream of being super savvy DIYers, we went for it.

The day was long, but we weren't simply doing the drywall project. Dad and hubby also leveled a few floor beams, replaced crumbling iron ore rock supports with concrete blocks, and I painted a little. Here's a pic of hubby and I late in the evening, long after my Dad went home... hubby and I only had a few pieces left to cut by this point. I look rather cheesy, but it's difficult to take a good photo when there's very little lighting available, and even less energy up for grabs. (haha)

Around 10:30 pm, when I couldn't stand it anymore, I began to work on the chandelier. I used the ceiling of the room for inspiration. The paint is original, and was applied before the drywall was placed over it in the 1940's. When we removed the drywall last year, I noticed a tiny bit of blue paint peeking out... after much sanding this is how the ceiling looks now. It's ready for a "brand new" chandlier!

About five months ago, I fell in love with a chandelier on Pinterest. It was made using an old chandelier and old Mason jars... I knew immediately that I wanted to mimic the project. Here's what my chandelier looked like as we were hanging it...

And here's what the room looked like after the drywall was cut and screwed, the ceiling was sanded lightly, the floor was stained and sealed, and I was jumping with joy!

We're certainly a long way from finished on this room. It will need new windows, new window casings, crown molding, baseboards, curtains, new electric sockets for computers, new phone lines, curtains, and furniture. We still need to mud the drywall, seal the seams between the sheets, and apply a nice vintage-looking texture and paint. But overall, this office is really beginning to come along. We're only halfway there, and there's a BIG different between the before and after already. I can't wait to see the finished space!

I think the skunk stunk... but I'm not sure!

There are crazy things that happen when you're restoring an old house, and then there are really, really crazy things that happen when you're restoring an old house. This weekend, we went with the second option.

We spent the day entire day last Saturday working on trying to make the walls and the floor of the house level. This meant that my father and my hubby had the pleasure (haha) of replacing old, crumbling iron ore rocks with concrete blocks. Afterward, we all went inside and they began fitting my office walls with drywall while I painted our mailbox post and then attempted to cook without the assistance of a kitchen. (Think bbq grill and crock pots, and you'll get the picture.)

So after a very long day, hubby and I were quite tired. We put the kids down on an air mattress and then hit the hay, too. All was fine and dandy until 2:00 am, when it sounded like our dogs were attacking something beneath our bedroom. There were bumps and thuds, growls and scampers, and just before the yelping began we heard a hiss that very quickly turned into an odor. Suddenly, we knew EXACTLY what kind of creature the dogs had found beneath our bedroom.

The dogs were unharmed, but their pride was definitely wounded. Poor Loozie-Anna (our black lab/pitbull mix) still stinks to high heaven. And you know that little thing everyone says about tomato juice? You know... that old wives' tale about using tomato juice to get rid of the scent of skunk? Well I've busted that one. If you have a tried and true way to de-scent skunk-sprayed dogs, look me up on Facebook (Jackie Tripp Lewis) and email me the remedy. I have a feeling we're going to run into this little issue a million more times before we're old and gray... this episode was simply mother nature giving us a thorough welcome to our new life out in the country!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Our newest room layout ideas....

In keeping with Architect LESTAR MARTIN's suggestions for the restoration, I designed this room layout today. The house is really beginning to come together! Once we have the pesky kitchen design finished, I'll know EXACTLY what to do with every room in THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK! And in case you were wondering, I created the design for free on floorplanner.com. Go design something today... it's easy for the do-it-yourself-er.


There has been yet another drastic change at THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK, and it happened last weekend. Hubby and I have increased our speed in the days and weeks leading up to the official move. There's nothing like a looming deadline to get this red-head fired up and ready for manual labor! Last weekend we painted the remainder of the dog-trot hallway, and we also swept, swept, swept, swept, mopped, mopped, mopped, swept, mopped, and then sealed the dog-trot floor. That's no exaggeration, either. I can't wait to show you what it looks like now!

But before I give you a glimpse of the "new" dog-trot, you need to see photos of the dog-trot hallways from the very first day of the renovation.

We've already painted the front half of the dog-trot walls and the ceiling, but last weekend we buckled down and finished painting the back end of the dog-trot. Here's a photo of hubby during our painting spree, which took about four hours (not including the time we spent taping the drop-cloth down.)

After the paint dried, we pulled the old tape off of the floorboards and applied fresh painter's tape to the baseboards. Then we cleaned and sealed the old hardwood floors. Architect LESTAR MARTIN recommended that we not sand and stain the original wooden floors, and we're so glad that we listened to his advice. The history is still there, hidden away in each little scratch and stain. The old floor is well-worn and incredibly gorgeous, and I am very, very proud of the way it turned out when we were finished sealing!

We still have a good bit of work left to do on the dog-trot hallway. There will be glass doors on both ends, which will make it possible to air-condition the dog-trot and turn it into our art gallery. The old staircase (notice that we did not paint it as we painted everything else) will come out and the old hallway will be once again open and spacious. But overall, we're really, really close to being finished with the center hall of the house! Here's a pic that I took after I hung a few pieces of artwork. (I couldn't help myself... I'm ready for it to be an art gallery!) What do you think? Can you see a big difference between the before and the after photos? We certainly can!

In keeping with my blogging tradition, I thought I'd give you a breakdown of the money we've spent on the dogtrot so far. I want to be completely honest with you guys, because you're all potential DIY home renovators. If we can inspire you to buy a piece of history and restore it, just as we're doing, then it was worth giving away our budget's privacy. :)

SANDPAPER: $40. (I sanded the walls for three days, and Shaun sanded for about five hours.)
WOOD FILLER: $5. (There were very few nails in the dog-trot walls.)
PAINT: $130 (we went through six gallons... five gallons of satin paint on the front half of the dog-trot, and one gallon of paint/primer mix on the back half. WE LEARNED OUR LESSON... use paint/primer in one!)

FLOOR SEALER (on clearance at Lowe's): $40.
PAINT TRAY(s): $1 each, times five.
PAINT THINNER (for attempting to remove paint from tiny section of dog-trot wall): $9.
NEW (temporary) PULL STRING LIGHT: $12 for kit
SCRAPING KNIFE: (for scraping very, very old paint from the floor) $12.

Now bear in mind that we're not finished with the dog-trot. But this is a very accurate breakdown of how much money we've spent so far. We're trying to prove that it IS possible to restore a historic house for pennies on the dollar, just so long as you're not afraid to work your butt off. Let me add, though, that we're restoring SUGAR CREEK because we fell in love with the house. Once you're in love with a home, it's easy to work on it. This restoration isn't necessarily about saving money. We're working on this house as a labor of love. Historic home renovations are just like marriage... if you're with the right one, there's nothing like it. But if you're with the wrong one, there's nothing like it, either! So what are you waiting for? Go find the house of your dreams today!

Monday, March 12, 2012


Do you see the house in the photo below? That's our darling dog-trot. And as of next week, it will be our full-time home! That's right... we're moving to THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK!

The next few weeks will be a mad dash to the finish line, as we've got quite a bit of work left to do before we move. First, we must finish up the bathroom. This should actually be a piece of cake, to tell you the truth. The hardest part will be finding a group of volunteers to help us move our clawfoot tub (boy is THAT an awesome story, by the way!) to the dog-trot. ANY VOLUNTEERS? We pay nothing, but we'll tell you thank you a million times. :) After the bathroom is finished, we need to sand and seal the trim, the floor, and the ceiling of my new office. After it's all pretty we'll put up the drywall (yes, I know it's out of order, but that's how we roll) and finish up my chandelier/art centerpiece for one of the coolest rooms in the house. If we play our cards right, we'll have five rooms finished (minus electrical and HVAC... that comes later) when we move into SUGAR CREEK. Whoo hoo!

The general schedule after move-in will be very slow, as we are LOVING to do the work ourselves. We'll need to remove an old wall that was between the kitchen/living room, then drywall the entire massive kitchen/living room. After the drywall is in, painted, the new trim up, the floors stained and sealed, etc... we'll go about adding a kitchen (we'll have a temporary, makeshift kitchen until then!) and then we'll head upstairs. Upstairs are our boys' bedrooms and another bathroom, which shouldn't take very long at all. Then we'll begin the outside of the house... and voila... we'll be done! Hubby and I estimate that we'll finish the house sometime between October 2012 and December of 2062. That gives us a fifty year window, and I'm pretty sure we'll be able to keep that deadline. (hahaha!)

Well, that's it for now. I've got too much to do to blog tonight. It's time to pack up and head for the hills of northern Louisiana!

THE AUTREY HOUSE in Dubach, Louisiana

A few weekends ago, I visited a restored dog-trot in a neighboring Louisiana Parish. It was built 39 years before THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK, and I was inspired beyond belief while walking through this very primitive Cracker House. Here are a few details about this wonderful property that I found on the historic marker displayed outside of THE AUTREY HOUSE:

Built 1849
OLDEST RESTORED DOGTROT LOG HOUSE IN LINCOLN PARISH, LOUISIANA. Built on 200 acres by Absalom Autrey and his wife Elizabeth Norris Autrey after they moved from Selma, Alabama in 1848. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places on October 10th, 1980.

Once inside the house, I found this information:

The Absalom Autrey house is an example of the log dog trot, the most common traditional house type of the early north Louisiana hill country. Built in 1849 and believed to be the oldest surviving structure in Lincoln Parish, the hand-hewn log house with square notches has an open central hall, with two rooms on each side and a sleeping loft above. The original ironstone chimney on the east side still stands. The stairs to the loft have been replaced. The front rooms have interior walls of beaded board walls.
Behind the house is the family cemetery, with the graves of Absalom Autrey, his first wife Elizabeth Norris, second wife Kezia McCalla, other family members, and African Americans who served the family before and after the Civil War. Some of the graves are unmarked.
Absalom Autrey, the builder of the house and a typical pioneer of the area, moved by wagon to present day Lincoln Parish from Selma, Alabama, in 1848, with his wife Elizabeth Norris and their fourteen children. On the 200-acre plot of land he purchased on Bird Creek, they grew cotton and corn for cash and raised vegetables and livestock and hunted game for food. The Autrey House in its day was considered one of the finest in the region. Sturdily built to last generations, the house was occupied by his descendants through the first quarter of this century and later rented until the early 1970's. The Autrey House is owned by the Lincoln Parish Museum and is supervised by an appointed advisory board.

OPEN: April - September
Third Saturday and Sunday, 2-4pm and by special appointment. Advance appointments and guided tours must be scheduled by calling SUSAN ROACH (318-257-2728), Liz Trammell (318-777-3495), or the Lincoln Parish Museum (318-251-0018.)

I had a few thoughts to share with you about this lovely dog-trot. First, THE AUTREY HOUSE is located in close proximity to THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK, though we are in two different Parishes. (For those non-Louisianians reading the blog, we have Parishes instead of Counties in our state.) I am absolutely amazed that THE AUTREY HOUSE still stands, and that it has been so lovingly restored. Walking through the old central hallway, I began to understand why LESTAR MARTIN (historic architect who drew our plans for the SUGAR CREEK restoration) was so excited about our dog-trot. If THE AUTREY HOUSE was considered one of the finest in the region in its day, then THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK would have been an absolute mansion. From what I have been able to research, nothing like THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK exists elsewhere in Louisiana. We estimate that our dog-trot was somewhere around 3000-3500 square feet before the original kitchen and dining rooms were removed. That's a big house by modern standards, so I can only imagine that it was considered enormous for a rural home in 1800s north Louisiana.

Seeing the historic marker at THE AUTREY HOUSE also made me very excited. One day soon, people will have the opportunity to tour THE HOUSE AT SUGAR CREEK and learn about the early pioneers of northern Louisiana. I am a bit of a history buff (as you might have noticed!) and this makes me deliriously happy. We will be able to give tours of our dog-trot, and also tell people EXACTLY what life was like in the early days of the house. Thanks to Mrs. Vera's memoir, we will be able to point out tiny details that were miraculously saved. What are the odds that we would have the chance to restore one of the only remaining two story dog-trots in our entire state, and that we would also have unearthed memoirs, photographs, and even original furniture to go with it! We've had an incredible amount of "good luck" while restoring this house. People literally stop by and bring us photographs and stories about early life in the house. I don't know why these details seem to fall in place for us, but they certainly do. I guess this restoration was simply meant to be!