Making a House a Home

Making a house a home
Renovation adds size, beauty and comfort to Hillsborough mill house
Chapel Hill News
July 8, 2012
By Sally Keeney, Correspondent


It’s funny how welcome you feel when you walk into some homes. It’s more than the staging of furniture or a familiar scent like bread baking. It may be the way light filters through the windows or the choice of paints in combination with brick and mortar and all of the other elements that go into building a home.

I walked into one of those feel-good homes in Hillsborough’s old mill district last week. The covered front porch, wood siding and metal roof were in keeping with the other mill houses nearby. When the owner, Amy Crump, and her daughter, Ainsley, and their little dog came to the door; and Ainsley climbed up on the metal sliding rocker while her mom told me about the beautiful old rose bush climbing the front arbor – I felt completely relaxed.

Once inside, the mill home’s old brick fireplace provided a visual separation between the living room and kitchen. Ainsley and her brother, Asher, played with their toys on the couch and living room floor. A tall bookshelf at the edge of the living room provided another visual separation from the kitchen.

The Crumps, Amy and her husband, Peyton, had scoured local Habitat Reuse stores, The Big Thrift Store, online classifieds, Craigslist – just about everywhere to find several items to re-use in their home. These included an old soaking tub, wood flooring for the second story of their mill house, an old Hoosier cabinet base with metal top as extra prep space in the kitchen, used kitchen appliances and two stand-alone sinks for the upstairs bath.

“Amy gets a lot of the credit for coming in on time and under budget on this project,” said Will Johnson, the builder and church friend the Crumps hired to renovate the old mill house they had purchased for $40,000 in a foreclosure sale.

And the object was to renovate, not restore, the 816-square-foot mill house, since the mill homes built for workers at the Bellevue Mill in the 1920s are not in Hillsborough’s historic district. “We wanted to keep the same A-frame and use dormers to keep in the same style as neighboring homes, although we are the only house with double dormers,” Amy said.

The family of four did need a larger home. The only way to go was up. This is where Will’s son, Ben Johnson, and structural engineer Robert Munach of Excel Engineering come into the story. “The biggest challenge was maintaining the original spirit and style of the home, while almost doubling its livable space upstairs,” Ben said. “Adding square footage is easy, but making it look like it belongs to and is part of the original building and fulfilling the owner’s wishes at the same time is challenging.”

After their $115,000 renovation, the house is now 1,376 square feet, which Amy says lives like a 1,600-square-foot home. Two dormers allow for two bedrooms and a full bath with double sinks and a nice soaking tub upstairs.

The Crumps have lived in seven houses, five of which they owned and two of which they renovated, during the past 13 years.

“It is always an issue how to rework the stairs, and Ben was very creative in what he did,” Amy said.

The original mill house had two small bedrooms, a kitchen and living room. Ben’s renovation required knocking down walls between the old kitchen and a bedroom and another wall between chimney and a door to another bedroom, which exposed the old brick chimney.


Then the builders completely took off the roof down to the first floor, added a couple of new piers and placed a structural metal ban resting on the fireplace chimney to support an I-beam. Will Johnson said one of the most important decisions the Crumps made was to have a new HVAC system installed upstairs by L.B. Swain & Company instead of trying to make the old system serve both floors. By going with two systems, it got rid of a lot of ductwork that would have taken up space.


“That might have been their best money spent,” Will said. “We were so glad when we took the ductwork out. The upstairs unit is in an air-conditioned space, which will help keep heating and air-conditioning costs low, as will the small house size.”

The trim work is original and the bead board is still under the walls – but gouged to add insulation except in the master bedroom where it softly shines under a coat of butter cream yellow paint. The old heart pine floors are original to the house, but refinished and stained a warm walnut that contrasts nicely with the light kitchen cabinets and paints used throughout the house.

Amy and Peyton decided to use light wall colors to allow the house to feel as large as possible. Peyton is a visual artist who works as design director for Viget Labs, a Web design firm with offices in Durham, Falls Church, Va., and Boulder, Colo. His paintings share space on the couple’s walls along with other photographic artwork. He also does carpentry work, which really helps when planning a renovation.

John McCulloch of Down Under Flooring refinished the heart pine floors. Custom Stone & Marble tiled around the upstairs soaking tub. The Crumps used some of the downstairs doors upstairs, re-used knobs and locks and used a standard electric hot water heater because there would be no palatial tub to fill in this house.

And all of this happened in a very short time span. The Crumps purchased the house in the fall of 2011. In January, 2012, Will Johnson Building started tearing into the old house using Ben’s plans as a guide. Amy wrote a timeline of the renovation at

“They recycle, reuse, and when Laurie and I walked through the house when it was under construction, it made so much sense,” Johnson said. “They are raising their children there.” Amy is a stay-at-home mom. Her daughter, Ainsley, will start kindergarten at Hillsborough Elementary which is a year-round school three blocks down the street from their home.

Amy says the family likes to walk to the Depot, which is a general store in Hillsborough, and to Gold Park, which has a playground, trails for walking, jogging and biking, and the Eno River where the kids can splash around.

They ride their bikes to the library once a week, but when visiting Weaver Street Market they usually drive unless they are going for just a few things.

They also like to eat downtown, especially at the Gulf Rim on Churton Street. They take part in the monthly Last Fridays celebrations in Hillsborough, which usually feature three or four stages for music, vendor booths for crafts and face painting.

And Amy is still looking for oven racks to fit her 1954 stove.

Christopher Johnson