What does it take to bring an abandoned embassy property back from the brink of near-extinction? A ton of time, tenacity, and TLC. In 2003, Laura and Raymond Saba purchased a building owned by the Taiwanese government that ultimately became the Embassy Circle Guest House. But turning that diamond in the rough into the jewel it is today was no easy feat. In our new blog series, Renovation by Room, we’ll be revisiting that journey by showcasing just how much love and labor went into each room and main area of the inn.We’ll walk through the renovation process every step of the way, complete with previously unpublished behind-the-scenes photos and renovation horror stories. (Yes, there were definitely horror stories!) One thing we should probably mention before we begin: Laura and Raymond own Raycon Incorporated, a construction company that does exactly this kind of work — and that’s a good thing. They never would have undertaken a project this size if they didn’t!
A Work In Progress
This week, we’re kicking off the series with a look at the front façade here at Embassy Circle. Today, it’s the elegant entrance that greets guests and makes them feel at home. But 16 years ago, it was in desperate need of a total revamp. “The photos of the façade are scary,” Laura says. “Every element — brick, masonry crown molding, dormers and roof, front steps, porch and entry door — was damaged in some way. Some were damaged so extensively that repair was not an option. The only option was to rip them out and replace them. And because of the damage to the exterior, the interior of the house was completely unfit for human habitation.” A collapsed window over the front porch in the second floor hallway had caused a lot of problems. Every room on the front of the house had extensive water damage. (We’ll show you incredible pictures in an upcoming post.) The front porch, front door, and first floor vestibule had — literally — rotted out. (We’ll show you some scary photos of that as well.)“The damage water does is amazing — or maybe I should say horrifying,” Laura says. “The paint is just peeling off of the porch, and that’s water,” she explains. “You can see the streaks of water near the living room window on the left side — the brick is soaking wet. And it wasn’t a rainy day.” Like many houses of its time — this one was built in 1902 — it was constructed with three layers of brick, which were definitely not in great shape, recalls Laura.“There’s a beautiful exterior layer, and then there are two interior layers,” she says. “When water gets into brick, especially in a climate like ours where it gets cold enough for water to freeze, the bricks begin to separate and push apart.”The process is called delamination. In this case, the brick in the front had been pushed apart for years, and in some areas, it was ready to collapse. “We had to rebuild a significant part of the front façade, which we hadn’t realized we were going to have to do,” Laura reveals. “When we started doing the façade renovation, we found a whole lot of loose brick, and in some places, bricks just fell out and landed on the ground.”
One Obstacle After Another
Another problem? Masonry crown molding that was literally crumbling before their eyes. “When you look at the façade, you see custom masonry crown molding along the top,” Laura points out. “One day, our guys were working inside the house, providing temporary support for roof joists that were resting on rotted-out sleepers, which are the wood pieces that roof joists rest on. All of a sudden, the masonry crown started crumbling and falling out, landing 50 feet below in a little patch of dirt.” Although they had “no idea” how to handle that snafu, they managed to make it work. “Raymond put as many broken pieces back together as he could,” Laura says. “Then he took all the masonry crown molding down, all across the front of the house, and he reinstalled it, with thicker mortar joints between the pieces. Essentially, he spread out the remaining pieces so that it looks like we had enough to cover the front of the house.”
A Worthwhile Endeavor
In total, the renovation of Embassy Circle Guest House took three and a half years to complete. But for the Sabas — and their guests — the long, expensive process was well worth the end result. Some people may wonder why anyone would spend so much time and money on a project like this. Raymond has a clear and forceful answer to that question: “Spend the money. Spend the time. Do it once, and do it right!” “His thought is that, if you do it right the first time, the work will last for 50-plus years,” Laura shares. “You’ll never have to worry about it again. If you don’t do it right, you’ll be stuck doing it a second or third time. Why do a job multiple times when you can do it right the first time? Also, quality shows. People notice and appreciate it, especially the guests who stay at Embassy!”The front façade is a critical component of any building, but at a bed and breakfast, it’s particularly important because guests want to feel welcome, comfortable, and safe. A poor first impression can make them question their decision to stay there in the first place. “It’s your curb appeal,” Laura says. “It either gives you that ‘WOW!’ factor, or it gives you that, ‘Oh dear, did we make a mistake?’ factor.” Fortunately, all the hard work paid off, and the front façade at Embassy Circle has been making a memorable first impression since the inn opened its doors in March 2007.“People are happy and excited by the time they get to the front door, and then when they get inside, it just ramps up,” Laura says. “If you show up at a place, and it sort of looks like nobody’s taken any tender loving care of it for a long time, that makes an awful lot of people, myself included, a little anxious about the hospitality experience you’re going to have. But year after year, we have people of all ages tell us, ‘Wow, this is beautiful.’”—Written by Mekita Rivas