When you live in a historic district, there can be a lot of hoops to jump through to do even the simplest remodel or renovation.
But after a tree fell on Robin Bosworth’s house in the North End a few years ago, she didn’t have much choice.
When she bought the house 10 years ago, at the peak of the market, it was just right.
“I looked at a ton of houses in the North End that just needed so much work,” she said. “I could have gotten them for so much cheaper, but this one was move-in ready.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Idaho Statesman
Working as the chief financial officer of Sysco for 37 years, she has been in Boise for 25 years and Idaho for 40. She was fond of Boise’s classic North End, often considered by most as the part of town east of Harrison Boulevard and perhaps near the Boise Co-op or Hyde Park.
“I thought I wanted to be over there, but what I found was that once you came over on this side of Harrison Boulevard, the lots are a lot larger,” she said. “I kind of like it better over here under the umbrella.”
You can see the Bosworth home on the Oct. 2 Heritage Home Tour. This year’s tour focuses on the Elm Grove Park neighborhood. See the related stories for information or visit PreservationIdaho.org for tour details and ticket information. That information should be up on the group’s website soon.
The umbrella she talks about is the great number of shade trees that embrace the neighborhood around Elm Grove Park. Thousands of trees were planted in this part of the North End when it was originally platted more than 100 years ago. It’s partly how the City of Trees got its moniker.
But it was also that umbrella that caused Robin to rethink the design of her house when the tree fell onto her roof two years after moving in.
“I got to know my neighbors pretty dang quick,” she said. “Most people came over to see this tree sitting on someone’s house.”
Her neighbor Daniel McCown was there to help. His grandfather reportedly owned several homes in the neighborhood, and he is versed in how to deal with these issues.
Bosworth said she was going to replace the roof anyway, so there was an upside. Thanks to that tree, she decided to raise the top of the house by about 18 inches and turn the upstairs space into a complete bedroom.
“There was plenty of room up here; it just wasn’t finished,” she said. “The upstairs bathroom turned out way nicer than I expected. It had challenges because of the peaks. We had to move the walls out to get the mirrors in, and we had to modify a little bit to fit the space.”
The tile work in the bathroom came out nice, and she added a 75-year-old monastery window from India that became a n inner window in the closet/hallway for another unique touch.
“Even though the upstairs is new, I think I maintained the feel of the house in that space,” she said. “I like my bedroom upstairs; it’s very comfortable and not too tight.”
And when it gets too warm up there, she moves to the downstairs back bedroom, brightly lit thanks to the French doors that open into the large, private backyard.
Many elements of the house that gave it personality stayed.
There are arches, niches and built-ins that are still intriguing.
“The fireplace is the same,” she added. “It even has the same mantel.”
Along the way, other things were fixed or changed. There was a crack in the ceiling “all the way from the back to the front” of the main floor that needed to be addressed. The linoleum in the kitchen had to go, as well as the drop-down ironing board closet in there. More cabinet space was needed as well. And the back door had to be custom built.
“I made the kitchen just a little bit bigger and a bit more navigable,” Bosworth said.
Little things, like the windows on the north side of my bedroom, match visually with my garage windows, which are the original windows in the house.
Homeowner Robin Bosworth
Windows in the house were replaced, too. (Remember those old ones with the rope pulleys?)
“You couldn’t use vinyl, you had to use wood,” she said. “That was one of the things that was a real challenge.”
The stairs to the upstairs area were also a challenge.
“We belabored that for a couple of weeks,” she said. “But I’m really happy with how it turned out.”
Many of those challenges come not with the house but with the historical aspect of the home’s location. Nearly every change needs to be approved by the committee that oversees and approves changes to houses in a historical district.
“They were pretty picky about what I used for materials,” Bosworth said. “I had to go in front of the committee, which is rather intimidating. It’s like going to court. They all sit up in front, and you have to present what you want to do. Luckily, I took my architect with me.”
An example of the “pickiness” was her proposal for two dormer windows in the revamped upstairs room. The committee allowed only one. But overall, things went well.
“The idea was to maintain the lines that were already there,” she said. “If you looked at (the upstairs windows), you wouldn’t know it was an addition.”
The home is now about 800 square feet on the main floor, with a basement and upstairs master bedroom suite that are about 400 square feet each.
Her advice for working on a North End home is simple:
“If you’re going to make changes to the front side of your house, you need to investigate what they allow or don’t allow,” she said. “Do your research before you start ripping it apart.”
The large yard is also a special delight to her.
“I came from the country,” she said. “We always had a lot of property, and I like the idea that I have a small house with a large outdoor space, because the outdoors is like home. It really centers me. I’m so happy I bought it. This is home. Maybe it’s just the little things I did to it to make me feel like it’s mine.”
The large panel fence in the backyard “came out awesome” and gives her plenty of privacy from the neighbors. She also says people are in awe of her front yard, although she has no secret as to why her low-maintenance yard stays so lush and green.
I’ve always liked the outdoor space.
Homeowner Robin Bosworth
That’s not the only comment she hears.
“You would not believe how many people stop out front and say, ‘What color is this house?’ and they want to know where can they get that paint color,” Bosworth said. (It’s gun-metal gray with some white and black trim.) “I’ve seen other houses that were kind of that color, but maybe it’s just the combination that makes it stunning.”
Overall, the entire project came out great. So great that her daughter insisted on being married in the backyard three years ago.
“It was absolutely stunning,” she said.
As an active outdoor person, the location is also great for her.
“I’m a biker, I’m a skier, I’m right where I want to be.”
And it’s just a beautiful place to call home. Even having a tree fall onto her house turned into a good thing, despite the work and challenges of the repairs and upgrades.
“It was kind of fun,” Bosworth said. “I had just gotten a divorce, and I got to make all these decisions on my own. So it was hard, but I’m very pleased with the total outcome of what I did, and I think I made some really good choices.”
Dusty Parnell is a freelance print, radio and print journalist who has been working in the Treasure Valley for more than 25 years.
The Bosworth home
This home was built in about 1931 by Ray McKaig, who built several houses in the general Elm Grove Park neighborhood. McKaig was known as a political figure who left the ministry and eventually moved to Boise to create the Idaho Nonpartisan League in 1917. That group then became the Idaho Progressive Party, a coalition of Nonpartisans, Democrats and Republicans. Political junkies of today will probably not be surprised that dissension within the party later led McKaig to support the Republican Party.
This particular wood-frame bungalow has elements of Tudor Revival, which was a popular style during the 1920s and 1930s. The Tudor Revival house in general is characterized by a steeply pitched gable roof, faux half-timbering and an asymmetrical entrance. Real estate ads at the time described these models as “the English Style” and were deemed “strictly modern.” The Bosworth home exhibits several of these elements, including the pitched roof, exterior front chimney of clinker brick and a modified arched entryway.
The house was likely constructed from a plan book and originally consisted of one bedroom, a kitchen and a living room.
Bosworth remodeled the home after a tree fell on the roof, but it still retains original details, including the fireplace, built-in bookshelves and built-in spice racks.
— Source: Preservation Idaho