Artfully Restored

Custodian With a dry mop in a hallway

Home Team Tackles Projects With Eye on ‘Before’ and ‘After’

Jeanne Blackburn and photography by Turner Photography Studio

Cristy Stup knows houses. To her, they all have a story, and she listens. “I have had a love of buildings my whole life,” she says. She and her husband, Erin Jenkins, were in the midst of building their own home when they were married in 1986. “We’ve done something to every house we ever lived in,” says Jenkins.

They often talked about creating a business that would allow them to do full time what they both enjoyed and had only been doing part time. In addition to loving houses, Stup is creative. “I love design of all kinds, and still have a [Better Homes and Gardens] home design magazine from 1966!” she says.

To feed her interest in houses, she got her real estate license with the goal of purchasing and remodeling one of the older homes in Frederick. “My broker, Alice Hoxie, encouraged my wish to purchase and remodel, and introduced us to Bob Gajewski, who is a licensed contractor. The next thing we knew we started looking for a property,” she says.

“When I met Cristy and Erin, they were interested in doing a renovation project and I think we complement each other and work well together,” Gajewski says.

In 2020 they formed CESJLLC to do what they’d always wanted to do—renovate homes. Each person has an area of expertise. Gajewski is a contractor and accomplished carpenter, Jenkins is also an accomplished carpenter and pragmatic problem solver, and Stup is the designer and idea person. “We pride ourselves on creative problem-solving,” she says.

One of the objectives for all of the sometimes 100-year-old homes they’ve renovated is to preserve and re-purpose elements of the original construction. Sometimes those are the things that turn out to be the most interesting details of the finished design. “We take what the house gives up, whether it be actual materials or evidence of its past and what it wants to become,” Stup says.

Gajewski agrees. “First off, I do not like waste … in any form. To reuse materials just makes sense for the planet. For instance, old wood has great character that isn’t possible to find with new. Using what the house gives you maintains its character, which is something all three of us believe is important to our work.”

Gajewski brought in craftsmen he’s worked with previously. “I have been buying and renovating homes for about 20 years. Most of the craftspeople we work with I have worked with for many years. They are very talented, open to create solutions, and are hard working. We are very grateful to have an amazing crew that all work together towards the same objective.”

Among the firm’s newest acquisitions is a home at 422 Carroll Parkway, which they bought just a few months ago. The project needed extensive clearing out and cleaning up before Stup could even see what there was to work with.

Then rooms needed to be reconfigured, and that can be a challenge in older homes where spaces are cut up, bathrooms and kitchens are small, and hallways are narrow. Modern living demands more space—or at least the appearance of more space. So, that was the first order of business. Opening up the kitchen and dining rooms on the main floor was obvious, then reconfiguring closets and the upstairs hallway allowed for more spacious bathrooms and easy flow of the space.

Next came the repurposing. Old storage shelves in the basement were good heavy wood, so Gajewski re-milled them to create the replacement molding around the front door. Handsome walnut boards found in the garage became a backsplash for the wet bar on the main floor and a large shelf area in the primary bedroom. “I bought old exterior, louvered shutters from Nova Scotia, which I used in a cabinet design and doors for the kitchen sink cabinet,” Stup adds.

Then the details could be added—like decorative tile around the fireplace and the standing seam roof on the front porch—to complement the major renovations throughout the house.

A home at 707 Rosemont Ave. presented Stup with an exciting opportunity: a whole-house renovation. “The minute Bob and I walked in the house, we knew it was meant for us,” Stup says. It also included some very satisfying reclamation details.

“We had extra doors, so Bob and I came up with a design to use them on the kitchen island,” says Stup. “Bob made our vision a reality and it is a one-of-a-kind piece of art. Flooring in the attic was taken up in spots where it wasn’t needed and used to patch areas on the other two floors. And the original huge kitchen corner cupboard got repainted and found a new corner to call home.”

The current homeowners, Donna Harshman and Tom Martin, are obviously thrilled with the results, especially the kitchen. “It is a generous space with clean lines. In it we feel the marriage of heritage character and modern convenience of a farm sink, quality appliances and the aircraft-carrier sized white quartz island built with lumber salvaged from doors of the house,” says Tom Martin.

One of Gajewski’s goals is to save or repurpose elements whenever possible.“I think it brings some uniqueness and I just don’t like to see things wasted. We are not the type of company that just comes in and guts an entire house and then rebuilds with all new materials,” he says.

Found treasures they’ve refurbished and repurposed include original ornamental door hinges, a half-glass back door for a laundry room, original interior bay window shutters that were cleaned and re-installed, and an old brass hanging light fixture cleaned and re-wired for a bathroom. And bricks are often repurposed to build patios.

 Trying to save the integrity of the home by utilizing as many of the existing elements of a home as possible can be a challenge. Sometimes this can make installing new electrical, plumbing and HVAC systems more complicated, but the end result is much more desirable. The object is to be sure that any necessary changes or additions blend seamlessly with the character of the house.

“Houses have stories to tell of their pasts,” Stup says. Bringing some of them back to their former glory is one of the things that gets her creative juices flowing and her energy level raised to meet the needs of the day. “We listen and honor those stories as well as create new ones for future families to enjoy,” she adds. “Finding creative solutions that please my aesthetic is what it’s all about for me.”

Any detailed and extensive project presents challenges. One of the biggest for Stup is estimating time and cost. “Everything else pales in comparison,” she says. Then there are also limitations when working with repurposed materials.

Each team member agrees that the reuse design has to be tailored to the quantity of the material available, it’s often not easy to match or replicate. These kinds of projects can also take longer to complete than those made from new material.

For Stup, “working within existing parameters is far more rewarding to me than creating something brand-new from scratch. The creative process is enhanced when it’s encumbered with issues or problems in need of solutions. To know that I was part of bringing a house back to life for the next family to call home is the best feeling.”

Gajewski believes the greatest satisfaction for him “is when a project is completed and everything has been updated and repaired but looks and feels completely natural. I like it when we’re forced to get creative and look outside the box for solutions. In the end the house looks and functions the best it ever has.”

Frederick Magazine