Tré and Leslie Jones went house hunting with a list of must-have amenities that included a fireplace, a master suite, a well-appointed kitchen and a mature, private garden that would be their oasis in the city.
The townhouse they bought in Wilmington’s Highlands neighborhood had a fireplace—and not much else.
“It had been stuck in time since the 1970s,” recalls Tré Jones, christened Reddick Merl Jones III. “There wasn’t a single space, inside or out, that didn’t need work.”
Still, the home had much to recommend it, enough to inspire the Joneses to roll up their sleeves and take on the challenge of a fixer-upper.
First, the property was located in a vibrant neighborhood the siblings know and love, sited just a few blocks from their parents, Merl and Carol Jones. It had a detached garage, the ideal place for Tré Jones to set up a woodworking shop for a steady stream of projects.
Outside, their spirits would be lifted with a tranquil, urban garden. The plot behind the house was large enough to plant a garden and build a spacious, open-air back porch with a sofa-size swing, where the Joneses could relax with friends and family.
The Jones home and more than 50 other city gardens will be featured this year on the 31st annual Wilmington City Gardens People’s Choice Tour sponsored by The Delaware Center for Horticulture June 15-16, 10 a.m.-to 3 p.m. each day. This year’s tour is free. Maps are available at The DCH at 1810 N. Dupont St., Wilmington, and other sites on the route. (658-6262, thedch.org)
The siblings established long planting beds along either side of the fence, framing an expanse of grass and a brick garden path, creating the intimacy of a secret garden. Tré Jones installed a small, Asian-inspired fountain and koi pond, a soothing neutralizer to the hum of the city. He applied contrasting wood slats in an angular Chinese Chippendale pattern to the stockade fence, mirroring the Chippendale railing on the front porch.
Tall fencing and the exterior walls of the house and garage form a protective niche that enables magnolia and other southern species to survive a Mid-Atlantic winter. Because space is limited, the Joneses chose Little Gem Southern Magnolia, a dwarf variety, and other compact species.
“I am typically drawn to plants I know from my childhood growing up in Georgia,” Tré Jones says. “Southern magnolia, crape myrtles, honey suckle and confederate jasmine were all prevalent in my family’s garden and the gardens of our neighbors.”
Inside the townhouse, the Joneses came up with a design to improve the flow and make the floorplan feel more spacious. They also enlarged closets and outfitted them with storage systems.
“I lived in a tiny apartment in Manhattan for eight years when I worked on Wall Street,” Tré Jones recalls. “I learned the value of every square inch.”
Upstairs, there was an existing a hall bath and three bedrooms, including a master bedroom for Tré. Enlarging a small bedroom to create a second master with its own en suite bath for Leslie required the construction of a two-story addition that also would provide the Joneses with a light and airy sunroom on the first floor.
“As brother and sister, we don’t mind sharing—except for bathrooms,” she says.
Removing a back staircase yielded a remarkable amount of space. That square footage translated to the lion’s share of Leslie’s master bath on the second floor and a powder room on the first floor.
“In this small house, we didn’t need a second staircase,” Tré Jones says. “But we did want a powder room, which so many of these old townhouses don’t have.”
The renovation also presented an opportunity to update the systems. As newly configured walls went up, the duct work for central air conditioning went in. Recessed lighting was installed in the ceilings.
“It was the perfect time because the walls were open,” Leslie Jones recalls.
In the living room, the Joneses stripped away layers of paint and nicotine to restore a wood fireplace mantel. They replaced worn terra cotta tiles on the surround and hearth with sleek black granite.
The siblings made the most of the existing space in the townhouse by transforming an unfinished basement. The central space in the lower level is now a pleasant sitting room where they can kick back with friends and watch TV. There’s a laundry room, outfitted with cabinetry salvaged when their parents remodeled their kitchen.
“The big, soapstone laundry sink was here, one of the few features we really loved about the house when we bought it,” Leslie Jones says.
One thing the Joneses left untouched was a few feet of pock-marked wood trim.
“We kept that part to remind us of how bad it was,” Tré Jones says.
A passageway from the kitchen
Many Happy Returns
The Joneses bought the house in 2007, just as the air started to go out of the residential real estate market. With values declining, they were especially mindful of choosing amenities certain to garner the best return on their investment.
That includes an upscale kitchen, with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances, including a professional-style range. To up the bling quotient, there’s a pot filler.
Leslie Jones, who teaches kindergarten and first grade, was a quick study in learning to set the tumbled marble backsplash. Her brother concealed wiring in a range hood embellished with dentil molding and made the cabinets, crafting cupboards that extend all the way to ceiling, another space-saving technique. The upper cabinets are fronted with glass and illuminated to display pottery.
“We could spend more money on the range because Tré built the cabinets,” Leslie Jones says. “When you do the work yourself you can treat yourself to a few luxuries.”
Cabinetmaking is not as daunting as it sounds, her brother says. Remember making a wooden box in shop class?
“It’s just a bigger box,” he says.
The refrigerator with upscale French doors came with a discounted price tag from a scratch-and-dent outlet. Tré Jones made wood panels that cover the imperfections and match the cabinetry for a custom look.
A passageway from the kitchen to the dining room was transformed into a hip, functional butler’s pantry, with storage for glassware and an under-the-counter fridge for drinks. Tré Jones crafted the one-of-a-kind countertop, a checkerboard of contrasting bloodwood and maple.
Throughout the house, oak floors were refinished and treated with a mahogany stain for a deep, rich look. The Joneses got out their paint brushes and energized the walls with color: earthy tan in the living room, apple green in the kitchen and a peppery red called caliente in the dining room.
They brought in lots of lush plants, the ultimate accessory for gardeners.
“I like color,” Leslie Jones says. “It makes me feel good.”
So, how did they get so handy? Brother and sister give credit to dad and mom. “Before he was a banker, our dad was an electrician in the Army and we were always watching him work around the house,” Tré Jones says. “Our mother was an interior designer, who is very kind about making us flower arrangements.”
Still, he advises DIYers to evaluate what they can do best and what is better left to the pros. There are a few tasks he will not take on again, such as laying a bamboo floor in a herringbone pattern in the basement.
To achieve the classic look they love in furnishing the house, the Joneses started with family pieces. The oval dining room table was handed down from their grandmother. The opulent gilt mirror was a gift from their mother, as was the graceful wood occasional table in the living room.
Many of their best finds, such as a set of vintage spirits decanters, were garnered at auctions. Most bidders thought the chest in the dining room was headed to the landfill. Tré Jones recognized the quality construction of the drawers. He bought it for a song and replaced the damaged top and feet.
If you’re buying at auction, be prepared to look long and hard for the best pieces. Then be prepared to walk away when the bidding gets too hot.
“Set a price and stick to it,” he says. “If you don’t get what you want at one auction, you probably will at the next sale.”
The gavel went down at a mere $35 for the vintage wrought iron dining set on the back porch. “It was raining—and nobody wanted to go out in the rain,” he recalls. “That’s when you get the best deals.”
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