The Best Kept Secret
Tom and Jan Trivett lived part-time in Southport for four years before they finally gave up the charade and bought a house. During those years, the couple took walks throughout the historic neighborhoods of downtown, always passing the home at 406 Clarendon Avenue with an inkling it was special.
“We would walk by this house every day and think, ‘Well? Well, I dunno. We don’t want a house yet,’” Jan recalls.
The house was constructed in 1923 for W.J. Dosher, a cousin of J. Arthur Dosher, the chief surgeon of Southport’s Dosher Memorial Hospital in the 1930s. He bought five lots on and surrounding 406 Clarendon—two on the site, two to the left for another house, and one on the right—in 1909 for approximately $11,000 from W.H. Pike. “I think he was an alderman, he was a real estate agent,” Jan says of Pike. “I think he was everything in this town, including postmaster. I looked him up down at the paper, and he had done everything.”
W.J. Dosher erected the house to the left first. “The story goes that he built this house afterward because his family outgrew that one, so they had both houses and they were connected—that’s why they’re so close together,” Jan hints. “Now that’s the story—we’ve never had a Dosher confirm it—but we do know the houses are linked in two places by concrete.”
A concrete slab runs under the neighbor’s back porch all the way to 406 Clarendon. “That probably just didn’t happen by coincidence,” Tom alludes. “A couple people said, ‘No, they were never connected.’ But that concrete slab really makes you think so.”
Unsolved mysteries such as this are part of the allure of an older home. The Trivetts have much experience living in and renovating historic houses; for some, it seems the love of antiquity runs in their veins.
“As Jan said, the house was built in 1923,” Tom continues. “We’ve confirmed that on tax records but we’ve never really gone any further. One of the interesting things that we did find when we cleaned out the attic was a 1923 Popular Mechanics magazine in readable condition.”
The house sold out of the Dosher family in the ‘80s. Maxine Dosher Davis, one of W.J.’s children, was the last of the line to live in the home. The Trivetts purchased the abode in 2006. “This is our third old house,” Jan tells. “Our first one was over 100 years old in 1974.”
“It was a house that was surrounded by 60 acres of corn and soybean in central Illinois,” Tom describes. “Someone had started to work on it and couldn’t afford to do the rest of it. I had a friend who was a carpenter, and I asked him if he would teach me, and he did.”
Tom picked up a few skills in working with drywall, electrical, plumbing and more. “We got transferred from there to South Carolina, and that was a newer home,” he says. “I got transferred again to Greensboro, and that was a 1954 house. We did all the finished carpentry and all the bathrooms in it, to the extent that I could. Of course, we hired tile people.”
Before the Trivetts made their way to Southport, Tom was corporately downsized. “At the time we owned the farm where the cows were, and that became a labor of love,” he shares. “You don’t make a lot of money with cows. It’s a lot of work. People say, ‘Well, just feed them.’ You fertilize the hay, you cut the hay, you fluff the hay, you rake the hay, you bale the hay—and nobody’s even had a bite yet. So after a period of time, and with a lot of emotion, we decided it was best to get rid of the family farm and put our efforts somewhere else that we would really enjoy. That became Southport.”
In the process of losing a job and selling the farm, Tom began a small contracting business. “I thought, I’ll play golf three days a week and work three days a week,” Tom quips. “Well, in a matter of three or four months, I was working six days a week and eight hours a day, doing things that people just didn’t want to do for themselves. It was a lot of fix and repair stuff. It got to be a very viable business, so I had really polished some of the skills that I needed to tackle this.”
Tom reports several folks had done some remodeling to the Southport home before he and his wife bought it, but he says the layout just wasn’t user-friendly. The couple moved a few walls, removed a few inopportune doors and windows, and added several built-in pieces and Southport bows to provide the house a better look, flow and use of space.
“One of the nice things about this house is it’s kind of a surprise, like the best kept secret in town,” Jan discloses. “You look at it and think, Hmm, it’s a cottage. Then you walk in and you go, ‘Where did the rest of the house come from?’”
The small front exterior, boasting only a front porch and new landscaping, is merely a bluff compared to what lies beyond. “The deck, the screened porch beyond that, the two-car garage, the back yard,” Jan counts. “Not every place in Southport has that bigger yard area. The first thing we did was put a picket fence up, because there was just open space over there, and it defined the house and the garden, and it also kept our yellow Labrador in.”
“And teasingly kept the alligators out!” Tom cracks.
“About a month before we bought the house and moved in,” Jan explains, “an alligator showed up in a store just a couple blocks from this street. So that became the neighborhood joke.”
Laughs aside, the Trivetts put in some serious work to the 1923 abode, giving it updates and additions galore. “We knew they’d done some updating in the ‘80s—new electrical, new plumbing,” Jan tells. “We did a new HVAC system. We have [refinished] some of the [original] floors. But we don’t know that they didn’t cover up some of the beadboard ceilings and things like that.”
Any beadboard wainscoting or ceilings are original to the home. The charm of 1920s woodwork can’t be beat.
In one of the guest rooms, the original beadboard appears on the walls. Tom added white built-ins, a desk and a bookcase to match. “One thing that was in this room was the backside of the cold-air return,” he reveals. “So we just built a countertop and shelves underneath to frame it all in and make it look pretty. [But even that] looked kind of halfway. Jan was looking at Pottery Barn—that’s the downfall around here. She’ll look at something in Pottery Barn and say, ‘You can build that.’”
In the master bedroom, Tom leveled out the his-and-hers closets so that each could have ample space, as one was set three feet back. In the master bathroom, Tom raised the counters to today’s standard height of 36 inches, and re-worked the plumbing. “Shortly after, we tore the shower out and put in a nice shower with matching floor,” he says of the ceramic tile. “All new fixtures, tile bars, faucets throughout the house. That’s really a lot of what the house needed: just to be personalized. It never really had been.”
The next big project the Trivetts took on was the kitchen—a huge undertaking indeed. “We totally gutted the kitchen,” Tom admits.
The goal for the room was to have a good flow and to be able to fit a lot of people. “As you probably figured out, we like to entertain,” Jan muses. “We have a bar in the kitchen and out on the back deck. “
The kitchen, which opens up to the rear deck, is used by friends as the entry most of the time, because the parking pad is in the rear of the house. “So they come in and they’d drop stuff, but all we were doing was putting purses and jackets on this bench and nothing else,” Jan explains. “So we put a bar here [between the kitchen and dining area]. We purposely didn’t put a sink in it so that you can use it as a serving bar, which we do a lot. We line the food up here for 20 people.”
Tom says many people ask why they didn’t create a wet bar. He points to the kitchen sink but a few feet away. “There’s a faucet right there-; it’s pretty simple,” he says.
Their flair for fun was part of the appeal of 406 Clarendon. “Everyone says, ‘Oh, you bought the house with the party deck!’” Jan exclaims.
With good reason: The deck is massive. “The deck is a huge, great party place,” Tom agrees, “and it was just a huge, gray mass. It didn’t have any rhyme or reason to it, so we stained all the vertical pieces to that beige-green, and then built furniture. We put new screening on the porch, and put a big picnic table in there and just dressed it up that way.”
Gathering a group on the deck is a good way to show off Tom’s first pieces of handiwork, too. One of his initial projects on the house was the addition of custom louvered shutters. “I’ve always loved what I call old-fashioned Florida hurricane shutters. It was really a pragmatic thing to do, because the sun would beat you to death out here,” he quips. “It makes a good filter along with the inside window treatments.”
Beyond the deck’s large, angled back stairs, Tom’s “spa,” Jan’s lush garden, and a combination garage and studio space await.
Tom’s outdoor shower oasis is very spacious, with a separate seating area to place any clothing or items far enough away from the shower that they stay dry. “I’ve got stereo speakers, so I turn the stereo on, grab a cold beer, and I can shave there with the mirror,” he says. It makes for a good rinse after a long day of yard work—without tracking mud through the interior of the home.
“I’m from a long line of British gardeners, so it’s in my blood,” Jan says of her passion for gardening. She worked for a nursery in Greensboro for years. “There was nothing back here, just this tree and some dirt. That’s why we put in the fence, and I can’t live without a garden. Why have a screened porch if you have to look at [an unfinished yard]?”
“We consider her having the professional green thumb,” Tom responds. Blue flowers and ground-covering shrubs offer a beautiful scene in the back yard, with plenty of room for a very green lawn.
Another item the Trivetts couldn’t live without was a two-car garage. The walls of the garage are covered in pegboard, providing space for fishing rods and gardening and carpentry tools. Tom also built a workbench.
Upstairs, Jan—a photographer, painter and custom stationery designer—has her own sanctuary. “This area is all mine,” she affirms.
A bright, airy studio space hosts a large table for working, as well as a storage/desk area for her computer. A very large closet stores all of her arts supplies. An easel rests in the corner with her latest work. “This is the truck I’ve always wanted,” she says of the antique red pick-up on canvas. “I thought, since we have three cars as it is, I’d just paint one. I always have two or three things going.”
She points to various works, recalling vacations and experiences as she goes along. “That’s from California, one over there from a trip to France last year. Most of the photography up here is from France.”
Tom says one of the reasons the Trivetts chose 406 Clarendon was because they felt the home possessed a lot of potential. “The house really has a decent, open floor plan,” Tom divulges. “This really put my abilities to the test. There are a lot of things we did to the house you really don’t see: underneath, insulation, checking the wiring and plumbing.” Tom had the roof replaced in 2012, as well as a new heat pump that same year.
“A lot of it was trial and error. I had a lot of experience doing drywall and crown molding, and have some experience with old houses, but this really brought everything together to make it all work,” Tom remarks. “It’s been a lot of fun.”
The touch-ups don’t stop there. The gutted and fully renovated kitchen ended with black granite countertops, custom cabinets, a breakfast bar, and two Southern-style ceiling fans. Of course, new appliances were added as well. Off of the kitchen is the laundry room.
“The laundry room was interesting, too,” Tom begins. “New dryers are deeper than the old guys. There was a lot of wasted space, so I figured I’d put a hole in the wall and cut a recess receptacle in. There was thick sheet metal all around the wall—it took me forever to cut a hole in it. We suspect that at one time it was the ice room. Years ago they did the block ice. Somewhere in the neighborhood of about three feet high, all the way across, was this really thick sheet metal. We got it recessed, and we built shelves in and put in a ceiling—it didn’t have a ceiling, per se—and molded it so it looks finished. It worked out nicely.”
Out front, Tom also renewed the porch. The home originally hosted tiny spindles rather than large posts, and the railings were very high. The Trivetts say it was very disproportionate.
“When you sit down and can’t see over the railing, and you’re there with your favorite drink, you say, ‘What’s the matter here?’” he poses. “So I cut all those down and put the larger wood on top. Then I rebuilt the steps, partly because our Labrador got really old and couldn’t maneuver down the big steps in the back. I rebuilt these to make them more friendly for Jan and I at some time, and for the dog. I put the brick paving here, too, and re-did all the shrubbery.” Tom also took six layers of paint off the porch floor and stained it.
Finally, Jan remarks, “I would really love to sell the house to somebody who would enjoy it.” The Trivetts have listed the home in order to move to Wilmington to be closer to their son, daughter-in-law and grandson.
“We need to be there as we get older,” Tom says. “The hour drive up, the hour drive back, sometimes is laborious at best.”
“We’ll still have a presence down here,” Jan adds, as the Trivetts still will own their condo in Southport. “It will be great, because Grayson can walk to Bullfrog Corner. He’s grown up here on the boat, and we want him to go to sailing school with Kevin Hennessey. We won’t leave completely.”
Of the work spent on the historic home, they regret nothing. “It’s been fun, it really has,” Jan tells. “I think Mr. Dosher would absolutely be happy to know that his $11,000—well, just the lot next door sold for $150,000.”
“We have a great sense of neighborhood,” Tom adds. “We have some very nice neighbors, and everybody’s got an interesting point-of-view, background, how they got here. [As for the projects,] you kind of live with it and do it, once we get one thing done we start another,” Tom adds. “But we’ve enjoyed it the whole time.”
The Trivett home, 406 Clarendon Avenue in Southport, boasts 1,601 square feet with three bedrooms and two full baths, as well as a bonus room and formal dining room. The house is listed with Kay Jolliff of Margaret Rudd Realty for $535,000. Kay can be contacted by phone at (910) 523-0624.