More in News
Achieving the American dream
Abbey and Curtis Rice purchased a 1901 building in 2003 known as The Spite House. Abandoned for eight years and vandalized, they've worked to turn the Prospect Avenue in Rumford residence into their home.
Several years ago, Abbey Rice is seen absorbed in her task of ripping up the floor.
In the early days of working on the home, Curtis Rice is seen sitting on an unhooked toilet thinking about what he'd gotten himself into here.
The Rice family spends most of their time in the large room that has the kitchen and the living room.
Meet the Rice family. From left are Vivian, Abbey, Betty, Curtis, Dexter and Kathryn.
Dexter gives a tug on the pull chain to flush the toilet in an old-fashioned bathroom that includes the original
This is what Kathryn's room looks like now. She is seen here with her sister, Vivian.
Abbey and Curtis Rice are seen on what they call their fancy floor, which includes a sitting room, a fireplace, historical artifacts and a wall of family diplomas.
Achieving the American dream often involves owning your own home.
Reaching that traditionally has meant building new or purchasing from a previous owner.
Curtis and Abbey Rice of Rumford now have their dream home, but accomplished that feat in a different way. They purchased a century-old house that had been abandoned and vandalized and breathed life back into it with years of hard work.
They purchased the 1901 building in 2003. Located on Prospect Avenue, it has four floors and a widow's walk.
"We looked at a lot of old places in Rumford that needed a lot less work than this," recalled Curtis, who noted they were actually looking at the Milligan house when they saw this one, which at the time, many of the windows were boarded up.
"We looked inside and saw all the woodwork that had never been painted and was still original and in really great shape," he said. "Later that night, Abbey had some dream..."
Abbey clarified. "I had the dream and then we came to look at the house. I dreamed we bought this house and it was the perfect house for us. We had never looked at it. We had seen it and driven by it. Then the next day, we looked in the window and saw what we could see. We couldn't see much, other than it was a cool house."
Curtis said they got a real good price on the house, purchased from Greg and Donna Trundy. It had not been lived in for eight years and had been vandalized, with a lot of broken stuff everywhere.
"We figured what we needed to have done and got a loan after getting estimates on everything we were going to do. We ended up putting more into the heating system than what we paid for the house."
Progress was slowed by the fact that the place needed all new electrical, new heating, a new floor and a new roof.
The first thing the couple did was to tear down all the ceilings, with the help of family members. As a result, they required a lot of sheet rock, purchased and delivered from Puiia Hardware. There were also materials purchased from Home Depot and Lowe's. Specialty items like bathroom fixtures and push button electrical switches were purchased online. They replaced all the electrical but they kept a lot of the original fixtures.
Curtis said, "We did a lot of the work ourselves and hired local contractors to do work like build cabinets based on the design of the original cabinets."
In using local contractors, they had both good and bad experiences.
The Rices recommended that when you seek a contractor that you ask for references, besides the ones that the contractor offers. Also check with the Better Business Bureau.
"I just sort of figured that you couldn't stay in business that long if you were awful," noted Curtis. "Like how bad could they possibly be, right?"
"Apparently you can be bad and still be in business," added Abbey.
Curtis noted they received good work from painter Linwood Ronan and from their neighbor up the street.
The house is now filled with the sounds of happy, playful children. Kathryn, Vivian, Dexter and Betty have plenty of room to play their games, and this summer, the couple will introduce Annie to the home.
When asked how many rooms were in the home, Abbey and Curtis disagreed on the actual number, which was between 16 and 18, as a couple of smaller rooms might or might not be considered a room as such.
Most of the really hard work was done before the couple started their family more than five years ago.
Abbey said that once she started having children, her husband had been doing most of the work on the home while she worked to keep the family in line.
She joked, "I've had to keep them (the children) away from the power tools."
In the main room, which now comprises the kitchen and the living room, a wall was taken down and they also discovered a brick wall after stuff in front of it was pulled away. "This is the hub of the house. Ninety percent of our waking time is spent here."
The house also had no insulation when they bought it. Curtis has done a lot of insulation work here.
Abbey showed one of their many photos that showed her dressed warm with a hat while writing Christmas cards while the temperature inside was just 45 degrees.
"We did most of our own painting, a lot of the woodwork, etc.," said Curtis.
Abbey added, "Curtis spent many, many, many late late nights on this house, until 2, 3, 4 o'clock in the morning."
Curtis recalled, "Before the kids, we both would be working really late on the house. Before we got it really insulated and sealed up, it was really bad. In the winter time, it was like 45 degrees and we were pumping our heat full feed."
The results of their work is very impressive, although there's still work to be done, particularly on the fourth floor in a couple of rooms which are currently being used for storage.
Curtis also did the landscaping work outside the home.
"I offered him advice," added Abbey.
After all this work, both admitted they were surprised at how much they were able to do.
However, Curtis noted, "Part of the problem is that we were super confident."
Abbey added, "We definitely approached this project with the idea that we could do it."
Curtis said they also throught originally that they would finish rooms as they added to their family.
"Pretty much every time we'd have a kid, we'd finish another room or two," said Abbey.
"It's good to have motivation," joked Curtis.
Before getting started on the house, the couple sought help from a lot of home improvement books and articles that they read online. They also admitted having some unrealistic deadlines for completing rooms.
Abbey said everything takes about three times longer than what they imagined. But part of that is because both are sticklers for getting the best results they can.
"Curtis has often said that he's going to live in this house until he dies and he doesn't want to look at something that's going to annoy him," said Abbey.
"Especially in the bathroom when you're sitting on the toilet because you spend a lot of time sitting there thinking, and if you've got something in front of you that was done wrong, you're going to remember it," said Curtis.
Abbey said she often will look at something they worked on and think about how long it took or how they might have done it differently, or even how great it turned out.
"There's a lot of things we think about in this house and say, 'that came out really great.'"
Curtis added, "We're really happy about the brick wall."
Abbey then showed some nice carpentry work Curtis did for the food pantry, which was more impressive considering that he's never done carpentry work before this. "He was just confident that he could figure it out...It's fantastic. I love it."
Again, they point out things that need to get finished, things like trimming and a finish to a set of stairs.
"It's one thing at a time," said Abbey.
Curtis said, "You just have to imagine the house as a total wreck."
Abbey recalled one picture taken of Curtis sitting on an uninstalled toilet, surrounded by construction and thinking, "What have I done?"
When they were in the early stages of working on their home, Curtis said they actually purchased a membership at the Greater Rumford Community Center so they could use the showers there.
Abbey, who then worked as a reporter for the Rumford Falls Times, said, "I would come down to the GRCC before work, shower and then go to work."
Curtis discovered a 1906 newspaper article from the Boston Globe that talked about the guy who built this house.
The guy was from Boston, so the house was built a lot like a Boston row house.
There was also a dispute between this guy and a neighbor, so he decided to build the house on the egde of his lot
so it would block the neighbor's view of the Rumford Falls. For that reason, the house became known as "The Spite House."
The family's favorite room is the largest single room that has the kitchen and living room. "We spend amount 90 percent of our time here," noted Curtis.
The second floor is their fancy floor, which looks as old-fashioned as possible has a bathroom, with the original bathtub and a toilet with a pull chain to flush.
There is a combination sitting and family room, with part of a wall filled with family diplomas. On the other side of the room is a beautiful old fireplace.
There is a lot of history displayed, thanks to items from relatives. There is also a cabinet that used to be in the home of the late Dot Sanchas and before that, in one of the church schools. It had been donated to the Rumford Hospital Auxiliary's annual lawn sale and was purchased by Abbey.
At the very top of the home is the widow's walk, which has windows all the way around, offering a great view around town and is especially spectacular during fall foliage.
"I love to hang around up here," noted Curtis.
Curtis, an attorney, chose Rumford to set up his livelihood. Abbey said another reason they chose Rumford was because it was "a good sized town that we could actually be a part of and make a difference. To be part of a town instead of part of a big city like Portland. And there's a lot of possibilities here."
Abbey noted that other young couples could follow their lead because "there's no many old houses around here that could be fantastic, that are fantastic and could be even better. Dot's house across the street is amazing and it's been on the market for awhile."
Curtis added, "If you can afford to live in Rumford and you like old houses, there's lots of great opportunities."
Many of these houses do not need the amount of work that the Rice home required.
"This house needed a lot of work. But there's a lot of houses that don't need nearly as much work," noted Abbey.
Curtis said, "One thing about old houses is that it makes the theme of decorating easier because you don't have to worry about having a modern decorating scheme. We don't have to worry about this going out of style because it's not really in style. But we like the old look."
"The problem in Rumford is that the houses are so cheap that anyone who has a job can afford to buy a house, so there's a lot of rental properties around. And, of course, because there used to be 12,000 people in Rumford and now it's 6,000, so it's hard to justify putting money into these houses unless you know you're going to be living here."
"Our plan is not to ever sell it," said Curtis.
Abbey added, "This is not an investment. This is just our life."