Home Renovation A Family Affair

Molly Corliss Colvin stands on the inviting front porch of the ancestral home she and her brothers, Chad and Cody Corliss, helped renovate on Third Street in New Martinsville. Photo by Miles Layton

Home renovation is a labor of love for the Corliss siblings, New Martinsville natives who recently transformed the century-old former home of a beloved family member, adding modern amentities but preserving much of the antique charm.

The wood-paneled, reddish-brown home sits at the corner of W.Va. 2 and Third Street at 782 Third St. in New Martinsville. Inviting white trim and a spacious porch lead into the home that was the site of many childhood memories for Chad, Molly and Cody Corliss.

The home has been in the Corliss family for four generations, starting with their paternal great-grandparents, the Froehlichs. Owners of a local furniture store, the Froehlichs picked their home out of a Sears and Roebuck catalog in 1914. They raised their family there and eventually passed the home down to their daughter, Ruth Wells, in the 1970s.

This is how the Corliss siblings remember the home, as the domain of their dynamic and lively great-aunt Ruth.

“The home really showed off the personality of our aunt,” Chad said. “She lived to be 103, lived a great life, and got to see a lot of different things. She was very artistic, very eclectic, very well-educated. She traveled the world.”

Ruth, a school teacher by profession, had collected many items throughout her travels and used them to decorate her home with her own personal twist. She lived there until she was 93 years old and then moved to a New Martinsville nursing home.

Ruth remained in the nursing home until she died in October. The house had sat unoccupied for 10 years, and, just like any home that sits abandoned for that long, it slipped into disrepair. The Corliss’ father, Charlie, inherited the home when Ruth died and was unsure of what to do with it. Chad, Molly and Cody contemplated purchasing it from their father, but they knew taking on a renovation project among the three of them would be complicated.

After growing up in New Martinsville and graduating from Magnolia High School, the Corliss siblings had scattered across the country and globe, building exciting careers and starting families of their own.

Chad became a physical therapist who treats patients in the Parkersburg area. He and his wife, Megan, bought their own home in 2010 and fully renovated it, so they were well aware of the challenges posed by renovation, which would be compounded by the siblings’ distance from the home. Chad and Megan live the closest, and even they are an hour’s drive away.

Molly’s home base is Charleston, S.C. After high school, she attended Clemson University where she met her husband, Tyler, now a professional baseball player. Molly and Tyler Colvin moved around the country, and Molly worked as a real estate agent while Tyler played on baseball’s biggest stages, including the Chicago Cubs, the Colorado Rockies and the San Francisco Giants during their World Series win in 2014.

Cody lives the farthest away, working as an advocate of international justice. He is a war crimes prosecuting attorney with the United Nations at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, the Netherlands.

The Corliss siblings weighed the obstacles presented by distance with their attachment to a home that bonded the three of them. They decided facing the challenges ahead would be worthwhile in order to preserve the memories of the past.

“Instead of letting it fall to the ground and letting it get worse and worse, my brother, sister and I decided we were going to do something to save it. We all had good memories there growing up. To us, there was a lot worth saving,” Chad said.

The trio convinced their father to sell it to them for a good price, and the family set out to renovate it entirely on their own — no contractors needed.

Chad and Megan deployed every bit of their do-it-yourself know-how. Not only were they experienced from renovating their own home, they also were enthused about the prospect of taking on a new project. They had adopted home renovation as a fun hobby and a way to spend quality time together.

“It’s very gratifying to totally change what (a house) looked like two weeks ago, to now it looks completely different,” said Chad. “I enjoy working with my wife. She’s very handy, and we get along very well. We work very well together.”

Traveling back and forth to New Martinsville during evenings and weekends, Chad and Megan gutted the kitchen and the bathrooms, installing new stainless steel appliances, granite countertops, tile and more.

Both Chad’s parents and Megan’s parents chipped in a helping hand whenever they could. Charlie and Casey Corliss still live in New Martinsville while Megan’s family resides in nearby Sistersville.

Chad said that Megan’s father and uncle taught them some essential skills so that over time, he and Megan gained “confidence and experience (in renovating by) just picking it up and doing it and learning from my father-in-law that there is no mistake that can’t be fixed.”

Although Molly was several states away and Cody was on a different continent, they pitched in from afar with the help of modern technology. They frequently talked with Chad on FaceTime calls and conference calls, discussing different materials, mock-ups and layouts. Molly and Cody helped finance and coordinate the project, weighed in on virtually every design decision, and visited the home whenever they could.

“Now with the digital age, I can instantly send a picture to my brother or sister even though they’re an ocean away, a continent away. So they were very influential in the process,” said Chad.

Corliss family gatherings at the holidays also served as an excuse to deliberate home design. Chad recalled picking out the backsplash for the house at Christmas, a decision which quickly turned into multiple family members voting on tile samples. He said he and his siblings were grateful for all of the help and enthusiasm they received from the rest of the family.

“It was a pretty collaborative effort … a big family project,” said Chad.

Their collaboration resulted in major updates of appliances and hardware, but a preservation of the spirit of the home. The home had originally been built for $3,000 in 1914, according to an itemized list of the construction costs that Molly stumbled upon while cleaning out the house. The contractors had painstakingly constructed oak-beamed ceilings and a beautiful fireplace. Even as they installed high-tech appliances and modern-looking shower tile, the siblings made sure to maintain the classic beauty of the elements that were most remarkable when the home was still their aunt Ruth’s domain.

“(The home) has a lot of touches of both the modern aspect of more contemporary living and then a lot of the Old World woodworking and craftsmen-style charm that the house originally came with,” said Chad.

The siblings have now put the home on the market, and although construction is finished, the home renovation project continues to bring the family together.

This summer, Molly has returned home for four weeks to contribute her real estate expertise to spread the word about the home. She and her 18-month-old son Max are staying in New Martinsville with her parents as she shows the home to interested buyers and markets it via websites like Zillow, Facebook posts and simple word of mouth. Chad also has made frequent visits to see his sister and prepare the home.

Chad said they received multiple offers after a well-attended open house last Sunday. But the Corliss siblings won’t accept just any offer. For the home that was their place of play and discovery in childhood, and a place to overcome challenges and work creatively together in adulthood, they seek an offer from a new family that will cherish it as the Corliss family did.

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