Melissa Mangold has a thing for old houses.
So it was a bit of a happy accident when she fell into a career buying interesting old homes, renovating them and turning them into income-producing properties.
One of Melissa’s latest projects is renovating a circa-1885 Victorian house on Harrison Street. For her, watching any beautiful old house fall into a state of disrepair is heartbreaking.
“That makes me really sad,” Melissa said. “That’s my pet peeve in this town. I find houses boarded and sitting there and nobody wants to sell them. … That is not helping the community. It’s not, you know, increasing your value, letting it fall apart.”
Her Harrison Street house is offered as an Airbnb rental as she continues to tinker with her vision — the second-floor landing, for instance, is being repainted and the alcove that now holds the refrigerator likely will become a coffee bar. And then there’s the awkward layout of the second-floor bathroom that she simply ran out of energy to tackle in the first set of renovations.
Now the house that once was darkened by heavy wood paneling is painted in deep blues, bold greens and bright pinks.
“You don’t want to look old when you’re old,” Melissa quipped of her decorating style.
The large foyer is painted in a bold pink and its front door is flanked by twin art pieces featuring flowers of the same pink set against a navy blue. A table sits in the center of the space.
The arched doorway leading to the back hall is walled by two large mirrors, likely installed in the 1920s. The light those mirrors reflect from the tall windows adds even more depth to the space.
Twin pocket doors lead off to the left and right parlors, though only one set still slides from its cavity. Melissa said all the contractors she’s hired to work on the house have tried to free the stuck door but it simply won’t budge.
One parlor, which likely once served as a dining room, now is a cozy den, painted a deep blue, and furnished in a large sectional sofa. The grey tiled fireplace with its bright white mantle is flanked by twin cabinets with doors painted in a grey that matches the fireplace.
The other parlor with its painted paneling features a large futon-style couch.
Behind those rooms is a first-floor bedroom, bathroom and kitchen. A side door leads to what Melissa believes once was a back porch. When she removed the old dark wood paneling, she found the original exterior siding.
The remainder of the hallway is covered in a gray bird-in-flight patterned wallpaper.
“I have to pick my battles — wallpaper, I love it, but it’s so expensive,” she said.
As Melissa worked on the hallway, she discovered phone numbers scribbled on the wall near the phone jack, serving as a sort of personal phone book.
In the kitchen, Melissa ripped out all the old cabinetry and appliances and crafted a modern kitchen, with wood countertops set onto new white cabinets over a tiled floor. Adding a dishwasher to the mix required a little creative problem-solving.
Adding the counter and dishwasher required blocking a second doorway into the kitchen space, but instead of walling over the old doorway, she cut the door in half, providing a view from the kitchen into the house where the top half of the door once was. The bottom half of the door was cleaned up and mounted back on its hinges, providing an access hatch to the back of the dishwasher.
“The contractors thought I was crazy, cutting it in half,” she said. “I was like, how can I keep this and make it work. ... I put some hardware on to kind of fill in where the hole is and I put the latch so it stays shut but you can open it, if you need to get to the back of the dishwasher.”
Melissa is planning to move the refrigerator to the laundry closet on the other side of the kitchen to turn the other alcove into a coffee bar where guests can enjoy a cup while looking out the window.
On the second floor landing, Melissa installed picture frame molding with little rosettes to provide features to the otherwise flat, dark-blue wall as guests walk to the three bedrooms and one bath on that floor.
The floor of the landing is darkly colored with a bright white mandala painted at the top of the stairs.
“I had a different plan for this and then I never finished it,” she said of the floor. “So as you can tell, I started painting the landing again. … I’ve been going section by section.”
The bathroom upstairs is wallpapered in a pattern of peacocks perched on gilded cages.
That bathroom, she said, was quite dark, with black laminate floors and dark paneling and what Melissa described as “the smallest ceiling fan in the world” the dangled bleakly from the space.
“It looks better than it did,” she said, but added she plans to rework the space.
“I still have to redo it a whole second time. I was so exhausted by the time I got to it, I was like, whatever, I’m just throwing up some board and putting a floor down. … I’m like, I don’t care anymore, I’m just doing this and getting it done and walking out here.”
The house originally was a yellow color, but Melissa painted it a sage green with pink accents popping out of the white trim.
Melissa said the house is well situated on the edge of downtown, where guests can walk to places, such as 5th Street Grind and Mama Crockett’s donuts.
“I like the fact it was kind of in this downtown area,” Melissa said. “It’s diverse and everyone’s nice… And you’ve got people who lived here for a really long time who know about the neighborhood and what they used to do here.”
Melissa’s love of these old houses began more than 20 years ago, when she lived in New Jersey and bought her first home, which she called a dump. That was before YouTube instructional videos, so Melissa checked out books from the library to learn how to repair plumbing and lay tile.
She sold that house at the top of the market and after a few other moves, she found herself crammed into a studio apartment with her partner and their son.
While surfing the internet, she came across an interesting old house in St. Petersburg, Florida. She kept watching the price fall on the old house, and by time it reached about $120,000, she asked her partner about it.
“‘Can we just move to St. Pete and buy this house?’ And my partner was like ‘Are you insane?’ and I was like ‘Maybe,’ but our son was two and a half, and he has autism, and he has ADHD. So, in a one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, ... he was like a nightmare.”
So, the couple looked at the house in St. Pete and ultimately purchased it for $100,000. The couple renovated the bungalow and began renting rooms to help fund the work the house needed, since they moved to Florida without jobs.
And a few years later, she found a listing on Lynchburg’s Washington Street.
“It was awesome,” she said. “This place … there are so many old houses here and they are cheap. I was like, ‘Where’s this magical fairy land?’”
The Florida bungalow sold for more than twice what she paid for it, “and then we bought [a house] on Rivermont, which was that 5,000-square-foot house on the corner of Denver and Rivermont avenues,” she said.
After renovating that house, Melissa began renting the back apartment of that house on Airbnb, and after finishing that property, she sold it and started anew.
“For the Florida house price, we bought that 5,000-square-foot house,” Melissa said. “So it was like a no-brainer. And then from there, we bought Harrison a year after.”
The Harrison Street house was owned by Lynchburg civil rights activist Walter Fore, who died in 2016. When the large house became too much for his widow to care for, she sold it to Melissa in 2018.
“She’s a great lady,” Melissa said.
But beyond the Fores, Melissa doesn’t know much about the home’s history. She tried to research its origins at the Jones Memorial Library but couldn’t find much.
Melissa viewed the Harrison Street property with her son while Mrs. Fore was there. Melissa’s son kept complimenting the house and before the pair left, the Mrs. Fore was smiling.
“I think Junior sold it,” she said with a chuckle. “He was like, ‘This is awesome, this is great,’ and I think she thought he was cute.”
Now she owns a house on Kensington Street. It’s not nearly as historic as she likes; built in 1950, it is the youngest house she’s owned and in the best shape. This one, though, has enough room for her growing boy and her mother, and isn’t as delicate as the old Victorians.
Melissa doesn’t hold a mortgage, and uses her equity to fund her other projects.
“I don’t like to be in a huge debt of mortgage,” she said.
Describing herself as cheap, Melissa does as much of the work as she can herself, paying just for materials.
“If I had to pay people to do a lot of stuff I could not have even started,” she said. “You know, I would never been able to afford someone to tile the whole kitchen or to put in the cabinets or all that backsplash.”
Melissa avoids homes with even the slightest foundational problems. Roof problems and termites also will make her think twice about a property.
“This is a no-brainer,” she said. “You just go in and you live in it, you fix it up, and then make a huge chunk of money. … I’m not an investor. I don’t have tons of money. I mean, it’s just being cheap and resourceful and using what you have, as a skill set, to be able to make you money.”
And Melissa is looking for her next project.
“We’ve gotten lucky and had some fun,” Melissa said. “You just never know what you’re going to get.”
PHOTOS: Lynchburg woman brings out beauty in old homes
Melissa Mangold has a thing for old houses.
So it was a bit of a happy accident when she fell into a career buying interesting old homes, renovating them and turning them into income producing properties.