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Galveston Monthly

Galveston's "Big Texas Fix"

Apr 04, 2019 08:01AM
Galveston’s unique architecture is about to be in the public eye again, when Michael and Ashley Cordray’s highly anticipated new series “Big Texas Fix” premieres on HGTV this month.

Sitting in the newly renovated Kettle House, their most talked about project for the upcoming series, the Cordrays - who own Save 1900 Realty - shared a bit about the journey and projects that brought them to this point.

Sightings of the film crews, who worked with the couple for 20 weeks to film on the Island, were the subject of daily social media discussions and posts.

“We filmed eight episodes, each with a different house, between April and July of last year,” Ashley says.

“Nine, counting the pilot,” he adds.

As exciting as the process has been for the entire community, it was a long process with no initial
guarantees that their efforts would result in a show.

“This has been in the works since 2015,” Ashley explained.

“A solid year before the pilot started,” continued Michael. “HGTV had put the word out that they were looking for a beach house community with homes in a certain price range.”

“Which was basically Galveston,” Ashley interjects. “There are a few others, but not many that fit their profile, and it had to be a cool Gulf Coast town, so - especially with Galveston’s history - we were the one. We talked to about 25 production companies with our pitch. When we found one that was a good fit, we started Skype interviews with them that were edited and assembled those into a short reel a few minutes long that was sent to HGTV.”

Once HGTV gave a green light to proceed with the process, the production company came to the Island for a couple of days and filmed what amounted to a five minute episode.

“They call that a ‘sizzle’ reel,” Ashley says, explains the TV lingo.

“They bought that, so then we filmed a pilot that aired occasionally for about six months from the first showing until the last,” Michael says of the HGTV network.

“The pilot was even edited from the original 30 minute version to an hour to try out different
formats,” continues Ashley. “At the time they found us, we hadn’t even flipped many houses, and we were only working on one house at a time. That’s what every production company asked us when they called, ‘How many houses are you working on right now?’ They wanted that person who was flipping ten houses at a time, because they know how hard the filming schedules are.

We thought the series would mean filming about three days a week, but it was more like six and a half.”

“More like seven and half,” Michael adds.

“Everything has worked out well, though. Of the eight properties we renovated for the show we’ve already sold four, a fifth is on the market and a sixth will go on the market in about a month.”

“We’re selling six, one will be a rental and the other is the one we’re living in,” she says. “Of the four we’ve sold so far, two of them are being lived in full time, one is going to be a rental, and the fourth was purchased by a single gentleman who is using it as a second home.”

Galvestonians and visitors to the Island have been quite curious about discovering locations the couple was working on while filming was still occurring. The home used for the pilot episode has received a great deal of attention, and the owners generously allowed it to be included on the Galveston Historical Foundation Homes Tour.

“We just don’t give the addresses out, for the sake of the new owners. Not to mention the fact that project houses are not always a safe place to visit during the renovation process. There could be lead paint, holes in the floor or any number of dangerous situations,” she says.

“One of the houses is on a half-street by Menard House, and was difficult for me to even find when Michael was directing me to it.”

Michael adds, “It was a 1,200-square-foot house on a tight lot, and we had to tear off part of it to make a parking spot because you can’t park on the street.” His wife quickly adds, “So that one little parking spot is valuable! It is the cutest little house, but to say it was a shack would have been an understatement. We’ve bought several houses for $30,000, but this was the one
time we paid that amount and friends and family told us it wasn’t worth it - and now it’s so cool. It’s the first one we sold, the first day it was listed for over asking price.” There were eight identical rooms in the house, each painted a different color.

“We took the wallboards down while we were working, and as the pile got shifted from room to room it got all mixed up,” she says.

“The original floorboards were completely rotten from roof leaks, so we used the old wallboards on the floors. The plan had always been to sand the floors and make them look like ‘new-old’ floors. But since we had moved the piles of lumber from room to room so many times, the wood got intermingled. When the flooring guy laid it the first half of the floor down, it was multi-colored.” Ashley recalls with delight how much she loved the look, to which her husband replied, “You’re not keeping that!”

“With only half the floor done, it was just going down randomly, and then it would become a challenge to make the entire floor look random,” he elaborates.

“Pinks and blues and greens and purple,” Ashley laughs. “So you had to make sure not to run out of green,” he says.

“Then it wasn’t possible to come in with a big sander,” Ashley shrugs. “It became a process of strategically sanding with your hand, and hand polying but it turned out so well.”

“We don’t really know how old that house is,” he says. The history of the homes the couple restore is one of the major points of interest to them. “We traced the paperwork back to about 1913. It could have been moved or rebuilt there at that time.”

“Insurance documents give a lot of information about the historical properties,” she says. “With this property, the windows were six over six, and it also had other features that date back further, so, in our opinion, it was older.”

Ashley took on the responsibility of decorating and staging each of the homes for reveals at the end of the show episodes.

“Right down to the chairs, couches, pillows and even the books on the shelves,” Michael says.

When asked what the biggest challenge was during those busy few weeks, Michael quickly responds: “Time. At one point all eight properties were in progress. The  one that we started first was finished last. We would be staging one house, while doing repairs on another.
We had three carpentry crews, three paint crews, and a plumber, and electrician.”

“It was a ride,” Ashley shares. “The reveals were always at 6 a.m., so that’s when the crew showed up and we had stayed there all night staging. The way it was scheduled on paper was that there were two days for staging, but the timelines are so tight that sometimes we were still painting or Michael was still working on carpentry things while I was trying to bring in furniture that last night.”

“I would leave with my sister and friends to pick up our last items. ‘O.K., It’s almost 7 o’clock. That gives us three minutes to get to Marshall’s, then we can hop over to Home Goods, then At Home, and we can hit Target at 11:00 right before they close. That would get us back to the Island by 11:30 p.m. and we would have until 6 a.m.
to stage it,’” she recalls.

“We even borrowed furniture from friends houses at the last minute. If a piece we had didn’t work once it was in the house. Friends and family all pitched in during the process. I made a trip to Round Top, as well, and bought a pier mirror there. They are so hard to find, affordably.”
Michael shakes his head, and adds, “But we went to Target enough. We were going so often to the local stores, and each project would happen so quickly, we almost knew what their inventory was.”

They relied heavily on Galveston shops for both inspiration and décor, including the Antique Warehouse at 423 25th St., where they found several mid-century pieces for the Kettle House.

“That little guy came out of the trash,” she says, pointing to a small chair. “It’s a sewing seat, so the cushion lifts up for storage. I had Christine at Woven Inspirations put a cute little cover on it for me. She did about ten upholstery projects for the show.”

“Everyone on the Island that we reached out to when we needed something came through for us,” he adds.

“Working on these projects is real life, just ten times fast forward.”

“Finding eight homes, buying eight homes, funding the renovations for eight homes…it’s a lot,” she admits. “We’ve bought two houses since we finished filming. Luckily real estate has been busy, because that’s our main income.”


 The renovation of Galveston’s Kettle House generated the most local interest of any of their projects. The would-be home made from a steel tank has been located on the Island’s West End for generations, and it has been the subject of countless versions of how it came to be there.

“We traced the history back to 1960-’63, but that’s as close as we can get it,” he says. “I was obsessed with it, and determined to buy it when it became available.”

“I thought he was crazy, but he’s from Galveston, so it really meant something to him,” she says. “It was $85,000, and that was quite a lot.”

“Basically that was for 900 square feet of steel shell,”  he admits, “But the longer you’ve lived in or visited  Galveston, the cooler this house is. Everybody’s got a different version of its story, and it’s just that thing that everyone tells a story about.”

“During Ike it got 15 or 16 feet of water, which is crazy to think,” she says.

“But it survived, and is stronger than it has ever been with the new bracing,” he points out.

“This one was definitely a challenge. My two semesters of welding in school didn’t quite prepare me for this,” Ashley says with a laugh. “It’s so different from anything we’ve ever done.”

“Of the eight houses, this took the third longest to complete,” he adds. “The house we live in now took the longest, partly because it’s large.”

“This took a long time because no one else could work while they were welding,” she adds. “It’s also the first time we’ve put in a deck, first time using spray foam insulation, and definitely first time having to figure out how to put in walls inside an orb shape. It feels bigger on
the inside because of the sloped walls, which we covered in cedar. We added a few more windows and installed casement crank style, so that they could be opened to catch the breeze.”

“Since the Kettle was put here in the ’60s, we wanted it to feel mid-century modern on the inside. Most of the pieces are vintage.”

The spaces in the small home are invitingly open, and the smallest details have been given attention down to an original drawing of the Kettle House done by local artist Rosa Morgan.

“We kind of used the original braces that came out from the center of the ceiling to divide the top floor into pieshaped rooms,” she says. “The breakfast area, kitchen, living room, master bedroom and bathroom fill that space.

Two additional beds downstairs, along with hammock style chairs suspended from the ceiling complete the space.

The most obvious change to the Kettle to passersby is a large, elevated entertaining deck that has been added to the home.

“There’s also a sitting area downstairs beneath the upper deck so you can escape the sun in the afternoons,” Ashley says.

The original steel spiral staircase connects the upper and lower floors in the center of the house. The Cordrays admit that the stairs are quite steep, but were told by engineers that taking the central support out of the structure would compromise it.

“This little place is so darn cute,” she gushes, obviously having had a change of heart from when they bought it. “It’s so quirky. I love it.”

The Cordrays plan to list the Kettle House as a rental for up to six adults, so countless people who have been curious about it over the years will actually have a chance to stay there.

For now the Cordrays are back in the business of saving history in Galveston - one historic home at a time - and anticipating the premiere of their new show.

Watch the premiere episode of “Big Texas Fix” on HGTV on Saturday, April 6. Follow the Cordrays on their Instagram account @save1900, and on their website