NORWICH — The Evening Sun and Norwich Building Tomorrow Foundation have announced the winners for the 2022 Home Beautification Contest.
For the fourth year running, the Home Beautification Contest has served to identify, encourage, and reward property owners in the City of Norwich for making improvements to their homes.
The contest is divided into two categories: owner-occupied single-family homes, and multi-family properties. First place winners receive $5,000, second place wins $3,000, third place receives $2,000, and fourth place wins $1,000. Three properties were also selected for honorable mention, each receiving a $100 Lowe's gift card.
The winners for the 2022 Home Beautification Contest are as follows:
First place: Martha Ryan, 63 Silver Street
Second Place: Chris Halom, 13 Pellet Street
Third Place: Jack Roque, 26 Prospect Street
Fourth place (tie): Nancy Brunton, 20 Wales Drive; and Lee and Marilyn Wilhelm, 11 Rexford Street
First Place: Lee and Marilyn Wilhelm, 8 Henry Street
Maureen Byrne, 20 Newton Avenue
Melissa Beers, 49 Sheldon Street
Tim and Brenda Lowie, 142 South Broad Street
First place winner Martha Ryan said restoring houses in the City and Town of Norwich is a passion of her and her husband. The couple has been purchasing and renovating properties for 19 years, and to date they have restored seven houses in the City of Norwich and one house in the Town of Norwich.
"We take dilapidated, destroyed houses and we buy them and we restore them one at a time," said Ryan. "I moved into this community, my husband lived here all his life, and it was sad to look at houses falling apart, and well, we’ll take one at a time, we’ll [make] it beautiful, and then sometimes we rent them, sometimes we sell them, and sometimes we keep them."
Ryan purchased 63 Silver Street in 2021 for just $100 through a city tax sale, and by October 2022 had completed all her planned renovations. She credits the City of Norwich for trusting her to create a beautiful property, as well as Code Enforcement Officer Amy Donnison for educating her on city codes and how to get the house in compliance.
"We approached the City of Norwich and we said, how about we take care of this house? And they were so good," she explained. "They’re going in the tax sale, they sell them to the community, and you can put a small bid, and they consider it. They could have chosen a bid for more money, and instead they chose to trust us and that means a lot."
"And the code enforcer, Amy [Donnison], has been a heaven sent. She educated us on all the codes, she’s gone out of her way to make sure we understand what we needed to do to comply," she added.
The Norwich Lowe's and Oxford contractor Larry Lewis were also integral to the restoration project, Ryan said.
The property underwent top-to-bottom restoration, inside and out. Ryan said the Curb Appeal Program, which provides financial reimbursement for upgrades made to homes in the Museum District, helped her to complete renovations on the home's exterior.
For the exterior of the house, Ryan replaced front columns, replaced the roof, installed new concrete steps, installed lanterns, removed fencing and merged two driveways with a pavement base, and created paver-lined perennial landscapes.
She hopes this renovation and those she's done in the past, as well as the Home Beautification Contest, will inspire others in the area to upgrade and beautify their homes. To show off and give kudos to those helping to beautify the city, Ryan even started the Norwich Homes Movement Facebook page, where homeowners can share photos of their renovations.
"The committee, the trustees, are looking for the stories of people who are taking pride in their community. So I think it’s worth doing it," said Ryan. "When we all work together to make this community nicer, and prettier, and safer, we all win from it."
Although 63 Silver Street has served as her home for the past year, Ryan said she will soon be moving out so the property can be used as lodging for the museum district.
Second place winner Chris Halom spent most of last year renovating the entire exterior of his home. Upgrades included new siding, rebuilt front porch and steps, parging, a new garage door, and landscaping in the front yard.
But, Halom said he's not done renovating yet, and his winnings from the contest will help to complete further projects on his home.
"I want to still do a little more work on the house. There's a couple projects inside and a couple more I want to do on the outside that it will help with. So I’m really excited to have the money to go on and do other things," he said.
Like Ryan, he hopes his renovations will inspire others to complete their own. In fact, he's already seen others on his street following suit.
"I think the good thing is our street is kind of competitive as far as keeping up with the Joneses," said Halom. "The neighbor across the street, she went and put a new porch on the front of her house, and when I put a garage door in, the contractor was doing that for me. Basically he ended up getting my neighbor to put a garage door in, and then the guy down the street put a garage door in. Everybody sort of got sucked into my project."
This year's third place award went to Jack Roque with his property at 26 Prospect Street. Roque removed overgrown trees and shrubs, added mulch around the house, removed a tree, excavated and removed driveway fencing, installed stones to the driveway platform, planted grass, added new steps to his side door, painted the front and side entrances, and planted cedar trees.
Lee and Marilyn Wilhelm
Norwich residents Lee and Marilyn Wilhelm spent the past year renovating not one, but three houses, including their own home and two rental properties. Their residence and a multi-family rental property took fourth place in the single-family category and first place in the multi-family category.
Their home on Rexford Street received new front steps, repaired skirting and railings on their front porch with new mahogany wood, a fresh coat of paint, new shutters, repaired cracks in the siding, and replaced windows, shutters, and doors on their garage.
"[Lee] tried to go around the house every year and take one side just to keep it painted up. But to have it all done, this time we did it all, and we changed the color. So the house looks, to us, very dramatically different," said Marilyn, adding that shortly after renovating their home, they almost drove right past it because they didn't recognize it anymore. "We almost didn’t recognize our own house. We pulled in the driveway and I said, I just really don’t believe this is my house."
Their multi-family rental property on Henry Street received similar renovations. New railings and steps were installed, the house and garage were repainted, garage doors were replaced, and shrubs and flowers were planted in the front yard.
The Wilhelms also took advantage of the Curb Appeal Program to help offset the cost of renovating their single-family home, and after completing renovations on both properties realized they could enter the Home Beautification Contest, too.
Lee said he hopes more people take advantage of the incentives out there to help with beautifying their homes.
"It certainly is contagious if you’re looking at it with the right attitude. And the fact that both of these programs, Curb Appeal and the Home Beautification Contest, they’re going to have money like that available for someone to help with the [work] or actually accomplish the improvements that they want to do and get reimbursed for it, I don’t understand why more people aren’t doing exactly that. But it’s catching on, I’m sure it’s catching on," said Lee.
"We’re totally blown away by the results which have been awarded to us," he added. "We’re glad to be recognized for this particular contest and the work that we’ve done."
Tying with the Wilhelms for fourth place in the single-family category is Nancy Brunton, who grew up in Norwich and moved back to the city in 2020.
She said she knew her property had a lot of potential, and the past year was the right time to realize her vision.
"I just knew that the house had a lot more potential with some updating and modernization that could just look really like a nice house. I mean, it’s got a beautiful piece of land up here, and so I just had that vision right from the start," said Brunton. "With the contest I thought, why not? I know it’s going to be a big difference, so let me enter the contest and see how we do."
She put new siding on her house, added a front porch, repaired and extended the roof to cover the porch, added two stone walkways leading to the road and her driveway, and did some landscaping that she hopes will grow and flourish over the coming years.
Brunton utilized the services of local contractors and companies to get the work done. She said Brooks Construction completed her porch, Jerry Knapp Construction handled the siding, and RB Landscaping completed the masonry work. She also had a lot of help from the Norwich Curtis Lumber, who she said helped her with drawings of the porch, siding materials, roofing, and more.
"All local contractors, which was important to me if I could do that. I know we’ve got a lot of good talent here in town, so it’s nice to do that," said Brunton.
Now that her home looks exactly how she wants, Brunton said she's excited to relax and enjoy the work she's done, and is happy to know others see the change in her property as well.
"It feels good to know that there are other people that can see the improvements and appreciate the improvements that I made. I mean, I see them, so even if I hadn’t, I would still love it. But it’s nice to get that acknowledgement."
"It is a good motivation, if you can get even a little bit of the money back," she said of the contest. "Maybe it’s just a coat of paint, or just repairing something to just freshen it up and make it look nicer. And with those kind of things, maybe the contest could help."