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For Carolyn Bledsoe, 77, renovating historic fixer-uppers in Covington is 'an addiction'

'I wanted to do this my whole life'
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Posted at 12:00 PM, Apr 09, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-09 12:00:50-04

COVINGTON, Ky. -- For some, retiring from work is a norm by the time you're 70.

But for Carolyn Bledsoe, being a general contractor, remodeling, updating and making historic homes in the MainStrasse area of Covington usable again at the age of 77 is a "dream come true."

The former homemaker who once had a small decorating business in Warsaw, Kentucky, likes to bring a crumbling home back up to par, so it's something better than just usable.

The Bakewell Street home in Covington is now being rented as an investment property, following Carolyn Bledsoe's renovation. Photo provided

Bledsoe doesn't cut corners. She sees each house, whether it becomes a rental investment or it's resold, as a future inheritance for her three children.

At the heart of all her hard work is one simple fact: Bledsoe just really loves to remodel homes.

And she's good at it.

"I'm a big-time Carolyn Bledsoe fan," said Travis Shanks, a tile installer in Northern Kentucky who works on her homes. "She has a heart of gold. I think very highly of her." Shanks is also impressed with the quality of Bledsoe's work.

This house on Bakewell Street in Covington was in poor condition when Carolyn Bledsoe purchased it. Photo provided

"She doesn't skimp on the finishes, the hardware, the overall quality," he said. "If I was in the market for a house, I would have no problem buying or renting from her."

Bledsoe left Warsaw and moved to Covington in 2011 after her husband of 50 years died, leaving her with the family farm, which she didn't keep for long.

The bathroom of this home on Bakewell Street that Carolyn Bledsoe renovated now looks shiny and pristine. Vickie Ashwill | WCPO contributor

"I got this offer (for the farm) and took it," she said. "I didn't expect to sell it."

Bledsoe's daughter and son live in Covington, so she headed north. Her husband never wanted to live in an old home, but she's always craved it.

She got a taste of remodeling when she bought her home in Covington, an old Victorian that had been somewhat upgraded but not quite to her taste.

Bledsoe upgraded finishes and fireplace surrounds. She moved a door to access the kitchen, which she totally remodeled, and added a covered back porch and sitting area.

And after her first experience with a contractor, Bledsoe decided she'd start doing things herself.

"You have to really watch (the workers)," she said.

Fixing the Bakewell Street house required stripping the structure to its core and starting over. Carolyn Bledsoe said at minimum, workers remove the ceilings during home renovations to make re-wiring easier. Photo provided

Most of her construction concerns are about quality and waste. She won't start a project in the winter anymore because she's found windows open and heat blasting after workers had gone for the day.

Shanks told her he'd keep a lookout for waste on the job. He said Bledsoe is not exactly gullible, but she is a bit too forgiving.

"A lot of the time it's a matter of not knowing," Shanks explained. "Putting old houses back together, that's not an easy thing."

It may not be easy, but for Bledsoe, it's an "addiction."

"I wanted to do this my whole life," she said.

While her husband didn't aspire to reside in an old house, that didn't stop his wife from tweaking things in the family's home.

Lee Bledsoe, who lives in Covington, said he and his siblings would sometimes come home from school and find that their mom had ripped out paneling or bathroom tiles.

"I've never known any person as obsessed as she has been with houses and decorating," he said.

He recalled a time when the family came home one day and discovered that Bledsoe had ripped down paneling.

"'Well, you have to remodel, then,'" Lee Bledsoe told his mother, laughing at the memory.

Lee Bledsoe is also a real estate agent and helped his mom find her first home to remodel. He continues to be her secret weapon in finding cheap homes.

"I look for a bargain," Carolyn Bledsoe said.

They have to be sold cheap enough, her son noted, to do things well.

Final touches on Bledsoe's fixer-uppers include nice blinds in the windows, something she includes because she wants renters to use them.

And hardwood floors, at least on the lower levels, are restored or replaced.

Bledsoe hunts for the details to make homes stand out and loves shopping at Home Depot, where she once asked the employees whether they rent trucks to "little old ladies."

Carolyn Bledsoe doesn't skimp on the original details that make homes unique, like this fireplace surround she found with her daughter in Over-the-Rhine. Vickie Ashwill | WCPO contributor

If the "little old lady" can pay for it, she was told, and has a driver's license, renting is a breeze.

After that particular interaction, Bledsoe took the truck -- and her daughter -- on a quest to find old fireplace mantels. They recovered three and placed one in her own home.

All the hard work, Bledsoe reiterated, traces back to her kids.

"Basically, I'm doing it to leave them to my children," she said. "You can almost pay for them in 10 to 15 years."

Lee Bledsoe said that thankfully, all the restoration work is keeping her busy.

"Thank God she has this to do," he laughed. "If not, she would be driving us crazy."