People can put their passions to work saving dogs or dolphins. Kym Petrie saves homes… after tearing them down to the studs and rebuilding them from the ground up.
“My team, we see ourselves as home lifesavers. We’re passionate about doing this for neighborhoods, bringing these great structures back to life,” says Petrie.
During her career in marketing, community development and branding, Petrie and her family have also restored about two dozen homes, sometimes out of necessity.
She started renovating homes with her brother more than three decades ago. Raised in Toronto, she became close to him in northern Ontario after the birth of her first son.
“I needed to find a really nice house in a really good neighborhood, which of course wasn’t going to happen. So, I found a bad house in a really good neighborhood. He had good bones, but it needed more than TLC.
Petrie had no construction experience. But his brother, a general contractor, was willing to help him learn and take his buddies for the price of a hot meal.
“If I could feed these young people, I could get them to help out three or four nights a week and maybe on weekends. That’s how I got started,” she says.
Petrie’s sons are grown up now. One is in the US Army. The other – a former speed skater – is a carpenter in Charleston. They still tease their mother about the houses she renovated.
“My husband and our boys laugh about it. Although I see the beauty of what a home can be, most people need convincing,” she says.
Petrie says the reactions are rarely “Wow, that’s beautiful” and more often “Are you kidding me?”
She was working for the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation when she met her husband, Ron. They got married and had just finished renovating a house together when Petrie’s eldest son left home to train with the Canadian Olympic skating team.
“There was just no reason for us to be in a beautiful but incredibly cold place,” Petrie says.
Ron discovered Greenville on a business trip. “We fell in love with the city,” says Petrie. The couple moved south with their youngest son 15 years ago.
Petrie continued her work in community development – and homes.
At first, she was known throughout the city as “that lady builder.” But in 2020, she founded her renovation company, Goin’ South. And last month, she and her team appeared on an episode of “In With The Old” on Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia Network.
“It was scary and scary, stressful and fabulous,” Petrie says of the TV experience.
The episode featured Petrie and his team’s work on a brick house on Buist Avenue near downtown Greenville. Built in 1943, the two-story Cape Cod-style home had been vacant for a decade. A conservator had attempted to restore it to its original state, painstakingly removing layers of paint, but the house had fallen into a state of extreme disrepair.
“There is something magical in the heart of a curator. I have great respect for their profession, but preservation – in the strict sense of the term – is not my vocation. Petrie said.
Goin’ South bought the house on Buist in 2021.
Not everything could be preserved. “We retained as much of the history of the house as possible, honoring what this house is, showcasing the great character, but also making it livable,” says Petrie.
Petrie and his team of craftsmen and tradespeople put up a new roof and updated windows, plumbing, electrical, cabinetry and appliances. They restored the original floors and kept the arched doorways. They added a dressing room and a master suite on the first floor with space for a king-size bed, closets and an en-suite bathroom; an open kitchen; living room; solarium; two bedrooms and a bathroom on the second floor; and an eclectic basement with clever floating steel steps.
The Magnolia crew filmed “In With The Old” more like a documentary, without the faux drama of some “reality” shows.
“They wanted to tell the story of the home renovation and introduce our community and the artisans working on the project. That’s why we were so interested in doing it,” says Petrie.
“Filming this episode was a love letter to Greenville for us. It was as much about trades and the city as it was about home.
Petrie says she’s as proud of the team she’s built as she is of the homes she’s worked on. Stonecutters, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, painters, tilers, demolition workers.
“I spend more time with them than with my family,” she says.
When starting a project, Petrie keeps the original wood floors and emphasizes the mechanical systems. “Good mechanics lead to good design. If you don’t have good mechanics, your house doesn’t work well. It doesn’t matter how pretty it is,” she says.
Goin’ South installs two washer/dryers in each home, along with cabinets, closets, storage and pantries. “I want to use every inch of space intelligently,” says Petrie.
Not everything has to be expensive. “There are always great architectural discoveries to be made,” she says. “Local businesses sell quality building materials at discounted prices. I love antique shops, consignment stores, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist.
Although Petrie prefers to leave the structure of a house intact, the team made an addition to a house on West Avondale Drive, then reversed the design so that the living areas were at one end and the bedrooms at the other.
“I like an open floor plan. We entertain. So in our house, one whole side is a kitchen,” says Petrie, who lives in a house she and her husband renovated on Augusta Street.
“It’s the habitability… trying to keep the bones as they were built but making them modern for modern families. That’s what we do,” she says.
The houses don’t have an expiration date, Petrie says. “You have to look a little deeper into all the good stuff that lies just below.”
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