Michael and Cristy Pack take us through their DIY renovation of the Iron Victorian, a 19th century mansion in Howell, Michigan
By Leena Rao
Photography by Brett Mountain
Some couples fall in love over their shared love of food, travel, or exercise. Michael and Cristy Pack did it over DIY home projects. The pair, who met through mutual friends, wooed each other over text messages, where they’d share their finds from Facebook Marketplace and garage sales.
Their home-improvement dreams became a reality in 2018, when the couple drove down Michigan Avenue in Howell on the way to a birthday party and passed a dilapidated 19th century Victorian house with a for sale sign on the lawn. “We barely saw the house because it was covered in trees and weeds like a jungle,” says Cristy, 31, a medical sales representative. “But somehow it caught both of our eyes and we turned around and drove back. We turned to each other, and both said, ‘This house is amazing.’ ”
A month later, the couple bought the 6,000-square-foot house for $300,000. It was originally named the Greenway-Ballard mansion after the home’s original owner, George Greenway, who lived in the 1800s, and his daughter, Emma Ballard, but the Packs renamed it the “The Iron Victorian” — a nod to Greenway’s career as a blacksmith.
It turns out that purchasing the house was the easy part. The couple says the house was unlivable when they bought it. To save costs, Michael took on restoring the floors, bathrooms, kitchen, and landscaping — something he managed even though he was based in Los Angeles, where he was an actor and model for Cadillac ads. “It was a solid year exactly from when we bought the house and worked on it until we moved in and spent our first night here,” Michael says.
The initial project the couple tackled was the first-floor bathroom, the only functioning one in the house. (There was no working plumbing in the house when the Packs bought it.) They ripped everything out and put in an antique, galvanized metal tub, a marble vanity, and a dozen different antique mirrors along one wall. (As for where they find all this stuff, they scour Facebook Marketplace, thrift and antique stores, estate sales, and even Etsy.) Michael replaced the floors with pine wood and then painted them with a white checkered pattern. “Michael can build anything and make anything,” Cristy says. “I’m more the designer and I pick paint colors and put all the decor together.”
The bathroom has an old-world feel to it, says Cristy, which is emblematic of the style throughout the house. “We love any-thing French, and the rusty, weathered look mixed with elegant decor,” she says. “The elements used in European and French decor are timeless.”
The next big project was the kitchen, where the couple got creative with their countertops and appliances — all of which are covered in concrete. (They took inspiration from a method that involves pouring concrete on countertops to get a rustic look.) They also refinished the room’s wood-burning fireplace, added open shelving for dishes and serving ware, installed chandeliers and a window treatment, and stripped the aging tile off the floors to expose the original wood — one of the home’s many original features they preserved. The end result is a kitchen that feels like it belongs in a countryside French chateau.
The renovations may sound daunting, but the Packs — who got married last summer on the mansion’s front lawn — are seasoned DIYers. “We both loved DIY projects even before this one because you can accomplish custom designer looks at any price point,” Cristy says. “We also like to do things that don’t already exist. We’ll think of an idea and look on Pinterest and if we can’t find it, we know we are doing it.” There’s an audience for their creativity: The Iron Victorian’s Instagram account has more than 14,000 followers, and the home’s website hosts a quarterly sale — kicking off this month — where people can purchase the Packs’ favorite home accessories, from urns to wreaths. (Michael manages the home renovations and website full-time.)
The couple, who estimates they’ve spent around $100,000 on the restoration, most recently finished their dining room, living room, and nursery for their 3-month-old son, Lincoln. Next up: renovating the second floor. (The family currently reside on the first floor in the salon, but they’ll eventually move upstairs.) They also plan to add a greenhouse to the backyard. Another item on the list? “Baby proofing the house,” Michael says.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Michael and Cristy say they hope to follow in the footsteps of Chip and Joanna Gaines, who have built a media and home goods empire off of their hit HGTV show, Fixer Upper. “We idolize them,” Cristy says. “They use their creativity to make the world a better place. If we could do that, it would be amazing.”
Take a 3D tour of Michael and Cristy Pack’s home here!