By Carlie Kollath Wells/NEMS Daily Journal
Juan Carlos Barcia is fixing up Tupelo one old house at a time.
Barcia currently is working on a house on Walnut Street that he plans to move into next month with his wife, Stephanie Rhea.
He’s full of enthusiasm as he tours the house, pointing out where the master bathroom will go and where Rhea’s office will be. He explains how he wants to create more outdoor living space and still maintain the feeling of the home he suspects was built in the 1930s.
“We want it to look like it belongs to the house,” he said.
His pride and joy is the attic – a large space he’s started converting into a bedroom, bathroom and a multipurpose room. The room is lit up by two large windows that let in light and showcase the large, old trees on the property.
“When my family comes, this is a place for them to stay,” he said.
Ecuador to Boston to Tupelo
Barcia, wearing skinny jeans and a slim-cut plaid shirt, is not what you’d picture when you think of a landlord in Tupelo.
Barcia moved to the United States 71⁄2 years ago after meeting Rhea during a mission trip in Ecuador. She was participating in the trip through The Orchard. He was working as a graphic designer in Quito, but was asked to work as a translator for the group.
The two had chemistry and Barcia later moved to Boston to marry Rhea, who was working as a photographer there. Her boss hired Barcia to help with construction, where he started learning the trade he uses now.
Later, they moved back to Rhea’s home state of Mississippi. While Rhea developed her own photography business, Barcia worked as a graphic designer, a skill he previously learned while living in Los Angeles. The two still team up on Saturdays for weddings.
Barcia also works part time at American Eagle helping with floor resets in the middle of the night.
Over the years, Barcia’s fixer-uppers have demanded more of his time. It started off slowly, when they bought one old house in east Tupelo to fix up. But, they keep adding.
“We always say, ‘This is the last one.’ Always,” he said. But “it’s never our forever home and never the last one.”
They’ve redone a cute, shingle-clad cottage near Robins Field. They’ve also renovated a duplex apartment in Mill Village and a studio space in downtown Tupelo.
Plus, they upgraded their current home on Church Street. It’s a combination of modern touches – large windows, an open kitchen and chalkboard walls – and old-fashioned charm – wrap-around porch and hardwood floors. It also has two apartments attached that Barcia updated.
“Older houses, they have character,” he said. “We want to make it right. We have to do all the electrical and the plumbing. Because we live there, we want to know it’s safe.”
He said he’s different from the house flippers that cultivate a bad reputation by slapping paint on a problem house and then selling it or renting it.
“We don’t flip to sell it,” he said. “We buy it to get renters and to keep them for a long time.”
He thinks about what he’d want to live in when he makes the renovation plans. Ample closet space and washer-dryer hookups are key to keeping good renters for a while, he said.
“I design it for comfort,” he said.
He also thinks long term by looking for ways to make the houses more energy efficient and for ways to make it handicap accessible, if needed.
One day, he hopes to have a garage so he can pursue his dream hobby.
“I seriously want to restore an old motorcycle,” he said.