In an effort to preserve Galveston’s history, couple Ashley and Michael Cordray purchase historic homes on the island, renovate them, and sell them through their realty firm, Save 1900. The couple’s home renovation show “Restoring Galveston” documents their escapades. The show recently returned to the DIY Network for another season.
Ashley and Michael shared what motivated them to abandon their day jobs to pursue their mutual passion for home renovation, along with what the journey’s been like since they launched their realty firm back in 2016.
Q: What led you to start Save 1900?
Michael: Galveston’s got a great history. There are a lot of really old houses here and there are a lot of old houses that have survived the 1900 storm. When we started, we both had corporate jobs and we were working on the houses on the weekends and it was just going really slow. We’d do like a house a year and Ashley would kind of harass me everyday to quit my job so we could do this full-time and after a year and a half of being asked everyday to do that I kind of gave in. There were so many houses in Galveston that were older and awesome that needed love and we just couldn’t work on as many as we wanted to if we still had full-time jobs. You know, houses were being torn down due to neglect and stuff like that. Many of these houses had survived countless hurricanes and the 1900 storm and all these massive events, and you know they’re just being lost to people not caring about them so we decided to quit our jobs and care about them.
Q: What’s your relationship with Galveston?
Michael: I’m from Galveston. My family has been here for generations. My little baby is the fifth generation. Ashley is from Spring. I love the town but I had been working corporate in Houston for a decade. The commute got old so I moved away because I was tired of doing three hours plus each way past downtown Houston. That got really old really quick. I moved up to Houston. I gave in. I did the whole townhouse thing for a little while. Ashley and I were both working at the same company at the time and she found out I was from Galveston and we started dating and says “Yeah, you know, someday we should buy a house there.” And I was like, ok, you know. It’s just a good boyfriend thing. You just agree to something and see what happens. And the next day, she showed me a picture on HAR and she was like “This is the house. We need to go see it today. I want to buy it.”
I had owned a few houses and had a couple rental houses and things like that and it actually looked like a good deal and I thought, worst case scenario, if we break up at least we do it with a little more money in our pockets. We went down, we bought the house that day and you, know that was that. That’s where it all started.
Q: Are there any challenges working together?
Michael: A lot of people talk about not being able to deal with something like that or not being able to imagine being around you know their spouse or something like that. Needing that work break or something like that. For us, it’s just not like that. I think we would probably be a little more efficient if we spent a little more time away from each other. You know, I could go to Home Depot and she could manage the job site or something like that, but that’s just not how we work. We just load up and we do our thing and it works out.
Q: Do you have any advice for couples tackling a home renovation together?
Give into each other’s strengths, more than anything. I love my design ideas but I’m willing to concede if she’s got a good one. I think she gives me a little leeway on carpentry and stuff and like that, whether or not something’s possible or weather we should do something.
And, then look at it as business. Don’t take it personally.
What’s the most challenging renovation you’ve tackled together?
Michael: I think it’s the Kettle just because it wasn’t a house. You know what to expect in houses, even if it’s just completely crazy.
Ashley: A lot of the structure of the Kettle had to be remade so we had to bring in welders and learn how to bend the metal, to curve it in two directions at one time. I mean, it was a feat for sure. Working on that house, I’d definitely say was the hardest. And then it was round and so deciding how the shape and how the layout would be was definitely challenging.
Q: How do you find properties?
Ashley: We’ve been lucky that people call us now, when they have us house in the shape that we like it. People don’t necessarily put houses on the market that are about to fall down so that’s not exactly where we find them. We do a lot of driving around the island and a lot of research. Finding the houses is definitely the hardest part because usually the owners have died over the years and they go to their children and then their children’s children and 20 people have a little bit of a share of the house. A lot of people think that the houses are just sitting there and the owners are neglecting it, but really it’s because they just can’t sell it almost. It’s very rarely a single person that owns all these dilapidated houses. It’s usually been passed down through generations and they can’t agree, they can’t get along and the houses are what suffer.
Q: When did you launch Save 1900?
Michael: Since 2016. I quit my job. We were working on one house, maybe I thought we’d work on three or four that next year. And all of sudden we found ourselves talking with production companies about how many houses could we really do. Could we do eight? And we’re like sure. Why couldn’t we do eight? And of course the real answer is "I don’t know how in the world we’d do eight. But the fun answer is “Sure we can do it and we’ll figure it out.” We’ve done a lot just by figuring it out on more than one occasion. It all just happened unexpectedly and not looking for it.
Ashley: I think everyday, our life has kind of transformed by the crazy risks we were willing to take and at every moment it’s like “Can we do this?” and then that’s what’s led our whole life and the way it’s kind of taken it’s path.
Galveston has been affordable for so long, it was just a matter of time before it caught up and people saw how much potential
Q: What are some of your favorite things to do around Gaveston besides scoping out new properties?
Ashley: We like going down to the art district and the The Strand and there’s always something going on. Every weekend, there’s festivals and you have the art walks and all the galleries stay open late on Post Office. Everyone comes out so it’s so cool. All of sudden you come down to Post Office on an art walk night and there’s so many people out on the street.
Michael: Any given weekend,the big ones are the beach and the history, and those are great and we love them but, beyond that, it’s just active community with events. At any given weekend, there’s always something going on.
Ashley: And even if it’s like going to your favorite local bar, I feel like if you do that in Houston, you know no nobody. But in Galveston, you go in and you know everybody. You see the same people. It’s just a community. That’s what I fell in love with so much when I went to school here and then when I found out Michael was from Galveston,and he was already living in Midtown, I was like “Oh, we’re getting you back to Galveston,” and his mom, she still lives here, she’s lived in the same house for 50 years, and she was like “Oh my gosh, you’re coming back to Galveston?” and I was like “Absolutely.” She loves having us here now but she thought we were crazy when he was moving out of his Midtown condo.
Q: What sets Save 1900 apart from other renovation companies?
Michael: If there’s one thing that maybe sets us apart from some other folks that do what we do is we let the house kind of decide our path. We can do 15 different house and they all have our same vibe but they all kind of focus around what the original makeup of the house was. We don’t do a lot of blowing out or moving stuff around.
Ashley: Now, versus when we started, we used to do everything ourselves. Now, things are a lot busier. We have workers that work for us everyday and there are things we don’t have to do anymore. Back in the day, I think what we really caught the network’s eye was that we were really hands-on. We had a little bit of an idea of what we were doing but we would learn anything. We were willing to tackle any project, no matter if we knew what we were doing or if we didn’t know how to do that. We really go knowledgeable on how to do the thing, whether it was something we thought we could do or not and I think that’s where we’ve gotten most of our strengths, even if we don’t have to do it ourselves anymore, we know how.
People think someone must have helped us get started or we had a lot of money. We had nothing so we really had to do it ourselves because if we didn’t, we really couldn’t afford to hire anybody so it was the first few projects, where we did everything ourselves, tha helped us get our start. We had to learn. It’s not that we already knew how to do all this stuff. We had no strengths in this game per se but we just learned it all. There were times in this game where we had gotten ourselves too deep. We would go paycheck to paycheck and it was like “Oh my gosh, we probably should’ve save up a little more because we can’t even pay our bills right now.” It wasn’t always easy but taking the risk along every turn has really gotten us where we are.
Q: What do you love about Galveston?
Michael: That it’s resilient. It’s an island that’s still hopping, even after everything it’s gone through like the 1900 storm that really destroyed it. Even Houstonians' attitudes towards Galveston for the last 30 to 40 years has been broadly negative. Most people are like “Nah, I don’t want to go to that beach,” or whatever. It’s a resilient town. I like that about New Orleans, I like that about any town that seems to take a hit but keeps coming back.
Ashley: It has had its ups and its down but it always comes back. It comes back to the community that lives there, which we love so much.