Renata Toney never expected that one day her home address would change from North Buffalo back to the East Side.
But circumstances change, opportunities arise and sometimes – after living elsewhere – one feels a pull to a place from the past.
Five years ago, after living in North Buffalo for more than 20 years, Toney bought the East Side home that had been in her family for nearly three decades.
“You never know when life may circle back to the future,” she said.
Toney, marketing strategist at the Burchfield Penney Art Center, earlier this year described to The Buffalo News how she has “reclaimed and reimagined” the property. She submitted a description and photos for the News’ “Home of the Week” online feature. It was published on BuffaloNews.com in September.
In November, The News arranged a visit for an interview and photo shoot to learn more about how she has updated it with fresh paint, a new patio and collections of furnishings and local art that have special meaning to her.
“My house is the recording of a lifetime. Many people take photographs to cherish memories; I collect fun stuff to capture the past,” she said.
“You may explore art while visiting my home; I see the faces, remember conversations and all the laughter of those who created the work that radiates my walls, creative brilliance that makes each artist so, so special. Their work speaks to me in so many ways,” she said.
Artists include a number of University at Buffalo master of fine arts degree graduates including Stacey Robinson, Megan Conley, Tommy Nguyen and others. Works by SUNY Buffalo State grads, some of whom went on to become professors, are also found throughout the house. A portrait of Toney by American master watercolor artist Mary Whyte hangs in a hallway.
Since buying the house, Toney has made many improvements. The bathrooms were gutted and remodeled by a professional contractor, although the vintage bathtubs were saved. Toney said she spent close to $7,000 for new windows. Floors were professionally refinished. She had the roof on the upper porch replaced, a new patio installed and the garden professionally landscaped. She and her son – 29-year-old Bryant A. Toney – repainted all the walls.
Her son, a sound engineer and DJ promoter, “has been instrumental in helping me revitalize the home,” Toney said.
The home in Buffalo’s Kenfield neighborhood was previously owned by Toney’s aunt and uncle. Toney, a 1981 graduate of City Honors, and her mother moved into the place when Toney was a 19-year-old college student.
“I ended up leaving when I got married. My mom remained here for years,” said Toney, who earned a bachelor’s degree in public communication from SUNY Buffalo State.
When the time came for her aging mother to downsize, Toney continued to rent the place out for her relatives and oversee the maintenance. Then came an opportunity to move back to the neighborhood and buy it from them.
“They offered me a very competitive incentive to move back and I took them up on it,” said Toney, who paid $30,000 for the house in 2014 and began making significant updates and personalizing the place.
Toney said she is not alone in moving back to the East Side.
“Buffalo continues to re-emerge and a lot of people are moving back into neighborhoods in the city and downtown. As Buffalo continues to turn its corner, that same movement is happening here on the East Side. A number of my friends and colleagues have moved into homes, or reclaimed homes, that were once in their families,” she said.
She noted that many left decades ago to live in neighborhoods with higher incomes or relocated to find work in other cities – but moved back for a number of reasons.
Some returned to care for elderly parents or to settle estates after their parents died, for instance. Others recognized the financial benefits: Lower taxes and home prices allow them to save for retirement or enjoy more disposable income.
Her neighborhood has its challenges, including absentee landlords who don’t maintain properties. But her award-winning block club is very strong; members succeeded in getting speed humps installed and also speak out to property management companies about any problems.
In addition, a majority of residents in her pocket of the neighborhood are homeowners, which helps, said Toney, who is involved in a number of community groups and organizations, including the Kensington-Bailey Historical Committee and Re-Tree WNY.
“I love my neighborhood,” said Toney, who plans to continue working on her garden next year so it’s ready for the East Side Garden Walk.
The house at a glance:
Here’s a peek inside Renata Toney’s 2,100-square-foot home, which was built in 1930.
Layout: The house has functioned as a double in the past, so there are bedrooms and a kitchen and bath on both floors. The house has four bedrooms, but one was converted into a closet. The first floor has a front sitting room as well as a living room. Another sitting room and office are part of the second-floor layout. There’s also an upper porch and a landscaped backyard.
Furniture: The living room sofa is a favorite piece she inherited from her uncle. Her desk is her former kitchen table. The table top in the kitchen was made by Edward Jakubowski, a retired Buffalo public school industrial arts technology teacher. Some of the furnishings and accessories are from Michael Starks’ estate sales, Michael Merisola at CooCooU and collector John Fatta.
Floors: Refinished hardwood with contemporary area rugs. Carpeting upstairs.
Wall colors: Warm shades of yellow and white in main living spaces. Light blue walls in her bedroom.
Art and accessories: Local and regional art, including portraits, paintings and sculptures. Colorful quilts and fabric wall hangings were done by a fiber artist from Florida. A gallery wall in the kitchen includes works by local photographers and artists, including Bruce Jackson, Veronica Meadows-Ray, Brendan Bannon, David Moog, Cheryl Gorski, Victor Shanchuk, Bradley McCallum and Jacqueline Tarry (of McCallum Tarry in New York City). Music posters and more art are displayed on the second floor.
Love your home? Tell us about it
One of the most popular features in The Buffalo News Home & Style section is the Home of the Month, which features a local home and the people who live there.
Today we feature Renata Toney's home on the East Side.
Our Home of the Month appears online – along with a gallery of photos by a News staff photographer – as well as in a print edition of Sunday Home & Style. Today's story will appear in the Sunday Home & Style print edition Dec. 8.
In fall 2017, we launched another feature that appears online only – the Home of the Week. This lets readers inside even more homes.
The Buffalo News continues to look for other local homes and the stories behind them and their décor. Those chosen will be displayed in the weekly feature at BuffaloNews.com.
As is the case with Renata Toney's home, the residence could be chosen as a Home of the Month.
Here’s what to do if you’re interested: Tell us about your home in 150 words or less, and email 10 hi-res images (in JPEG form) to email@example.com.
It’s OK to send the images split among several emails. Please include your name, the city or town where you live and a phone number.
We will contact those chosen to be featured on BuffaloNews.com. We also will publish online some or all of the photos you submitted.
If your place is chosen for Home of the Month, we will visit your home for an interview and our own photo shoot. If you have problems submitting photos, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Susan Martin
Take a look at our November Home of the Month: Another tale of going home again.