Who is Ashley Cordray? Ashley Cordray and her husband Michael Cordray are duo behind DIY Network’s ‘Restoring Galveston’.
Thus, the Cordrays began their home renovation careers. While promoting the second season of their DIY show “Restoring Galveston”, the couple retrace the path that led them from that first home to television. “Still not registered,” Ashley said, with good reason. Their journey proved more rewarding and more fiscal than either of them could have imagined.
Life on the island
Former Texas A&M University graduates in Galveston Ashley ’09 and Michael Cordray ’06 are restoring Galveston one beam house at a time on their “Restoring Galveston” DIY show.
After two years at a Houston area community college, Ashley enrolled at Texas A&M University in Galveston (TAMUG) in 2004 to graduate in marine biology. Midway through her first semester, her interest in the subject sagged under the heavy workload, and she turned to maritime administration, essentially a business degree with a focus on the maritime industry. Students who now graduate from TAMUG in this program graduate from the Maritime Business Administration program.
While studying her in Galveston, Ashley fell in love with the laid-back atmosphere and vibrant history of the island. The striking early 20th century houses especially captured her imagination. “Driving along some roads, it doesn’t feel like we’re in the 21st century anymore,” she said.
After graduating in 2006, she took a job at Kirby Inland Marine in Spring, Texas, where she eventually met her then colleague Michael, who graduated with the same degree from TAMUG in 2009. Michael had some experience of construction aiding his father, who owned rental homes in Galveston. When Ashley learned that Michael was a “B.O.I.”, or someone born on Galveston Island, she saw a unique opportunity to connect between them and her hometown by reconstructing neglected relics from her past.
At first, the reality was disappointing. Their first home was far from a Barbie Dreamhouse. “It was bad,” Ashley said. “We stayed there for one night before giving up and crashing into Michael’s mom’s house.” However, the two remained undaunted, working on the house when they could and looking for new properties. They continued dating while skipping their business and got married in 2014.
A new title
In 2015, Ashley pressured Michael to leave his position in Kirby to continue their renovation business, Save 1900, full-time (“I’m not sure how many other people’s wives ask them to quit their jobs every day. “he said). Soon after, an opportunity came knocking from a place they never expected.
Seemingly suddenly, calls are pouring in from television production companies specifically looking for couples filming homes in Galveston. “I told them, ‘It’s us!’” Michael said. “And I told them, ‘You’re crazy!’” Ashley said. At the time, she explained, they had only flipped and sold a house and were still working on two other properties, including their first purchase. Most producers decided to look elsewhere when the Cordrays informed them of their brief résumé.
“A company allowed me to keep talking,” Michael said. Impressed by the couple’s chemistry and commitment, the company filmed a reel of sizzling for HGTV and secured an entire season on its sister network, DIY Network, for a show that would originally air under. the name of “Saving Galveston” before it was reubbed “Big Texas Fix”. Unbeknownst to them, Ashley and Michael were signing up for the challenge of their lives. “We’ve ramped up the speed from buying three homes in five years to flipping eight in 16 weeks,” Michael said. “It was crazy.”
The stormy seas
Regular viewers will recognize a few beats of history that make up an episode of a typical house flip show: approach the property, plan and model, begin construction, flirt with the disaster towards the end of construction, and finish eventually in time. It could be assumed that the last two parts involve some scripted elements to add dramatic tension.
During the show’s second season, Ashley was six months pregnant when production began. During the whirlwind season, she had their daughter on Thursdays and returned to the set three days later.
The Cordrays didn’t need such theatricality during the first season of their show. “We weren’t ready,” Ashley said, laughing. Between working with a full-fledged TV crew for the first time, taking out a $ 2 million loan to buy the eight houses needed for filming, and adopting a six-day, 12-hour-a-day hermetic work schedule during which everyone juggled and eight projects at the same time, the anxiety-inducing moments weren’t scripted and were actually in constant supply.
One of these came when, 12 hours before the arrival of an open house, a package arrived containing an essential lamp for entry. When Ashley opened the package, she found the device irreparably broken. Cameras caught her walking up the driveway as she called one local home improvement store after another to find a replacement in time. Even if he did, the moment was just a fire that the Cordrays had to put out by dozens during filming.
Between the unnerving segments, however, the two exchanged a lot of jokes and enjoyed lighthearted jokes on screen. They argue that these scenes were also not written. “We’re not actors,” Ashley said. “We’re just two people doing something we love.” Their sarcastic back and forth not only helped them get over the stress, but it also pissed them off to viewers.
With their resilient attitudes and their obvious passion for revitalizing pieces of local history, the Cordrays have made for a natural screen talent. At least, viewers and network executives thought so. Shortly after the end of their first season, Ashley and Michael had a green light second season, this time with another new name: “Restoring Galveston”.
Finding their bases
Determined to learn from their mistakes, the Cordrays hired multiple contractors to help them on their second round. They appreciated the extra help even more than they would have done under normal circumstances, as Ashley was six months pregnant when production began.
“I went to the hospital and was induced while the crew was on hiatus,” Ashley recalled. “I had our daughter on a Thursday and I was back on set when they returned three days later.” Despite a very short maternity leave, the Cordrays were much better prepared for their sophomore season. Having mastered their schedule and gained confidence from the warm welcome of their first season, Ashley and Michael focused on the passion at the heart of their success: finding legendary, yet abandoned homes across the island and using every resource to bring out the their potential.
Their business name, Save 1900, refers to the Great Storm of 1900, the catastrophic hurricane that killed thousands of people and razed much of Galveston to the ground. Some of the homes the Cordrays restored survived that storm as did any other successors that emerged from the Gulf of Mexico. Due to their shabby condition, however, the city constantly threatens to demolish many historic houses. “These houses have been standing for decades,” Michael said. “They just need someone to give them attention.”
Even when put through the wringer, the couple always loved giving to their community in a unique way. As for what their future holds on and off the air, they intend to do what they do best: live relentlessly, without apology and always adventurously on the spur of the moment. After all, they know better than repairing what isn’t broken.
In an effort to preserve Galveston’s history, the couple Ashley and Michael Cordray purchase historic homes on the island, renovate and sell them through their real estate company, Save 1900. The couple’s home renovation show “Restoring Galveston” documents the their escapades. The show recently returned to the DIY network for another season.
Ashley and Michael shared what motivated them to give up their day jobs to pursue their mutual passion for home remodeling, along with what the journey has been like since they launched their real company in 2016.
Q: What led you to start Save 1900?
Michael: Galveston has a great history. There are a lot of very old houses here and there are a lot of old houses that survived the storm of 1900. When we started, we both had corporate jobs and were working on the houses on weekends and it was going very slowly. We want a house a year and Ashley harasses me every day to quit my job so we can do it full time and after a year and a half I’m being asked every day to do it, I kind of gave up. There were so many houses in Galveston that were older and cooler that they needed love and we couldn’t work on them as many as we wanted if we still had full time jobs. You know, houses were being torn down because of neglect and things like that. Many of these homes had survived countless hurricanes and the storm of 1900 and all these massive events, and you know they are getting lost to people who don’t care about them, so we decided to quit our jobs and worry about them.
Q: What is your relationship with Galveston?
Michael: I’m from Galveston. My family has been here for generations. My baby is the fifth generation. Ashley comes from spring. I love the city, but I had been working in Houston for a decade. Commuting got old, so I moved away because I was tired of three more hours each way past downtown Houston. He got very old very fast. I moved to Houston. I gave in. I’ve been doing the whole row house thing for a while. Ashley and I were both working in the same company at the time and she found out I was from Galveston and we started dating and we started dating and we said “Yeah, you know, someday we should buy a house there.” And me: ok, you know. It’s just a good boy thing. Accept something and see what happens. And the next day, he showed me a picture of HAR and said, “This is the house. We have to go see it today. I want to buy it.
I had owned a few houses and had a couple of rented houses and stuff and it actually seemed like a good deal and I thought, at worst, if we break it at least we do it with a little more money in our pockets. We went back down, bought the house that day and you, you know that was it. That’s where it all started.
Q: Are there any challenges working together?
Michael: Many people talk about not being able to deal with such a thing or not being able to imagine being around you know their spouse or something. I need that work break or something. For us, this is not the case. I think we would probably be a little more efficient if we spent a little more time on each other. You know, I could go to Home Depot and she could run the yard or something, but that’s not how we work. We charge up and do our thing and it works.
Q: Do you have any advice for couples going through a home renovation together?
Give each other’s strengths, more than anything else. I love my design ideas but am willing to concede if he has a good one. I think it gives me some leeway on carpentry and things like that, that it’s possible or that time is possible or that we should do something.
And then look at it as a business. Don’t take it personally.
What is the most challenging restructuring you have gone through together?
Michael: I think it’s the Kettle only because it wasn’t a house. You know what to expect in homes, even if it’s completely insane.
Ashley: A lot of the kettle structure had to be redone, so we had to bring in welders and learn how to bend metal, bend it in two directions at the same time. I mean, it was definitely a feat. Working on that house, I would definitely say it was the most difficult. And then it was round and so deciding how the shape and how the layout would be was definitely challenging.
Q: How are the properties found?
Ashley: We’ve been lucky that people call us now, when they have us home in the shape we like. People don’t necessarily market homes that are about to fall, 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 bit of a part of the house. Many people think that the houses are just sitting there and the owners are neglecting it, but in reality that is because they can hardly sell it. Very rarely is it one person who owns all these dilapidated houses. It has usually been handed down through generations and they can’t agree, they can’t get along and homes are what suffer.
Q: When did you launch Save 1900?
Michael: Since 2016. I quit my job. We were working on a house, maybe I thought we would work on three or four next year. And suddenly we found ourselves talking to the manufacturing companies about how many houses we could actually make. Can we do eight? And we are sure of it. Why can’t we do eight? And of course the real answer is “I don’t know how in the world we’re going to make eight. But the funny answer is,” Of course we can and we’ll understand. “We’ve done a lot just figure it out on more than one occasion. It all happened unexpectedly and it didn’t. I was looking for.
Ashley: I think every day, our life has transformed from the crazy risks we were willing to take and every moment it’s like “Can we do it?” and then this is what has brought our whole life and the way its path has been taken.
Galveston has been affordable for so long, it was only a matter of time before it captured itself and people saw how much potential
Q: What are some of your favorite things to do around Gaveston besides defining new properties?
Ashley: We love going to the art district and the Strand and there is always something to do. Every weekend, there are festivals and art walks and all the galleries stay open late in the post office. Everyone goes out, so it’s so cool. Suddenly you come to the post office on a night of artistic walk and there are so many people on the street.
Michael: Every weekend, the big ones are the beach and the history, and those are great and we love them but, beyond that, it’s just an active community with events. On any given weekend, there is always something going on.
Ashley: And even though it’s like going to your favorite local bar, I feel like you do it in Houston, you don’t know anyone. But in Galveston, you go and know everyone. You see the same people. It’s just a community. He’s the one 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 already lived in Midtown, I said to myself “Oh we’re taking you back to Galveston”, and his mother, still lives here, lives in the same house for 50 years, and it was like “Oh my God., are you going back to Galveston?” and I was like “Absolutely”. He loves having us here now, but he thought we were crazy when he was moving out of his Midtown condo.
Q: What distinguishes Save 1900 from other restructuring companies?
Michael: If there is one thing that perhaps sets us apart from other people who do what we do it is to let the house decide our path. We can make 15 different houses and they all have the same vibe as us, but they all focus on what was the original house makeup. We don’t do a lot of blowing out or moving stuff around.
Ashley: Now compared to when we started, we were doing everything ourselves. Now, things are much busier. We have workers who work for us every day and there are things we no longer have to do. In reverse, I think what really got the net attention was that we were really hands-on. We had an idea of what we were doing, but we would learn anything. We were willing to take on any project, no matter if we knew what we were doing or if we didn’t know how to do it. We are really knowledgeable about how to do it, whether it was something we thought we could do or not and I think that’s where we got most of our strengths, even if we don’t have to do it ourselves anymore, we know how.
People think that someone helped us get started or that we had a lot of money. We had nothing, so we had to do it ourselves because if we didn’t, we couldn’t really afford to hire anyone, so it was the first projects, where we did everything ourselves, that helped us get started. We had to learn. It’s not like we already knew how to do all of these things. We didn’t have any strengths in this game per se, but we just learned everything. There were times in this game where we got too deep. We went to pay the paycheck and it was like “Oh my God, we probably should have saved a little more because we can’t even pay the bills right now.” It hasn’t always been easy, but taking the risk every turn has really got us where we are.
Q: What do you love about Galveston?
Michael: Which is tough. It is an island that is still jumping, even after everything it went through like the 1900 storm that really destroyed it. The attitude of Houstonians towards Galveston over the past 30-40 years has also been largely negative. Most people are like “no, I don’t want to go to that beach”, or whatever. It is a resilient city. I like the one in New Orleans, I like the one in any city that seems to take a hit but keeps coming back.
Ashley: It’s had its ups and downs, but it always comes back. She goes back to the community that lives there, which we love so much.
Michael and Ashley cordray Baby Photos
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