A Fresh Take

Whether you’re hoping to double your living space, rebuild your bungalow or implement green-building principles, large-scale remodeling projects require a dose of creativity and a contractor you can trust. Three homeowners gave us tours of elegan
Terry and Nancy Schreiner spent nearly a decade living in Europe. Hamburg, London and Brussels all influenced their personal tastes. Their experience abroad, and the Schreiners’ desire to showcase their personal history — such as an Austrian china hutch passed down from Nancy’s German great-grandfather — fueled the renovation of the Pepper Pike home the couple has lived in since 1995.

A revamp was necessary because the traditional 1960s floor plan, which was once suitable for the family of three, had become a bit too cozy. There were always the sundry projects, paperwork and “stuff” that wound up in living spaces rather than contained to the office.

“In the old house, we were spread out all over,” Terry says, indicating where the existing structure stopped. So, the Schreiners increased their home by half, to 4,000 square feet of functional space.

To accomplish all of this, the couple first met with an architect, who drew up the plans, before Riviera Construction broke ground. Communication was critical to all parties understanding the project’s goals and status.

The Schreiners, who chose to stay in the house as work progressed, dealt with demolition and dust for a year.

“We really emphasized to the client the conditions they would experience — we wanted to minimize surprises,” says Riviera Construction president Ken Badalamenti. A temporary kitchen was installed in the basement, and bathroom work was scheduled in phases so the Schreiners would always have an operational bathroom. “[Phasing] added a couple of months to the project.”

The Schreiners, a down-to-earth pair, considered it an adventure. They allowed their high-school son to have a party and let his friends loose with markers to graffiti the wall. (It would all be demolished the next day anyway, Nancy figured.)

“When the builders broke ground, it all felt real,” she says, noting that the project had been in the works, mentally at least, for a couple of years.

But tearing down the old can introduce complications. For one, opening up the back of the Schreiners’ home disturbed the structural integrity of the basement, and first and second floors.

“We had to temporarily shore up all levels of the house before we removed an older addition,” Badalamenti explains. “This not only required extensive structural work, but also a large amount of temporary work to protect the remaining home and the owners from the environment.”

The same goes for interior details. Lighting sconces fixed at the outer corners of the back doors leading to the patio had to be removed and the electrical work rerouted when Terry learned that the doors would not open with the lights in their existing position. “They would have looked nice, but the doors opening is more important,” he jokes.

Terry begins the tour of his home at the back door, which enters into a long hallway with a window seat. Just off this corridor is a full bathroom and a cooking pantry the size of a laundry room, where shelves of staple foods, appliances and cookware line three walls. The space is reminiscent of a canning room or an old-fashioned cooler. The tile hallway continues, spilling out into the new kitchen and great room.

Elements in the home’s new addition play off of one another. The geometrical lines from coffered ceilings in the great room complement the cabinet structure. Granite countertops in the kitchen feature flecks of cobalt that accent a backsplash resembling a modern take on Dutch Delft blue. Custom cabinetry allowed Riviera Construction to carve out space for a hidden bar (it looks like a cupboard).

And because the home’s windows offer such clear views of the property, the Schreiners extended their renovation project to the outside as well. A stone patio spans two-thirds the length of the home, while retaining walls and various plantings add visual interest. “The house stopped at the doors, and putting in a patio really made all the difference,” Nancy says.

A deck that had previously been ignored in the summer because of bugs was reinvented into a three-season room — the tree house, Nancy calls it. A formal front dining room became a cook’s study, where build-ins help store an extensive collection of recipe books and a convenient table provides a place to work near the kitchen. A bright living-room addition brings the outdoors in, and the kitchen renovation caters to entertaining with a double-decker island and plenty of elbow room that provides space to entertain, which the Schreiners do far more often now. The great room provides the perfect space for a circle-shaped dining table, which Nancy says has altered dinner socialization for the better.

It’s this blend of new and old, the Schreiners’ experiences and interests, that have made their “new home” a most welcome destination.

“I hate to think about closing up this room,” Nancy says of her three-season porch, knowing that January will simply be too cold to have coffee there. “In the mornings, it is filled with nice, fresh air. It’s really enjoyable.”

A Bigger Bungalow
The home’s façade is unassuming —charming with a front porch that calls for rocking chairs and a good book. In scale with the neighbor’s home, with its polite positioning on the lot, the cape-style bungalow has a real cottage feel. “How quaint,” one would say.

And it is, because the massive changes inside, which have increased the home’s living space from 2,081 to 3,685 square feet, are not advertised on the front lawn in the form of an oversized build-out.

“We didn’t want to change the character of the house so that it didn’t fit in with the neighborhood,” says Brenda Greathouse, who moved into the Brecksville home with her husband 15 years ago.

Until last spring, the floor plan was a typical bungalow design: a cramped kitchen housed a breakfast nook, a mirrored wall helped make the dining area look larger, and the basement served as a family room. There was a one-stall garage, and an upstairs dormer had been carpeted and converted into a master suite.

“I wanted a new kitchen and master bedroom on the first floor,” Greathouse says, noting that comfort steered her choices of colors, materials and fixtures. Her husband, Bill, who is an engineer, focused on more of the technical issues: What are the sight lines? Is the floor level? “It was important to him to be able to come in the front door and see out to the backyard, because it made the house seem so much more open,” Greathouse explains.

“When you walk in, it’s surprising to see the size of it,” says Pat Hurst, owner of Hurst Construction, which handled the massive remodeling project. “It doesn’t have that big-box, big-home feel to it.”

Greathouse says she and her husband chose Hurst Construction for the job because of the company’s attention to detail and full-service approach to such jobs. She didn’t want the little touches to get lost between the design and building phases, so she chose a firm that handled both aspects. And even though the enormity of the job required the couple to relocate as work commenced, Greathouse was able to follow the project’s progress online by way of a Hurst Construction Web site that offered three-dimensional renderings and photo galleries of the work.

The main and upstairs levels were gutted to the wall and floor framing in the first step of the overhaul. “We stripped the whole structure,” Hurst explains.

An addition to the rear of the house created space for a larger kitchen and a family room. Ceilings were raised and staircases were opened. The floor plan was designed with individual gathering spaces that flowed from one to the next.

“The house is designed with distinct feels, but the fabrics carry through so we could literally take furniture from the formal living room and put it in the family room and it would still match,” Greathouse says.

A palette of six colors in the yellow, green and blue families tie each room together. “Color can make or break a design,” Hurst says, noting that the design team took care when deciding wall colors for each space.

Trips to Mackinac Island inspired the choices in the family room, with its masonry stone fireplace and goldenrod walls. “We kicked around ideas for the cathedral ceilings,” Hurst adds, explaining that the Greathouses were looking for ways to enhance the home’s cottage feel. They chose decorative trusses in solid cedar, which were handmade and naturally finished with a coat of polyurethane.

Architectural detail was built back into the bungalow elsewhere as well. For example, a lighting trough in the entryway — crown molding embedded with rope light — casts a subtle glow on indigenous blue-and-macadamia accent walls, and draws the eye up toward a chandelier.

In the dressed-up adjacent living room, a fireplace framed with golden-toned granite lends a polished, rich look. The staircase to the home’s upstairs bedrooms elegantly opens into the space between the front room and dining room, where the small kitchen used to be.

In the new Kraftmaid kitchen, sage subway tiles with a cracked finish form an earthen backsplash that complements Irish cream glazed cabinets and Zodiac quartz countertops. A double-decker island includes a cooktop and bar sink, and ample place for seating four guests. “It’s amazing how company naturally gravitates here,” Greathouse says.

The island’s countertops are Corian, but resemble soapstone. Cabinets are cherry with a ginger glaze. Both the bar and main kitchen sinks are by Shaw of Great Britain. A 66-inch stainless steel refrigerator/ freezer unit serves as a focal point of the revamped room. The two Kenmore stand-alones are cabinet-depth and configured as one with the help of a “cage” kit. “It has the look and feel of a Sub-Zero, but if we lose a compressor [in one], replacing the part won’t cost as much as the whole unit,” Greathouse says.

She and her husband opted for mid-range appliances that would look every bit as Food Network as the more expensive alternatives. “Then, we were eating out all the time, so I did a comparison of whether we should put the money into high-end appliances now, or go with a medium-line and still have a wonderful kitchen without a huge price tag,” Greathouse explains.

In the master bedroom, intricate 1-by-1 inch mosaic tilework in spa blues were individually cut and applied along a curved tub edge. Ornate tilework forms a wall border, and natural porcelain Italian tile with beveled edges offers a rustic feel on the floor. Rather than installing a second standing shower, the Greathouses chose a sauna. The new master suite provides a getaway for the busy couple, where they can lounge on a chaise or open the sliding doors and enjoy the outdoors.

The upstairs is now an elegant home-away-from-home for guests. Rooms branch off from the octagonal living space, and a charming window seat reflects the home’s character even in this brand-new addition. But if you are curious enough to open what appears to be a closet door in the grandchildren’s room, you’ll find evidence of the old-fashioned dormer. The cubby nestled under the center roof pitch is a perfect secret clubhouse — an ideal play area stocked with toys.

“The designers really cared about the details and wanted our home to be special,” Greathouse says, adding that the home has always had a positive “vibe.” “And now, even more so.”

Traditional and Sustainable

We bet you’ve never thought of home renovation as the ultimate in recycling.

Trisha Brown does. As the founder of Housing Futures, a 1-year-old company that focuses on responsible renovation, she rehabs old homes to make them more efficient and functional.

An urban planner, Brown was in the midst of a job search when she happened upon an acquaintance during a walk in her Beachcliff II neighborhood of Rocky River. The friend invited her in to check out a home she was renovating at the time.

“I had forgotten how much I loved the smell of it — the process of renovating,” Brown says. “By the time I got home from my walk, I had 85 percent of my business plan in my head.”

Her first project was 20585 Morewood Parkway in Rocky River. The home had been on the market for a year, and Brown drove by again and again, asking herself if this was “the one.” She put an offer on the home last February and got the keys in April.

Demolition started immediately, and Brown partnered with custom contractor Tim Niklas. Her goal was to update the home’s heating and cooling to more efficient models, install better windows and insulation and remodel the floor plan to improve the home’s aesthetics to better cater to the wants of the modern home-owner. Kitchens and bathrooms in older homes, for example, are naturally more cramped and equipped with antiquated fixtures.

“The market of people willing to do this work is so tiny,” Brown says, noting the changing attitudes toward mature homes that need work. “This was not the case 10 to 15 years ago, I think. It’s a very different market now. People are busier, and they just don’t want to deal with it.”

But Brown’s mission runs deeper than polishing old gems. Her urban planner brain thinks big-picture green: install incandescent light bulbs, build with Forest Stewardship Council wood and donate old appliances to Habitat for Humanity ReStore.

But she goes a step further, choosing to work in a walkable community that is close to downtown. “This home is for people who want something new but with an old-world charm,” she says.

The Morewood home retains the historical characteristics that make old houses so interesting: hardwood floors, crown molding, leaded-glass windows in corner cupboard build-ins. “I’m hoping that gives a family an option to stay close [to Cleveland] as opposed to moving way out,” Brown says.

Brown did much of the work herself. Petite (she’s only 5 feet tall) and dressed in work boots and a baseball hat, she smooths her hand against a freshly painted sunglow-yellow wall. She finds an ever-so-slight outline the size of a handball. That’s where cellulose insulation was piped into walls.

“When we were done, I had about 86 holes to patch up,” she says. Cellulose is recycled newspaper and boric acid, which bugs don’t like. The filler is fire-retardant and resembles dryer lint. Brown removed the inside panels of every wall in the house, extracted the old insulation, replaced the panels and shot the walls full of this airtight substance. “Cellulose forms a tight blanket around the house and, more importantly, it stops air infiltration,” she explains.

Brown also ripped up the floors, stripping a layer of vinyl, plywood and linoleum before reaching the kitchen’s original hardwood.

The house boasts large rooms and lofty casement windows. The family room could easily fit a grand piano and generous furniture set. She painted upstairs bedrooms in pastel neutrals to play off the natural light that pours into the home and installed highly efficient Marvin pultruded fiberglass windows.

When possible, Brown chose only green products or materials that would make a minimal environmental impact. In some cases, her efforts were serendipitous.

The front door is a story in itself. Brown had been searching for one with character — a wood door that would fit the home’s colonial style just right. She found the solution on her neighbor’s tree lawn one morning.

“The door was being dumped by a guy from Home Depot,” Brown says, adding that she asked the man several times whether she could take their old one. It was good as new, except for a few cracked leaded-glass windows, which she would replace. “You couldn’t even get this hardware today. And if you could, it would cost you about $350. Plus, this door’s so thick.”

A swinging door in the upstairs laundry room was recovered from the attic. It hadn’t been used in decades. The countertop base in the third-floor master bathroom is a piece of old grove pine recovered from a floorboard that was removed during the demolition.

“I said, ‘Don’t throw that away, we’re going to find a use for it,’” Brown says, relating that her contractor, Niklas, the problem-solver, always managed to invent a design to accommodate her green requests. “Sometimes, he’d look at me like, ‘Where do you get these weird ideas?’ But 15 minutes later, he’d say, ‘OK, I figured it out.’ ”

Another example of this approach is the attic insulation. Rather than simply blowing in cellulose, Niklas removed knee walls and foamed where the roof and floor joists come together. Next came drywall, then insulation and netting. The result: a tight seal and, as Brown raves, “an ingenious design.”

But in other cases, going green wasn’t easy. “It’s not that green products are more expensive, just getting them is hard,” she says, referring to her bathroom floor. She ordered rubber for the 7-by-7 foot floor, which was covered with basic, ceramic tile. The company charged $100 for shipping and an extra $90 for special adhesive. “I really wanted the floor, so I agreed to it,” Brown says.

Eight weeks later, she had yet to receive the flooring materials. When Brown called, the color she ordered wasn’t in stock.

“I put the kibosh on the floor and thought, Aha — I’ll used recycled glass tile in the shower.” But the wait time on that product was 12 weeks. “This is the frustrating part about doing something green,” she says.

So Brown left the original floor, which is really the greenest decision, she says, and focused on other areas of the home.

She installed a tank-free hot water heater and a dual-fuel HVAC system. The heat pump on this system is electric, and two 92 percent efficient furnaces are zoned so one heats the basement and first floor, while another heats the upstairs. The heat pump (think of it as air conditioning running in reverse) can heat the home any time the outdoor ambient temperature is 40 degrees or higher, saving energy. “You can go several weeks during winter months without your gas furnace kicking on,” Brown says.

But Brown didn’t forget about aesthetics during the arduous renovation process — the butternut and brown-glazed kitchen cabinets, convenient storage cubbies in the sunroom, modern light fixtures and creative tilework in the backsplash. The attic is her favorite room. The exposed brick chimneys, skylights and loft feel offer a true retreat.

“This project was much bigger than I expected,” Brown says. The home is for sale, and she’ll probably miss working there every day. Signs explaining its green features will help buyers understand. She says simply, “I believe in this house.”
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