Rebekah Hoffmann
Contributing Writer

Realtors always say that location is an important factor in any real estate purchase. But for homeowners Steve and Jeanette, location was the factor for buying their Swansea residence in 2011. Well, that and the fact the home had a main level laundry.

They weren’t in love with the home at the time – they couldn’t even find much to like about it as it stood on the day of closing. They chose it only because its backyard adjoined property that had been in the family for two generations, and where
the couple, now enjoying retirement, had lived for 45 years.

But flash forward two years, and they can’t find anything they don’t like about their freshly renovated “contemporary traditional” home. After a gut redo that lasted six months, they have the house they always dreamed of, right where they feel most comfortable.

“It all came together so well,” Steve stressed. “Our contractor didn’t understand at first why we didn’t just build a home (from scratch). I told him, ‘It’s because we own the property behind this one.”

Reluctant homebuyers

This couple would have preferred not to move at all but to instead renovate the home where they had spent virtually their entire married life. Staying nearby was the next best thing. “We didn’t want to leave the area. We had tried everything to
stay (in our original home), but we couldn’t get rid of stairs to the laundry room. Then we saw this home was up for sale. But, after looking at it, we weren’t interested,” recalled Jeanette. She explained that a mold issue in the basement, the need for numerous updates and its long vacant state made it unappealing. So they continued looking – both in their neighborhood of choice and elsewhere.

“We looked at other houses in other neighborhoods, but we wanted to come back here. At one point, we came close to purchasing another house close by, but now I’m glad it didn’t work out.”

Meanwhile, that vacant house languished on the market. The listing period with one realtor ended, and it was relisted with a different real estate agent. Then the new agent arranged for the mold to be removed and encouraged the couple to revisit the property and consider it with fresh eyes.

Seeing possibilities

“After the second realtor took care of the mold problem, we could see it was a possibility,” she said. Still, they knew it would be a huge undertaking. So before making a decision, they did research and found the original builder of the 2006 residence. This builder, Junior Frentzel of D & F Contracting in Smithton, had retained all the construction records, down to the original blueprints and a listing of the exact supplies used.

Key to them moving forward on purchasing the residence was Frentzel’s commitment to head up the massive renovation that would turn the existing house into a place they could call home.

Major makeover

Above and Beyond Design by Marla | Interior Design

Few features were left untouched. Even the placement of
the stairs to the lower level was altered, and the main level walls
resurfaced in Venetian plaster.

“We gutted it, added on, put the front in back and the back in front,” remarked Steve of the construction work that continued through half of that first year.

They wanted more space, and they weren’t crazy about the floor plan. In addition, everywhere they looked, they saw features that needed updating or upgrading. To top things off, the overall style wasn’t to their liking.

So, before the dust cleared, they would wind up extending the entire rear wall of the home by 10 feet, shifting other interior walls, adding a fireplace, finishing the basement, modifying room arrangement – and moving the kitchen entirely.

Few features were left untouched. Even the placement of the stairs to the lower level was altered, and the main level walls resurfaced in Venetian plaster. Of course, all flooring, appliances, fixtures, lighting and more were replaced in the process.

The renovations didn’t stop with the interior either. The rear of the home, which was formerly vinyl siding, was switched out to full brick, and a paver patio and extensive landscaping were also part of the project. “There were times when the builder said we might want to consider doing one thing or another — later. But we told him, ‘At our age, there is no later. If we are going to do something, it needs to be now,” Steve said.

Building around a fireplace

Above and Beyond Design by Marla | Interior Design

The fireplace, which can also be enjoyed
from the sitting area overlooking the backyard, features nine
different lighting color combinations easily activated via remote control.

But before the renovation could get underway, the couple needed a vision of the finished product. They wound up finding the inspiration they needed during a shopping trip to Lite Brite, a lighting specialty store in Trenton, which also carries fireplaces.

“I picked out this gas fireplace there,” Steve said, pointing to a unique two-sided, stacked stone fireplace, which is the focal point of the home’s central living area. The fireplace, which can also be enjoyed from the sitting area overlooking the backyard, features nine different lighting color combinations easily activated via remote control.

“We started with the fireplace and built everything else from there.”

Monitoring progress

As the construction shifted into full swing, Steve and Jeanette stayed put in their old home while having a backyard view of all the progress.

And progress it was. Jeanette, an avid cook, watched as her dream kitchen took shape with all its modern-day gadgetry, from a touch-activated faucet, hot water-ready spigot and pot-filler tap at the stove to a separate warming oven, trash compactor, wine chiller and more.

Her kitchen at the old house never had any of these conveniences, she stressed, not even a garbage disposal.

“My husband let me have everything I wanted,” she said. Surveying all the bells and whistles in the kitchen, “and I like it all; I couldn’t pick a favorite feature.” Standing beside the kitchen’s rich mahogany cabinetry topped by gleaming granite, Steve added, “She loves to cook, and I love to eat. This is a good place to do both.”

Upgrades aplenty

Above and Beyond Design by Marla | Interior Design

Kitchen features a touch-activated faucet, hot water-ready spigot and pot-filler tap at the stove to a separate warming oven, trash compactor, wine chiller and more.

High-end finishes elsewhere have made big impacts. Oversized slate tile and cherry hardwood floors have taken the place of carpet in the central living area while the addition of built-in cabinets flanking the hearth room fireplace and along one wall of the meditation room (formerly a bedroom) are both functional and elegant.

Meanwhile, the master bedroom now has a super-sized walk-in closet using space borrowed from another former bedroom. There’s also a generous sitting area with a wall inset fireplace as well as a shortcut to the main living area. The master bath features even more distinctions, from one-of-akind wall and ceiling murals to an eight-foot glass-enclosed shower/sauna.

And, the lower level – which was essentially bare concrete walls and floor at the time they purchased the home – today includes a bedroom, bathroom, full bar, family room, exercise room, home theater and work/living space for an adult daughter who is a regular houseguest.

Furnishings and accessories throughout the home are an eclectic yet harmonious mix. A case in point is the Danish modern sofa and the antique grandfather clock. The two pieces, seemingly at opposite ends of the design spectrum, rest just a short distance apart in the living room, but both blend seamlessly into the room’s overall decor.

A team effort
The couple is quick to credit others for their satisfaction with their home
today.

“We had a lot of help,” stressed Jeanette, referring to the way the builder and many others were invaluable to the process of renovating and decorating the residence. “A lot of people went out of their way to make this home really special.”

Though impossible to list all those who were part of the process, the couple said they feel an extra debt of gratitude to D & F Contracting, designer Marla Vogt of Above and Beyond Design by Marla in Columbia and Doug and Julie Nitz of Custom Floors & More in Swansea.

Worth the work

Steve and Jeanette reflected on their home and its transformation. “I watched this subdivision going in, watched as this house was being built. I remember saying then, ‘That’s the worst house in the whole subdivision,’” Steve said.

“But now I think it’s one of the best.”

* Photo Credits Abode Magazine Belleville News-Democrat