New Homes and Ideas, 2002

A Little Brown Duck Becomes a Swan


1416 Regent Place

When Lyn and Vance Barber* pulled up in front of this 1940s house inside the Beltline in Raleigh, while on a house-hunting trip from Atlanta, Lyn refused to get out of the car. “It was the ugliest house I had ever seen,” remembers Lyn. “I said there was absolutely no way I would ever live in that house.” But by the time they crossed the South Carolina border, headed home to pack up and move, Lyn was convinced that the ugly brown duckling was the house for her.

The Barbers loved the heavily wooded lot on which the house stood. The older neighborhood of established homes appealed to them. The schools and the convenience to Vance’s office—all were assets that Lyn came to understand she could not “build” into a new home. “I just realized that this was the only way to have everything I wanted in a home,” says Lyn.

And so the overhaul began.

The Barbers had initially planned to occupy the large, finished daylight basement of the house during renovation, so they went ahead and made the move from Atlanta into the “before” house. As it turned out, the electrical work was so extensive, that it required turning power to the house off for several months. But the Barbers gained valuable insights into their home during the few months that they camped out there before remodeling began.

Insulation and a zoned heating and air conditioning system became a great priority after virtually baking in the upstairs rooms during the hot weeks of August. “That’s probably not something we would have given as much thought to, had we not actually experienced living in the house,” says Vance.

After interviewing a number of contractors, the Barbers worked closely with three before choosing Michael Powell, president of Archwood Building Company. “Several things impressed us about Michael,” says Vance. “He was extremely thorough in his estimating, and he really and truly listened to what we wanted.”

The final design agreed upon only added 70 square feet to the house, but the existing space was completely gutted, down to the studs and extensively reconfigured. Nearly all of the wiring was replaced, as was much of the plumbing. “We knew there were problems going in because the homeowners had shared the home inspection report with us,” says Powell. “But once we started tearing out walls, there were a few additional surprises.” The house had undergone previous repairs and renovations that were not quite up to today’s building codes.

One such surprise was a baking pan that had been plastered and tiled over between floors to collect the dripping from a stubborn upstairs plumbing leak. Another unpleasant discovery was extensive water damage caused by improper gutter installation, requiring more soffit rebuilding than originally planned. Amazingly, the added work did not throw the project off schedule, which was very important to Lyn, as the renovation was scheduled for completion just four weeks before the due date of her third child. “I give Michael great credit for getting the job done on time,” says Vance.

Powell, a Certified Graduate Remodelor with more than 17 years in the remodeling business, emphasizes the importance of keeping clients informed from the very beginning about what decisions will be required of them and exactly when. He provides each homeowner with what he calls a “client book” that details every aspect of the project. From a detailed description of the scope of the work, to names and numbers of key contacts, to a list of recommended suppliers and subcontractors —this book keeps clients completely informed about the project, about their expectations of the contractor and his of them.

Putting it Back Together

Though the entire interior of the house was disassembled, the Barbers wanted to retain the 1940s character of the home. Archwood Building Company’s crew carefully removed original trim that was later reused throughout the house. Red Oak floors were saved and sources were found for reclaimed flooring to closely match the color and quality of the existing flooring; once sanded.Pine paneling from the den was reused as wainscoting in the dining room. The Barbers had found an old Tudor-style casement window that Archwod Building Company reframed and installed in the breakfast nook.

Two large dormers were added to the front of the house to enhance its curb appeal and to bring more light into the upstairs rooms. The old brown Masonite siding was replaced with durable Hardiplank fiber-cement siding. A combination of fiberglass and mineral wool insulation was used. Mineral wool is a recycled product with R-values as high as R-50, making the house both more energy efficient and quiet.

One of the most labor-intensive projects was the installation of a black and white tile mosaic on the master bathroom floor. The pattern was hand laid in individual one-inch tiles. “The tiler had to step outside every few hours just to clear his head,” laughs Powell. When all was finished, the Barber’s four-year-old pointed out one missing black tile in the scheme, which Powell and the homeowners took as a testament to the true handcrafted nature of the project.

Downstairs, the floorplan was opened up to create a more airy and flowing space. The kitchen was completely refitted with custom white cabinets, granite counters, hardwood floors and all new appliances. Vance himself built the cabinetry in the den as well as the deck across the back of the house. “I was impressed,” says Powell. “He’s a real craftsman.”

The judges, it seems were impressed too. “What they accomplished in creative rearranging of existing space to make a more fluid house was phenomenal,” says STAR judge, Scott Richards, president of One-Stop Remodeling in Savannah, Georgia. “And they managed to update with all modern amenities, but to retain the flavor of the original house.”

On their survey (homeowner satisfaction is an important component of the STAR awards), the Barbers gave Archwood Building Company and, especially Mike Barnes, the project manager, a perfect score. Both homeowner and contractor alike report working together “delightful.” And that just may be the key to a truly
successful remodel.