W.G. Tait, Inc. Bear Lake Trading Company Home Page

If you find the right spot, you can create the perfect house.
By Lori Roberts, Photos by E. Anthony Valainis

They say location is everything when it comes to buying and selling a home. When the location is right, but the home isn't, remodeling is the ideal solution.

Photo by E. Anthony Valainis - Indianapolis Monthly 1999 Photographer

A Michigan couple faced the "right spot-wrong house" dilemma in 2000. The husband, a corporate attorney, was in Indianapolis for a job interview when he took a quick house-hunting trip around the Circle City. He came upon the Williams Creek neighborhood in Washington Township and was sold. The prestigious, well-established area features luxury homes, a quiet setting and a location that is an easy drive from fine shopping, the Broad Ripple area and downtown Indianapolis. The father of three was especially attracted to the area's high-caliber public and private schools.

After the husband landed the new job, it was time to get serious about finding a home. The wife came down for her own job interview and preliminary house–hunting trip, and she was also drawn to the Williams Creek area. They noticed a lot for sale with Bill Tait's name on it. Tait, owner of W.G. Tait, Inc. and Associates in Indianapolis, is a custom home builder and remodeler who has done a lot of work in the area. The couple called Tait's office but found that the lot had already been sold.

Next they went home and searched the Internet. They found a Williams Creek home on line and asked Teresa Harris, their F.C. Tucker Realtor, to check it out personally. Harris walked thru the house and sent photographs to the couple, prompting the wife to come down and see the home for herself.

The basic colonial home, built in the 1960's, needed some minor exterior work, but it seemed to be in good shape structurally. Inside though, the home was showing its age. Much of the interior was outdated, with older wallpaper and linoleum. The wainscoting needed to be removed and the home lacked a family room. It had too many small rooms and not enough openness. Still, it was in Williams Creek, and that was a priority for the couple. Their instincts said the home could be fixed up quite nicely, so they made an offer.

Photo by E. Anthony Valainis - Indianapolis Monthly 1999 Photographer

Of course, they wondered whether the asking price plus the cost of remodeling would be a good investment. The husband called Tait's office again and asked Tait and a local appraiser to walk through the home with him. He had really good instincts," Tait says of the homeowner. "He asked me to take a look at it before he bought it. So I confirmed with him that it was a great location. The problem with the house was that it was just a classic ‘60s home. When you walked in, every room had foil wallpaper or outdated hand railings."

Tait shared the couple's vision of opening up the house, tearing out the carpet and giving the interior a facelift. The couple felt good about working with Tait, thanks to his experience building and remodeling in the Williams Creek neighborhood. The fact that Tait would be one of their neighbors seemed an added advantage to the couple. "Bill has a real investment in this neighborhood," the wife says.

The second floor needed little more than cosmetic changes, but the main level of the house required a total overhaul. The original floor plan was crowded, especially in the kitchen and the dining areas, pivotal spaces for any family. They had a vision of a house with plenty of open space, where rooms were not compartmentalized by walls and narrow hallways. The area around the kitchen was so closed in that it was the obvious starting point for reconstruction. "I said to Bill, ‘I think you can clear this whole area out and remodel this spot," the husband says. You really had to imagine the place without walls.

Architect Don Scott drew up plans for the family to consider, and construction began in February 2000. Although the home could have been reworked using its existing floor plan, the family wanted a little extra room. Tait found that space in a rather unlikely spot: the garage. The home had a three-and-a-half car garage off the back of the home near the kitchen, and it made sense to incorporate a whole bay into the home's interior space, and build a third bay onto the back of the garage. It was a win-win solution. The home's interior grew and three cars could fit in the garage. However, the basement stairs were accessed through the garage, rather than the home's interior. That didn't seem convenient for the homeowners, who wanted to access their basement from inside their home. "We didn't want to leave the house to go downstairs," the husband says.

So Tait made a new stairway. He closed off the existing basement stairway and brought in a backhoe to dig a hole through the concrete to accommodate a new set of basement stairs. While the home's half basement is currently used only for storage and utility access, the new stairway allows access from inside the home.

Photo by E. Anthony Valainis - Indianapolis Monthly 1999 Photographer

The added space from the garage gave Tait room to add other necessary features. Just inside the garage entrance, is a large walk-in closet, which the homeowners are using as a mud room. A little farther down the hallway is a small half bath, conveniently located off a spacious utility room. "It allows you to pull into your garage, unload your groceries, walk down the hallway and set down your groceries at the pantry or on the kitchen counter," Tait says. The hallway has been accented with arches, a small but distinctive touch that is characteristic of other homes in the area.

A second space challenge was deciding where to put the family room. The home has a spacious formal living room on the far side of the footprint, but the family wanted a hangout closer to the activities of the kitchen and dining room. The necessary space was there already, in the form of an outdoor patio. However, it was connected to the house through a small breakfast nook, with only a couple of sliding doors providing access.

The solution? Tear down the wall and finish off the patio, making it an open interior space. The homeowner came up with the idea of bringing the roof up and giving the family room a cathedral ceiling. While the middle of the ceiling had to stay low to accommodate an upstairs bathroom, the rest of the room features a gently sloping cathedral ceiling with canned lighting. Raising the ceiling was a great idea, Tait says. It contributes to the openness and overall flow of the home. "They were the ones who had the ideas," Tait says of the homeowners. "We helped them obviously with the design.

The result is a big family room with space for a couple cozy sofas, and ottoman and a television and an entertainment area. Skylights, windows and French doors allow natural light to spill into the room, also contributing to the new open atmosphere. The center French doors swing open, allowing access to the backyard and patio, which the husband designed himself.

The kitchen provided another solution to the space problem. The original kitchen area was crowded and small, with only a single doorway opening to the dining room. The homeowners wanted it to be a place where someone could cook while conversing with others in the family room. They also made a kitchen island a priority, so they would have extra counter space and a spot with bar stools for grabbing a quick bite after school or on the weekends.

Space, however, was tight. The wall that divided the kitchen and dining room seemed indispensable. If that wall were removed, the space for the refrigerator and the counter area along that wall would be lost as well. Besides, the kitchen wall hid the ductwork that led from one of the home's two furnaces in the basement to the upper level. A solution came when Broad Ripple Heating and Air Conditioning came by to replace the two furnaces. A technician casually mentioned to the husband that the upstairs-dedicated furnace could be placed in the attic. If that furnace were in the attic, there would be no need for the ductwork within the wall, so it could be pushed back a bit, giving the area an extra 20 inches of depth. That may not sound like a lot but it made a dramatic difference. "It added up real nicely," Tait says of the extra space. "That's like adding a foot to a hallway. There's a huge difference between a three-foot hallway and a four-foot hallway."

Once the space problems were solved, the kitchen received a pleasant facelift. Instead of overly ornate accents, the kitchen now features warm colors and textures. The new Ultracraft cabinetry, in a gold-stained maple finish, was designed by Reese Kitchens. Tremain Tile topped the center island with Giallo Veneziano natural granite, designed to match the marble dining room tables that the couple had brought from their former home. The refrigerator and oven have a brushed stainless steel finish, contrasting nicely against the cabinetry and cream-colored walls. There is even room off the kitchen for the wife's built-in desk and more cabinets. The new floor plan also left enough space between the kitchen area and the family room to accommodate a small dining table, perfect for casual family meals.

A new three-inch white oak floor installed by Kerman's Carpet and Rug Co. throughout the main level gives the home an updated look while retaining a traditional style. The original plans called for staining the wood, but once the floor was installed, the husband found himself drawn to the original color. "When they sanded it, it looked so pretty with so many different colors, that we decided to keep it that way," the husband says.

A home's entry way often introduces the flavor of a home, and this home's original entryway was definitely of its era. The floor was brick and the walls were trimmed with wainscoting. The stairway, which runs up and along the back wall, was carpeted, and its wooden spindles were painted. It also suffered from its 1960s floor plan, which dictated that all rooms be separated by walls.

So the walls came down. Tait removed two of the walls in the adjoining dining room and widened the entryway to the formal living room. The brick floor is gone, replaced by the hardwood floors that flow through the rest of the main level. The wife picked out a new stairway banister, a wood-and-black-wrought-iron combination that complements the new open feel of the entryway.

Of course, once the walls were gone, something had to hold the ceiling up. In the case of the dining room, square white pedestals took over, matching the home's simple trim molding and adding an interesting architectural element.

The dining room features two formal, granite-topped tables. These are transplants from the couple's Michigan home, whose dining room was a unique shape that called for the twin tables. But the look works in this dining room as well. Instead of having guests spread around a long table, the two tables inspire cozier conversations.

While the kitchen, family room, dining room and study received the most extensive work, other parts of the house received cosmetic updates as well. The library, a spacious paneled room just off the entry, was faded. Workers re-stained the paneling and added a built-in desk for the family's computer. Three walls of shelves now contain the family's book collection, while the fourth wall features French doors that open into the family room. The new wood floor extends into the master suite, which received only minimal updates.

Upstairs, the children's bedrooms were updated as well. Old wallpaper was removed, and the gaudy wall colors were toned down. The family's former home in Michigan featured seven very small bedrooms, but the new home's fewer bedrooms provide more than ample space for growing teens.

Buying any home is a big investment, and buying a home that needs a lot of work can be even trickier, especially when a homeowner is new to an area. But Tait says in this case, the family made a good financial move. They could put the home on the market today and likely recoup all of the money they invested. It all comes down to making the right decisions.

Washington Township is especially generous when it comes to re-sale value, Tait says. The location, coupled with the ambiance of the varied neighborhoods, makes it a prime spot and a good place for remodeling. While the family doesn't expect to sell this home in the near future, they can enjoy the changes. "It's a really nice house," the husband says. "And since we managed to fix everything in it, very few things go wrong,"

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