By Lynnell Nixon-Knight |
Photography by E.Anthony Valainis
|A marriage of vintage style and modern amenities
demands attention to detail but no compromise on
function. The Francis' new master bath shares the
Jacuzzi corner tub, granite countertops and large
windows of most modern baths, but molding, brushed
nickel hardware and plantation shutters give the
room a farmhouse feel.
Washington Township has some of the finest
neighborhoods Marion County has to offer: The streets are wide,
the lots are generous, and the homes seem elegant and spacious.
But sometimes on closer inspection, even the most appealing houses
have less-than-attractive features. The Francis home is one example.
passerby would find little to criticize in the elegant Georgian
Colonial-style home, with its refined white columns
and perfect British symmetry. The house is relatively new-only
eight years old-and comfortably spacious, with roughly 6,000
square feet of living area. The handsome exterior has tremendous
curb appeal, and the home has a desirable location within its
So, when it came to being sold, why
did it languish on the market not once but twice in its short
life? Built as a spec home, it
remained for sale for some
time before being purchased by its first owner. When that owner put the house
on the market, it again stood unclaimed for an unusually long time-especially
considering that its site is prime real estate.
The problem was in the home's
layout. As a relatively new residence, its interior had many of the requisite
bells and whistles, such as a richly paneled
library and hardwood floors throughout. But the interior was dark, awkwardly
designed and hard to make work for nearly anyone.
Jerry Francis purchased the
house realizing that a good remodel could bring out its potential,
although initially he didn't fully grasp the scope of the
project. "Jerry's instincts about this house were wonderful, but
he needed a professional to come in and help him understand his instincts," says
Bill Tait of the remodeling firm W.G. Tait, Inc. "Any time a product
sits on the market a long time, you can buy undervalued and hope the cost to
up can turn around and make a profit."
"The house has an excellent front elevation
and looks wonderful from the road, so it drew a ton of people
to look at it," Tait says. "But
the problem was, it disappointed visitors the minute they walked in. Some
things you can get past, like when the paint color and carpet
are not what you want.
In this case, however, there were some major issues." Specifically,
the kitchen, the master bath, and the entire upstairs had design problems
the upper level's problems weren't immediately evident).
the relatively new kitchen needed a complete remodel. According to Francis,
the original materials were of good quality, but the layout was
was nice stuff, but the wrong style," he says. "The kitchen was
dull and tired-it didn't seem like a fun place to work or gather."
the house has a distinctly vintage interior style, the kitchen
bore contemporary pickled cabinets in a light maple
finish and Corian countertops. Ovens were set side-by-side
rather that stacked, and the lighting throughout was inadequate.
But perhaps most offensive of all was the island, an oddity
of stainless steel and wrought iron. "It did not look
good," says Francis, ruefully.
Gutting the kitchen was
the only way to address all of its problems. The original cabinets
and countertops were ripped out and replaced with new white
topped in a warm taupe granite. A more functional design improved the workspace
layout, and the plans included increased ambient and task lighting as well as
state-of-the-art stainless-steel appliances.
The replacement island matches the
rest of the cabinetry in style, but is stained a warm walnut
tone and topped with beautifully marbled granite in a pale gold
color that picks up the countertops' subtle gold hues. The kitchen's
brushed-nickel hardware is simple and doesn't compete with the interior's
warm, simple design.
An open, freestanding bar island with matching
white cabinets now separates the kitchen from the great room
without cordoning off each space.
The floors are
beautifully featured in this design-so the existing light-tan carpeting was
removed and the hardwood floors were refinished with warm walnut
Another major area of concern was the master
bath. It had the same pickled cabinets with Corian countertops
as the kitchen,
with taupe walls. Access to
area was awkward, and to Francis the shower's interior seemed claustrophobic. "Again,
the materials were good, but the design was sub-optimal," he says.
The master bas was fitted with bath cabinets
of the same design as those in the kitchen, granite countertops
and a Jacuzzi corner tub. The flooring was replaced with small
pale stone tiles, and additional lighting was installed as well.
The shower was entirely rebuilt and lined with stone tile matching
the floor. The entrance to the shower is lined with a coordinating
granite accent, and a large sheet-glass door faces the double
windows in order to maximize the natural light. "Now, the
master bath is a comfortable space," Francis says.
he bought the house, Francis knew he'd have to remodel
the kitchen and master bath, but he thought the project would
end there. "Downstairs
is all I was going to do," he says. "But Bill suggested the upstairs
was actually more important."
Tait felt the home's biggest problem
was the layout of the upstairs bedrooms
and baths. "I said, ‘Jerry, the second floor is priority number
one, the kitchen is two, and the bath is three if you want to stage these projects," he
says. "Remodeling a kitchen and bath is pretty common, but in this case
the upstairs was an absolute killer, which is pretty atypical."
the bedrooms had no connected bathroom, while two of the other bedrooms shared
a connected bath and had very small closets. The fourth bedroom was
extremely small-with no bath or closet.
"This was something buyers could just not get past," says Tait. "The
typical mom and dad loved the house-loved the exterior, the good schools,
the close shopping. They might be disappointed in the cabinets and floors of
kitchen and master bath, but could deal with plugging in some new stuff.
However, when they went upstairs, it just didn't work. How would kids and
guests make all that work? It just wasn't good. In fact, the layout upstairs
was probably the worst I've ever seen."
Using an experienced eye,
Tait determined that the upstairs problem could be fixed by using the existing
space. He retooled the walls, eliminated the
bedroom and incorporated its space in three bedroom suites with walk-in
"Bill has a great sense of what you ought
to do to a house," says Francis. "And more importantly,
he knows where to stop. You can easily over-improve a house and
not greatly increase the livability or add value."
is important to Tait, and his philosophy is that a house is usually
person's single biggest investment. "Your house needs to perform
not only in the family way, but also perform in the value way," he says. "There's
no sense spending this kind of money on something, and when your life changes
or you're ready to move on or your kids move out, then you have to sell
the house for less than what you have in it."
There's more to the
process than simply knowing the cost of building materials,
Tait says-it's also important to know the area and marketplace well,
keeping abreast of trends and current statistics. "If builders understand
those things well, they can better advise their clients," he says.
construction on the Francis project took about five months from beginning
to end. "That's significant, but not as long as it
would take to build a new house," says Tait. It was a fast-track
project, but Francis was comfortable with Tait's suggestions
due to the good relationship they'd
developed from another extensive remodel Tait did in 1997. "My direction
to Bill was to do everything to the house that would improve its livability
and appeal, and that I expect to recover my expenses at sale," says
listens well and understood what I wished to accomplish-and he also knows
what he doesn't know. He's surrounded himself with talented people
like designer Alicia Ohorogge and decorator Forrest McGinniss."
is the first to agree that he knows his limitations: "I could purple
and orange together and think it looks great, and my wife or a designer
would shoot me." While he demurs from speculating why the original
builders made the decisions they did for this particular house, he is willing
sometimes builders may select less-expensive materials because they think
doing the right thing by keeping costs lower. "I've just learned
from experience that sometimes spending a little more in the right places
will yield a better value overall," he says.
The house certainly seems
worth the effort. The interior shows elegant craftsmanship in details
such as the seeded-glass entablatures, the tall
ceilings and rounded
archways, the wood of the stair railings. With the problems posed by
the kitchen, master bath and upstairs eliminated, the Francis
home is a gem.
It is now easily
worth its market value and provides plenty of eye-pleasing livability.
With no more land in Washington Township, major
remodels will probably increase in the future. Francis suspects
there are many houses that would benefit from updates: "But
I don't think I want to do another one right away."
to Published Articles Start Page
to the top ^^