W.G. Tait, Inc. Bear Lake Trading Company Home Page
Text by Lori Lovely | Photography by E.Anthony Valainis

The Hamilton County couple lived in their home for 18 years before they started thinking about moving. A home under construction caught the man's eye one day while he was commuting to work, and as the weeks went past and the cedar-shingled house took shape, he started to think about building a home with a similar style. A quick phone call to the builder, W.G. Tait Inc., resulted in a new construction project for the couple. But the project turned out to be a remodel of their current home rather than new construction.

The family's home, a 1920s farmhouse near Spring Mill and Ditch roads, was the first home in the community, and served as a weekend getaway for the architect who built it. The house sits on a wooded hillside near Williams Creek, with spectacular views. "We just love the property," says the homeowner. "We have trees, deer, owls, birds. There's enough distance from our neighbors that we don't even need draperies—so we take full advantage of the views."

A builder and remodeler with years of experience in the Indianapolis area, Tait says location is the most common reason homeowners choose remodeling over relocating. "Many of the older homes have bigger lots with more big trees," he says. "There's more topography, including trees, streams and hills."

In addition to the physical attributes of an established home's property, Tait lists other reasons for staying put: the soaring price of land; nearby amenities like schools, churches and shopping; and a shorter commute. "A lot of our clients are moving back from Carmel because they're tired of fighting traffic to get there," he says. "They're starting to realize there's a lot of good property in the city."

More and more homeowners across the country are opting for remodeling rather than relocation: The National Association for the Remodeling Industry reports that the remodeling market is projected to grow to $224 billion or more in 2004 (from $214 billion in 2003), and estimates that more than a million homes per year undergo major renovation or remodeling.

Remodel projects can give families some much-needed personal space while avoiding the hassles of a move. The remodeled family room in this home near Williams Creek provides room for comfortable conversation, a game of pool and even a quick meal.

Homeowners often start to consider remodeling when they read or hear about new kinds of amenities in other homes that their home lacks. "A common statement from homeowners is, 'I've been here for X number of years, but I don't have a "blank" room,'" says Tait. In the Hamilton County couple's case, what was missing was a family room. Although three of the children no longer live at home, the tight-knit family likes to spend time together, but had no place big enough for everyone to gather. The solution: add a family room.

The remodel's goal was to create a space large enough for large gatherings of family and friends, yet versatile enough to accommodate different types of activities. Tait faced tricky interior-design challenges in creating the desired results, as well as demanding exterior-design challenges to produce a consistent look.

"The key ingredient in any remodel is to preserve and enhance the value and integrity of the home," Tait says. Industry appraisal experts advise that homeowners choose their remodeling project carefully, in order to get the best return on their investment. Most appraisers feel the addition of a bedroom or family room ranks highest on the list of good investments, even above adding a home office. Renovations that improve the appearance of a house, as opposed to additions of luxury features, bring a satisfactory return on investment. The addition of a family room generally returns 84 to 115 percent of its investment in the home's resale value.

To ensure the Pearsons' satisfaction with the new family room, Tait designed the 1,210-square-foot room addition to balance with the opposite end of the house and to match the period details. "The new quadrant looks proportional," he says. The homeowner liked the new room's outward appearance. "Bill did an excellent job making the architectural features blend into the existing house," she says.

In addition to maintaining the exterior style of the existing house, Tait matched the original exterior wood and brick. "When doing a design like this, you know what wood and trim details to use," says Tait. "They're from the original house. The materials were already selected, we just had to find them!" It's a time-intensive search to find brick that matches a nearly one-hundred-year-old house, just as it's labor-intensive to color grout to match the original, and to finish new wood so it blends with the old, but the results are worth the efforts. "The home has shingle siding that we didn't want to over-finish, so we finished it somewhat and decided to let nature takes its course in aging it," he continues. "You have to be patient and think ahead about what it will look like beyond today."

That same meticulous craftsmanship went into every detail of the new room addition, including areas where matching was more of a blend than an exact reproduction. Tait matched the profiles of the home's original windows to maintain continuity, but designed the addition with more and larger glass for an open, bright atmosphere. He incorporated two window systems into the room (a box in the front, and a bay in the rear) to capitalize on the magnificent views. "We put windows on the north, south and west sides of the addition," he says. "There's a lot of light in that room."

"The challenge inside was to design a room that's really three-in-one," Tait continues. "The family wanted to incorporate a game room with a pool table and pinball machine, a TV room with fireplace, and a food center with a bar. It was tricky to differentiate areas for three separate activities, and make it all look like one unified space."
The home's traffic pattern had a lot to do with the remodeling plans. Tait created a circular path leading from the front door and kitchen through French doors to the family room, and another doorway from the family room to the powder room. "The circular design provides ease of use," explains Tait.

The traffic pattern was crucial in defining separate areas in the sizeable family room, without closing off any portion of the room. The interior designer Tait recommended, Forrest McGinnis, enhanced the room's functionality by incorporating simple and inspired details, such as the angled television corner that makes the screen visible from anywhere in the room. Because the family's children are all relatively tall, part of the functionality of the new room meant vertical as well as horizontal space. Twelve-foot ceilings help open the room, but to preserve the feel from the rest of the home, Tait installed tongue-in-groove beadboard (painted white) to match the existing color scheme. Similarly, new hardwood floors received a light stain for an aged appearance to better match existing floors.

"We're not creating a contemporary look," Tait says of the room addition. "We were careful to carry the detail and craftsmanship of the existing house into the new areas so the family room looks like an extension of the house."

The family stayed in their home through the remodeling process. "It was easy at first," one of the homeowners remembers, "but they kept creeping further and further into where we were living." Fortunately, because it was an addition rather than an interior remodel, it didn't affect their life as much as the previous three remodeling projects the home has been through. At least this time they were able to cook.

"Remodeling is a painful process to live through," agrees Tait, who notes that other projects in the home were completed at the same time as the five-month family room addition. Tait added a new covered front entry with railings and pillars, and the office was redone with new built-in cabinets that match the original paneling.

The family also added landscaping around the new addition. "The area was really neglected before," says the homeowner. "It was a wooded area we didn't pay much attention to. But the new room had so many windows, we got motivated. We added a patio accessible from the family room and did a lot of landscaping all around."

As soon as work finished, the family put the new family room to good use. Fifty-five people shared Thanksgiving dinner at the house, and the home has hosted bridal showers, graduation parties, lacrosse parties and tailgate parties. "Things happen," the homeowner laughs. "It's nice that the kids are able to invite friends over and we have room for everyone to be here." Tait adds, "It's gratifying to hear the family report wonderful gatherings."

While admitting that every remodel is different, Tait believes there are three constants to consider in every project. "First: Expense. You either have the money or you don't," he says frankly. "The most over-used statement in this business is 'Make it look like it's always been there.' It's the easiest thing to say, but the hardest thing to do. And it's the most expensive statement in the business!" Remodeling is often more expensive per square foot than building a new home because of tie-in and other structural considerations. And sometimes remodeling projects reveal serious problems that need to be fixed.

The homeowners admit that the family modified their budget upward as the project progressed. "We discovered things as the work went on, such as, some of the gutters weren't working. We decided, 'Now's the time to do it.'" The family also painted the rest of the first floor once the work was completed. "We painted and re-hung art," she says. "It was invigorating, and gave the house a whole new feel. It was fun."

Tait cautions against spending too much money, however. If the value of the home plus the remodeling cost exceeds the average value of homes in the neighborhood, the homeowner has to decide if personal satisfaction is enough to justify the expense. Often the cost recouped in selling a remodeled home does not equal the amount spent on the remodeling work. However, when the house is sold, the equity is tax-free. Few other investments can make the same claim.

"It's important for the contractor to know the market value of the home and the neighborhood," Tait explains. "Remodeling is a major investment; it enhances and preserves the value of the home." Once again, Tait looks to the future, suggesting that it's not wrong to "over-improve" a house if you intend to stay, but adds that "you have to manage your money and consider your quality of life as well as the value of the property."

Quality of life and enjoyment of the space comprise his third rule of thumb. The family thinks the remodel was well worth the effort. "It's nice to have space when the space is useable," says the homeowner. But she adds a few suggestions that she's learned through experience.

"Think through every detail before you commit, but be flexible as work progresses because inevitably, some unexpected surprises will come up," she advises. "Especially in older homes, when you don't know what kind of electrical or plumbing designs you're going to uncover."

She also believes good communication with the contractor is important, and says their relationship with Tait is part of what made this remodel such a good experience. "Bill made things very easy," she says. "We enjoyed working with him. He was very considerate and responsive; he listened to us and got a feel for our needs; and he was on site any time there was a problem. He lives in the real world."

Other considerations when interviewing contractors include:

  • Check references. "Look at other projects a contractor has done," says Tait. It will give you insight as to how your remodel may turn out.
  • Check with the Better Business Bureau to find out if there have been complaints, and how they were dealt with.
  • Verify licensing and insurance. Make sure building permits are in order.
  • If you have an historic home, find a contractor who specializes in historic reconstruction.
  • Make sure details are spelled out in the contract: how much is the deposit and when is final payment due? Is the contractor furnishing drawings or are you expected to provide them?

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