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


A kitchen remodel evolves into a major whole-house makeover.
Text by Lori Roberts
Photos by E. Anthony Valainis

Sometimes, a house appears to be almost perfect. The yard, the neighborhood, the size – all ideal. But the interior doesn't quite live up to other elements – or expectations.

An Indianapolis couple faced just this problem when they purchased a spacious brick residence in Winterwood. The couple, both young professionals, needed a large home with plenty of open space and room for entertaining. Yet they also craved privacy and a large backyard where their dog could frolic and they could enjoy a quiet dinner on a warm summer evening. Their previous home offered the space and flow, but it didn't provide privacy, the husband says. "We like being outside in the summer," he says. "In the other house, you'd sit on the deck and you'd hear the neighbors on their deck."

The couple began looking at existing homes and even considered building. But they discovered that many new-home sites did not offer spacious yards or precious privacy. When they did find a home they liked, they were outbid. But that situation proved fortuitous for all involved. The homeowners who outbid them were putting their own home – the Winterwood location – up for sale.

The basic elements were certainly in place. The stately home sits on about 2 acres of tree- filled land. Bedrooms were spacious, and the basement was ready to be refinished to suit anyone's needs. But the colors were ashen, not warm and inviting like the couple envisioned. The squared-off rooms offered little flow from one to another. Still, the couple saw potential, so they decided to buy the home and remodel it according to their dreams.

Photo by E. Anthony Valainis - Indianapolis Monthly 1999 Photographer

The couple contacted Bill Tait, president of W.G. Tait, Inc.. As a builder specializing in upscale homes and remodeling projects, Tait likes to look at what is and envision what can be. "I don't let the roadblocks get in the way," Tait says. "It's easy to see the walls that are up. If there's one thing I've learned in the remodeling business, it's that anything can be done."

Even so, when the husband called Tait to detail the desired revisions, Tait's first response was a blunt one: "Why don't you just tear down the house and start all over?" That's when buyer's remorse set in, the couple says, laughing. Fortunately, Tait saw that he could work with the home's existing elements. "In this case, the house had all the ingredients," Tait says. "They were more or less in the right spot. The ceiling heights were correct; the room sizes were close. They just had some bad things along with it."

The couple swallowed their doubts and pressed forward with a limited plan to remodel the kitchen, refinish the basement and build a master bedroom suite on the first floor. A year later, almost the entire home has been remodeled, repainted and given new life. The first floor master bedroom never progressed past initial plans – the architect said a tree would have to be removed from the backyard, so the wife vetoed the idea – but the rest of the home received a makeover. Squared-off doorways have been raised and arched, giving the home a touch of classical elegance. The gray tones have been replaced with delicious-sounding colors like antique white with a chocolate glaze and strawberry malt. Interior designer Deanna Whetstone of Whetstone & Associates helped the couple furnish and design their dream home to give it a welcoming, inviting air.

So much for the limited remodeling plan. "Every time we ripped up a room and started to put it together, it made another room look bad," the husband says. "It just seemed that every room I went to I said, ‘Let's just do this' and Bill said, ‘Did you ever think of this?'

KITCHEN CREATIONS
The kitchen enjoyed the greatest change. The homeowners take pleasure in cooking and entertaining and wanted their kitchen to be a central gathering point for guests. Although the original kitchen was spacious, it featured a long, narrow floor plan; walls and small doorways cut off and hemmed in the flow. The dark brown cabinetry and Formica countertops were cold and stark. A wall of doors separated the kitchen from an adjoining sunroom, wasting the space.

Tait and the owners decided to gut the kitchen from floor to ceiling. The home's high ceilings made it possible to raise the doorways to 8 feet and redesign them with lovely arches. Walls came down. Arched openings along the sunroom wall permitted the insulated room to flow into the kitchen area, allowing the homeowners to take full advantage of the backyard view. The door leading to the basement was removed and that wall was torn down as well, leaving behind an open stairway framed in wrought iron.

The focal point of the kitchen is the granite-topped island, which extends almost the length of the cooking area. Its unique shape offers a seating area at one end and ample workspace, making the island a natural place to congregate during dinner parties or a convenient retreat for the homeowners after a busy workday. The kitchen's large size accommodates many key appliances.

Warm colors complete the kitchen's metamorphosis. The walls have been finished in Sahara gold with a sienna-umber wash, shades that complement the countertops' multicolor yellow-granite finish. The tile is a tumbled stone with a custom tumbled border. An antique white shade with chocolate glazing finishes the cabinets.

FAMILY SPACES
While removing walls opened up the kitchen, adding a wall made its own difference to the family room that sits just off this space. In the original home, a half wall divided the kitchen and family room. For no logical reason, the family room rested at a level of about 6 inches lower than the kitchen. Tait raised the room's flooring to match the main level and rebuilt the wall, leaving about a 6 foot-wide doorway between the areas. The result is a living space that is separate from the kitchen, yet just a few easy steps away from the eat-in area. "By closing it in, it created a better furniture wall for the family room," Tait explains.

The family room experienced further transformations. Previously, a small bathroom sat next to a bar area near the room's entrance. The new homeowners eliminated the bath to make room for a renovated bar and spacious study for the husband. The family-room fireplace hearth was replaced and reshaped with a radius front, although the owners kept the wall of stone surrounding the fireplace.

The husband's study, just off the family room, received rich paneling in poplar wood, stained to a warm pecan color. Tait fashioned a coiffured beam ceiling of the same wood, adding depth and conservative distinction to the room. Built-in bookshelves offer storage space and a place to show off family photographs. Even the doorway is unique, sitting at an angle to the family room. "If we had squared it off, the study would have jutted into that family room a little more," Tait says. "Angled like that, it allows a more inviting walkway into the room. It's not as intrusive into the family room. I think that it was critical to the success of the room.

Although the formal living room and dining room on the ground level remained intact, they too received face-lifts. The original living room fireplace of masonry brick was replaced with a new marble piece, surrounded by imported marble and finished with black marble slabs. The French influence of the fireplace lends formality to the room while maintaining the home's integrity. The dining room saw only small changes, including new paneling, wainscoting and lighting. Both the formal living room and dining room incorporate the higher arched doorways already established in the kitchen area. "That subtle change helped all three rooms," Tait says.

RECONFIGURED ROOMS
On the other side of the home, Tait and the homeowners faced the task of taking advantage of wasted, misused space. In the original floor plan, a steep, narrow stairway originated in the garage and led up to a second floor bedroom. On the first floor, a nanny's room and full bath extended into the garage. A long hallway from the garage to the kitchen was basically dead space, Tait says.

Photo by E. Anthony Valainis - Indianapolis Monthly 1999 Photographer

The nanny's room and the stairway were the first casualties, sacrificed to make room for a fourth bay in the garage. The demise of the nanny's full bath and shower also opened space for an elegant powder room at the rear of the home.

The need for a rear staircase posed another problem. Because the original staircase led to a bedroom, its function was limited. "You never felt like it was easy access to the rest of the upstairs," Tait says. Instead, the homeowners wanted a rear staircase that would be convenient to the entire upper level. Tait solved the problem by building a new stairway off the far end of the hallway, near – but not in – the garage.

Although the laundry room lost some space to the stairway's construction, it too has been upgraded to an all-purpose arrival center. Cabinets along one wall offer handy storage areas, and countertops provide space for sorting the day's mail. There is even room for the dog's bed near the front window.

With so many changes on the ground level, it seemed only natural to update the entryway and main staircase. After all, this area offers most visitors their first impressions of the home. The only entryway element spared from the wrecking crew was the Italian limestone floor. The main staircase – a monotonous, white-painted wood structure – added little character or depth to the entryway. Tait replaced it with a natural-wood style, covered with a patterned runner. Iron balusters "connect" the stairway with other areas of the home while adding elegance and flow. Completing the entryway is a Fine Arts chandelier in a candle design.

BEDROOM BALANCES
Once the wife decided she would not sacrifice one leafy tree for a downstairs master bedroom suite, Tait and the homeowners turned to the existing arrangement. The original room included a cathedral ceiling with beams and track lighting, features the new homeowners found dull and unattractive. Tait replaced the ceiling with a tray style, updating the room and giving it depth. He and the homeowners decided to add a window to the sidewall, which opened the room further and admitted more natural light.

Photo by E. Anthony Valainis - Indianapolis Monthly 1999 Photographer

The master bathroom needed an update as well. The couple reviewed numerous potential layouts before Whetstone helped design a new floor plan. Instead of a separate room with a shower and commode, Tait built a spacious bath suite, complete with a sunken tub, glass shower and walk-in closet. Perhaps the most remarkable element of the master bath is its walls. Artist JoAnn Barsten of Impressions created walls to match the window treatments. Using an artist medium, Barsten designed a textured pattern of tissue paper, followed by a coat of paint and glazing. The resulting one-of-a-kind wall pattern gives character to the new master bathroom.

Four bedrooms on the second floor offer ample room for guests and the husband's teenage daughter. The wife took possession of the former nursery, refinishing it to incorporate her office furnishings and personal accessories. Two other bedrooms needed only a coat of fresh paint. The fourth bedroom, reserved for the husband's 13 year old daughter, boasts sloping ceilings and dormer windows. The walls, painted a deep purple and yellow, emphasize the geometric style. The remodeled bathroom includes a new shower, vanity and countertops.

Finally, the lowest level of the home became the recreation and entertainment area, complete with a floor-to-ceiling wine rack, a workout room, a half bath and an entertainment area. Even the outside of the home did not remain untouched. When the husband confessed that he found the exterior boring, Tait suggested adding wood shake shingles to the roof. That small adjustment gives the home character.

From the small tweaks and major changes comes a home that rivals any custom built creation. Tait seems particularly proud of the fact that he and the homeowners devoted time and attention to details, such as the arched doorways and trim work. "It's a lost art," Tait says. "People will square things off instead of arching it because it's easier. It's easier on the drywaller, the framer and the trim carpenters. One of the problems with today's remodeling is the client and the builders and the architects and the sub contractors take the easy way out. You need to take the time, think it out and put the beauty back in."

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