Before and After: The Jonas Home

By+Kathy Jonas

It was the week after the Colts won the Super Bowl. The boiler, which provided heat in our 30-year-old house, had been performing about as well as Rex Grossman during several days of sub-zero temperatures. We had chalked it up to the incredibly cold weather. On my way home from work, my son, John, called to say that water was pouring into the kitchen from the upstairs. That was just the beginning of a long remodeling process with work beginning near the Fourth of July and being completed by Thanksgiving. What began as a fairly routine pipe-bursting story evolved into a much bigger project. Not only did we need remodeling of the kitchen, bedroom, dining room and bathroom, but the water leak was only a small part of the water problem that had overtaken us. We later determined that water had basically rotted the wood siding and new vinyl was needed; water had infiltrated some of the walls of the house; we had to get a new roof; the chimney had leaked and the hearth had rotted; and the front steps needed rebuilt. Fortunately, we did not get all of the bad news at once. It might have been too much to handle. But my husband, Bill, 18-year-old son and myself did learn a few things along the way. Here are my tips: 1.Choose your contractor carefully. After some shopping around, we went with Brian Ullery of Vintage Homes. The Ullerys – Kent and Brian – are friends and this relationship had already been established. Bobby O’Connell and Craig Brochhausen of Vintage Homes ended up pretty much living with us this past summer and, although it was challenging on both sides, we couldn’t have been happier with them. They did high quality work, they were extremely clean, and they went beyond the call of duty: helping find my son’s car keys and running after the dog when she took off through the open door. 2.Privacy goes out the window. If you’re not comfortable with people working in your house, go live with someone else, as I did after my mother’s funeral. Despite the respect and concern of the Vintage employees, I just needed a break from the noise and the dust and the lack of privacy. When at home, though, be prepared to get up early and get showered as you never know if someone will be working on a ladder outside your upstairs windows. 3.Be conservative with your plans. I had my Saturday night dream kitchen and my Sunday morning reality. Although I would have liked to have torn down more walls and totally reconfigured the kitchen to allow an island, it was not possible. When we discovered all the additional problems later on, it was a good thing this kitchen did not get a more dramatic overhauling. As it was, Bobby and I had to convince my husband to purchase new cabinets to replace the old, ugly oak ones. I chose a new high-definitional laminate countertop that looks very updated and requires no upkeep. Although I dreamed of granite, I like the Wilsonart so much, I’m very glad I went with it. We opted to upgrade the floor from linoleum to ceramic tile and cannot believe we did not do that sooner. The wallpaper all went out the window and we used neutral colors (aided by Vintage’s Kris Ullery) in the kitchen, eating area and family room and a dark Merlot color in the dining room. The bathroom is a cheery lime green. 4.Set up a temporary kitchen, preferably with water. Do not think that eating out all the time will be fun. It is not. Even grilling outside in the summer doesn’t work well when you can’t wash serving bowls and utensils. We had to use paper and plastic products (not great for the environment). The microwave was indispensable. Call on your good friends who ask you, “is there anything we can do?” Respond, “when would be a good time for us to come over for dinner?” It is no time to be shy. Bring a bottle of wine and repeatedly thank them for their generosity. This holiday season, we tried to invite as many of these good friends over as possible to both thank them and to show off our new house. Thank your children’s friend’s parents for adopting your children when things are at the very worst. 5.Clearly mark all the kitchen stuff that you put away. All those plastic bins tend to look alike in the basement. We still have some kitchen things that have not been discovered. 6.Have understanding bosses. Fortunately, as Executive Director of the St. Joe Valley Plumbing, Heating and Cooling Contractor’s Association, I had no trouble finding someone to put in a new high-efficiency boiler or do quality plumbing work. 7.Be aware of the potential for a burglary. Unfortunately, our house was burglarized near the end of the project. It is very easy for those driving by to determine that when there are no trucks in the driveway, no one is home. This was a painful lesson to learn and one that can be avoided. 8.Communicate regularly with the contractor. Extras and changes are inevitable in the remodeling process. The project changed several times … both in scope and expense. Regular e-mail contact with the contractor and confirmation of overall price was essential to be certain that we were completing all the required work without exceeding the budget. Keeping clear with expectations and the cost of changes to the original plan avoids unpleasant surprises for both the homeowner and the contractor.