Folk victorian living room
Photo: Deborah Whitlaw Llewellyn

A Plan to Revamp

Everyone's heard stories about renovations gone awry, but how often do you hear a homeowner describe a process that moved smoothly, start to finish? The way Paula Rau tells it, finding and refining her gem of a house in Staunton, Virginia, was a real pleasure—even if it did take five years of dreaming and 18 months of hard work.

"I have to credit my team," she says, referring to a series of skilled pros who live nearby and are united by a fondness for diamond-in-the-rough properties: architect Carter Green; general contractor John Workman; and cabinetmaker Paul Borzelleca, who has worked on and off for Paula for a dozen years and, as he puts it, knows her sensibilities.

Her Folk Victorian find, squeezed into a thicket of old houses in the historic Newtown district, came into Paula's life indirectly. A friend was shopping for a deal on an in-town fixer-upper, spotted the house, and made a phone call. Yes, the owner said, the house might be for sale.

But when the two women returned to take a closer look, they had second thoughts, despite the house's lovely wraparound porch and five-digit price tag. At some point, the house had been divided into two apartments; the foyer was split down the middle, with a wall biting into a once-graceful arched opening to create two narrow front entrances. A full bath was wedged in next to the kitchen in the first-floor apartment, and a kitchenette was squeezed in alongside the bath in the apartment upstairs.

Shown: A new soapstone surround gives extra weight to the lone wood-burning fireplace and keeps the flat-screen TV from dominating the living room.
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