2011 Reader Remodel Winner: A Chic Colonial
Nicole and John Rader opened up and enlarged a 1920s Colonial Revival without sacrificing its soul—and won $5,000 and a GMC Sierra!
The Rader family nabbed the top prize in This Old House's 2011 Reader Remodel Contest. Here's the story of their renovation:
It's a bad thing when water is gushing down a freshly painted wall and the plumber can't come—because there's a hurricane.
We have friends who ask us, "What's up with your house? Did you do something to make the water gods angry?" Because it wasn't just one leak or one little hurricane. That year, two other hurricanes came through, destroying windows and our front door.
Another time, we went away for three days and when we got back, we realized a pipe in the wall behind a toilet in the master bath had burst. We had to retile, of course.
Our trials weren't over yet. During the final phase of our three-phase redo, we ordered a new washer and dryer and left them sitting in boxes in the living room until we could put them in. Installation was scheduled for a Monday. On Sunday, I looked up to see water pouring out of the recessed lights. I raced upstairs to find that the old washer had rusted out and totally flooded the master bath. Again.
And that was before the roof sprang a leak during a storm, swamping rooms three floors down.
Take a video tour of the Raders' home.
See the all the finalists in the Best Whole House Before and Afters 2011.
Luckily, we love the house, and so do our kids, 7-year-old Olivia and Max, who's 5. Both of them managed to be born between renovations. We'd take a break, then get back to work. They're so used to it, they thought nothing of helping me caulk the post caps the other day when I was fixing up the picket fence.
Yes, we are still working on this house 10 years after we bought it. Believe it or not, we had just finished renovating a house a block away and had no intention of doing it again. Then we spotted this lovely 1920s Colonial Revival—in one of Orlando, Florida's oldest and friendliest neighborhoods—on a great lot and near a great school.
Built by our next-door neighbor's grandfather, the house had lots of old-fashioned warmth, with decorative corbels on the exterior, cypress and oak paneling, wide-plank wood-pegged floors, and two working fireplaces, one framed with hand-painted Delft tiles. It also had three bedrooms, two full baths, and two half baths. But after 70-some years in the Florida sun, it needed work.
Friends and relatives thought we were crazy. "Renovate—again?" they asked. The kitchen was dark and cramped, the bath near the master bedroom needed all-new everything, and the basement had an apparent moisture problem: Plaster was literally falling off the walls.
We were recently married, and another whole-house redo was not in the budget. So that first year, we focused on the kitchen, the bath near the master bedroom, and painting and floor refinishing.
A carpenter who worked on our previous house, Paul Keller, helped us haul out 30-year-old green shag carpeting and tons of junk, helped demolish the kitchen, and then took down the wall between it and the dining room, replacing it with a cased opening.
I always joke that Paul was like the handyman on Murphy Brown. He might as well have moved in. When the holidays rolled around, we were all so exhausted we could barely sit up. We had to do something to celebrate Christmas, so the three of us piled into the car and had breakfast at IHOP.
Our neighbors were wonderful. For three months, while we were ripping out linoleum and cracked tile, and eating out of a mini fridge and a microwave set up in the dining room, they came by to commiserate and drop off home-cooked meals.
As the paint coordinator, I experimented quite a bit with color that year. But the big debate was over whether to touch the original horizontal cypress paneling in what had been the dining room. I finally decided it was just too dark, and John added a coat of yellow. Then I woke up in the middle of the night worrying that I'd made a mistake.
Shown: The kitchen absorbed a dining room with a floor made of 9-inch-wide oak boards framing 5-inch-wide pine boards. New varied-size oak boards in the cooking area unify the two spaces.
The next day, Paul and I grabbed putty knives and scraped off the paint—or tried to. Amazingly, halfway through our efforts we realized we had created this great distressed finish. All it needed was glaze to give it some depth. We still get more compliments on this room than anything else.
About three years after our painting adventures, we were ready to tackle Phase Two. It was a crazy time, with Olivia less than a year old, but I needed a home office for my real-estate business and Olivia's toys needed a place to park.
This time we brought in a general contractor, Bill Haan, who enclosed the screen porch, adding windows to create an office with a view. He also rebuilt the stairs to the attic, which we fixed up as a playroom. Our DIY efforts were harder with a newborn in the house but, again, neighbors and our parents came to the rescue, putting us up for weeks so that we could refinish floors and sand old paint without having to sleep with polyurethane fumes and lead dust.
Shown: Paint and floor refinishing gave the dark, paneled staircase a lift. Up two steps and through a doorway sits homeowner Nicole's new home office, a former family room that now has an interior window.
A new mantel, masonry surround, and hearth—the latter two made with brick veneer left over from a previous project—enhance the fireplace. Tempered glass replaced the panes in folding French doors, which originally opened onto the porch, now a dining room with a vaulted ceiling.
Which brings us to 2010 and Phase Three. With the kids older and building costs down, we decided we could finally go for the addition we had only dreamed of during Phase Two. The addition would add 760 square feet, with a family room below a new master suite.
Shown: Generous windows and a vaulted ceiling with a fan help keep light and air moving in the new master bedroom, part of an addition at the back of the house. To save money, the homeowners chose wall-to-
wall sisal over hardwood.
We kept as much of the original 1920s house as possible while opening up and updating the kitchen, upgrading baths, modifying the layout, and creating a guest suite in the basement.
Time frame: 10 years
Biggest setback: Three hurricanes in a row. One of them destroyed the original front door. It took us several months to find a company that could replicate it.
Where we splurged: On our addition, which added 760 square feet to the house, making it more comfortable for us and our guests.
An original board-and-batten door opens onto the new master suite.
The bath was enlarged to make room for a salvaged claw-foot tub they refinished and painted dark blue.
Joining us on the last stretch was carpenter Scott Williams, who crafted built-ins for my new office and John's. He also made cabinets that match the kitchen's to line a butler's pantry in the addition.
I could gripe about our last disaster, which involved a burst supply line to the tub and Old Faithful going off in that master bath—unbelievably—once again. But it's more fun to focus on all we've achieved and relax a little. As for our new dining and family rooms and fabulous basement in-laws suite, we take every chance we can to share them. After all, many of our guests were there when we bought the house and bravely declared, "Sure, we can do it again—let's renovate."
Shopped smart. We bought half-price floor models at appliance showrooms, asked local stores to match discounts we found online, and patiently waited to buy our wood shutters until we could find an affordable secondhand set that we could restore ourselves.
Salvaged and repurposed. We found our claw-foot tub in a salvage yard, refinished it, and put it in the kids' bath. The ceiling fan in the master bedroom was a hand-me-down.
Shamelessly leaned on friends and family. Neighbors offered meals, temporary housing, and moral support, and our equally wonderful parents stepped up to help with cleaning, repairs—and babysitting, of course.