Everything Old is New Again
Remodeling a property can give you the home you want, and a good backstory.
By joohee muromcew
FEW PEOPLE CAN speak about the allure of a renovation project with more knowledge than Eric Thorkilsen, chief executive officer of This Old House, now in its thirty-sixth year as the leading multiplatform media outlet on home improvement. Thorkilsen finds the typical This Old House viewer and reader, even with bull-market budgets and state-of-the-art technology, desires a place of one’s own that has a story. “If you can take advantage of advances in energy, comfort, and maintenance and add a personal experience to the history of the house, the melding of the two is the strongest appeal. It makes the place seem more authentic,” he says.
Whether it’s a fresh coat of paint or a complete gutting of interiors, renovations can present simultaneously the most stressful and gratifying of creative problem-solving projects for homeowners, and the designers, architects, and builders who help them achieve their goals. While the prospect of renovating a kitchen or an entire house can be daunting for some, many homeowners relish a meaty fixer-upper with all its inherent challenges. Key to successful outcomes is the right guidance from professionals and a firm vision, so call in a pro.
When considering the purchase of a home that requires work or even before renovating your current home, “Involve an architect immediately,” says Kurt Harland, managing partner and majority owner of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Brokers of Jackson Hole. At the outset, an owner’s commitment to the location and long-term plans for the home factor heavily into the renovation investment. “It all depends on the relationship of the owners to the location, but costs can get carried away quickly,” Harland says. “Move forward with actual cost estimates from a trade professional so you know up front what your investment will be.” Given a home with integrity in the infrastructure—“good bones,” as builders like to call it—Harland generally prioritizes cosmetic upgrades that immediately and consistently add value. “Kitchens and bathrooms are first,” he says. “You spend the most time in those rooms, and remodels in those spaces give the best return on resale. Then, windows and doors, exterior finishes, landscaping, and outdoor living spaces.” The list goes on, and certainly some renovations are so transformative that the refreshed home is unrecognizable from its previous self.
Alex Romaine, owner of Wind River Builders, recommends focusing on materials and finishes. “Windows, cabinetry, countertops—construction materials can be fairly easily altered, but infrastructure usually cannot,” he says. Romaine has seen renovations that have left nothing but the exterior walls intact, most often to adhere to county regulations or a strong belief that there is value to safeguard in existing foundations and infrastructure. “Renovate or update the entire structure to current standards; don’t make it look like a patchwork quilt,” he says.
RUSH JENKINS, OWNER and CEO of WRJ Design in Jackson, reveals the sunny, crisp-lines potential in a modest three-bedroom, three-bathroom ranch-style home on Moran Street in the Gill Addition. “It was a well-designed house architecturally, built in 1968. The layout of the house was very good.” Always with impeccable manners, Jenkins very politely describes the former exterior as “in need of repair.” From the “before” photographs of the interior it would be fair to call the house dated, with the glory fading from its 1970s disco days. Dark brown paneling covered much of the yellowed interior walls. Windows were smaller, and there was no transition or relationship between the interior and exterior spaces. A corrugated fiberglass awning hung over the dining room doors. The house was, in general, quite dark.
The transformation of the home’s foyer speaks to Jenkins’ skill for mining beauty in existing structures. He kept the good-quality stone floor, but repainted the red front doors a fresh blue color, updated light fixtures, and streamlined the railings. All the interior paneling was removed and the walls painted in Benjamin Moore’s November Rain, one of those versatile off-white colors that changes ever so slightly as it responds to furnishings and textiles. The bulk of Jenkins’ work and budget was spent on upgrading materials and letting light in. Faux stone in the fireplace was replaced with real stone. The deep shag carpeting is now handsome gray oak flooring. The kitchen was refreshed with updated appliances, granite countertops, and new cabinetry.
“The house was kind of a party house,” Jenkins says, recalling the basement room with a disco-era bar and stacks of LPs. He honored its groovy energy by updating rather than ripping out the bar and creating another bedroom suite in what had been unfinished space. Throughout the house, Jenkins capitalized on light to enlarge and enliven spaces. The master bedroom, closed off and constrained in its previous state, was now filled with sunlight with the addition of sliding doors to a small but trim and pretty backyard that Jenkins also redesigned. Overgrown bushes and trees were cut back or ripped out, replaced with plantings more appropriate to the slender lot lines while still providing screening from neighbors. Given the in-town intimacy of the lot, Jenkins still managed to create usable, private spaces for outdoor living. A simple, elegant trim was added to the exterior walls. The existing faux stone remained, but the wood was painted in an understated very pale gray. The overall feel is now very contemporary, down to the slim black house numbers.
“Renovate or update the entire structure to current standards; don’t make it look like a patchwork quilt.”
– Alex Romaine, Wind River Builders
RENOVATIONS, OF COURSE, don’t always require the deep-dive involvement of a designer. Some homeowners experience great satisfaction in the planning and details. Al Dorsett, a serial renovator, chose to work directly with his general contractors, Craig Olivieri and Brian Nystrom of Jackson Hole Contracting, when renovating his vintage log cabin in Moran. Dorsett’s 2,600-square-foot log cabin sits on a grassy, rolling knoll near the north entrance to Grand Teton National Park. From the outside, it’s a postcard-perfect log cabin with wraparound porches and mountain views. The interior, however, had been decorated “in a very different taste than my own,” Dorsett says. He never considered tearing down the structure: “I loved the cabin and the location, and wanted to hold onto that. I kept the metal roof and oiled the logs. It’s a really solid cabin.” He did gut the entire interior, updating finishes and appliances while still trying to maintain some of its rustic charm. The rough, unfinished basement found new life as a bunk- and playroom for Dorsett’s “bunch of grandkids.” He particularly enjoyed sourcing many of the materials, working directly with suppliers and fabricators when he could. The vanities in the bathroom were from a discovery in Arizona. Dorsett admits that he thoroughly enjoyed working on the renovation, even at a distance from his home in California. “I really enjoy the process, maybe even more than the end result. I should have been an architect!” he says. Indeed, Dorsett is among the many homeowners who find such joy and gratification from their completed projects that another project quickly appears. His latest is a recently purchased condo in the Middle East, in need of some upgrades for sure. “These are fun, creative projects. You need an outlet for ideas. It’s part of human nature,” Dorsett says.