From chaos to completion

Renovation: Although somewhat stunned after seven months of renovation, the Councills are pleased with their roomier home.

July 18, 1999

For the past seven months Sun staff writer Karol V. Menzie and Ron Nodine, president of American Renovator Inc., have been chronicling in their Home Work column the renovation of Dick and Nancy Councill's Towson residence. This is the last of the series.

It's over. It's done.

When Dick and Nancy Councill stroll through their newly renovated house, they find a roomy family room and a tiled entryway/mudroom that opens into a spacious breakfast area next to a dream kitchen. There's a new powder room and a new study. And upstairs, there's a gracious master suite that seems to be sitting in the treetops, with closets galore and and a whole room just for ironing.

The white-painted brick Colonial cottage is once again the Councills' dream home, as it was a decade ago, when they moved in with their baby. Now they have three active boys -- and plenty of room for them to roam. The Councills are still somewhat awed and stunned after undergoing about seven months of demolition and construction.

So how did it go? Over the winter, their kitchen was moved first to the butler's pantry, then to the basement. Their elderly dog Jasper was confused by the plywood blocking her accustomed exit. There were some structural surprises, including exterior walls that had to be rebuilt. By spring, at the end of the project, some of the finishing touches took way longer than anyone expected.

But, all in all, they're happy. They even have some kind words for Ron's American Renovator firm. "He made it as easy as it could be," Dick Councill said.

"I guess what surprised me was how good it looks, how attractive it all was when it came together," Nancy Councill said. When the work is in progress, she said, it's hard to get a clear picture of where the project is going; it's all bits and pieces. And without actually knowing what it will look like, almost every item needed for construction had to be chosen beforehand -- floor coverings, appliances, hardware.

"I knew there would be a lot of choices," she said. "And there were."

One of her favorite choices was made early on. On their initial visit to Ron's office last fall, Nancy found in a Kohler catalog a sink and toilet in fluted white porcelain, painted with delicate florals, called Prairie Flowers of the Midwest. They would be perfect for the new first-floor powder room.

She fell in love, though the items were not inexpensive.

"We kind of did the whole appliance budget around me" getting those two items, she laughed.

But some days were worse than others.

"The worst part was toward the end," Nancy said. "Wanting it done, and there were all those little things that took so long."

Ron wanted it done as well, but Mr. Murphy, he of the famous Law, as usual had a hand in a project.

Even when the Councills' renovation -- adding up to more than 1,500 square feet of renovation of old space and construction of new space -- was substantially complete, the family still couldn't move into the new space.

Why not? Because there were several items, some special orders and some additional work that was added near the end that had yet to be completed. Dick didn't want to move in until everything was done, because occupying the rooms before they're 100 percent complete runs the risk of slowing things down even more. And anything in the way could get damaged. So waiting was a wise choice, even though the Councills found it frustrating.

Showing off the new study/computer room, Dick grimaced at a compliment on the custom corner shelving. "The infamous shelves," he said. "I think they were the last thing that showed up."

Most of the delays were unforeseen and unforeseeable. Some involved changes shown to be desirable only as spaces took shape.

For instance, the granite tiles for the kitchen counter had to be bull-nosed at the edge. As Ron's crew was installing them, the Councills decided it would be better if the corners were angled, rather than sharp, so the kids would not bang their heads on them. To accomplish that, the pieces first had to be cut to fit, then sent back to the quarry to be bull-nosed.

Some of the delays were caused by slip-ups or by suppliers. One of the master bath vanities was ordered wrong to begin with, and when the replacement came, it had a double door instead of the single door it was supposed to have. And there were a couple of kitchen cabinet doors that were warped and had to be replaced.

The vanity top in the master bath was a cultured marble, in a custom color intended to match the colors of the ceramic tile in the room. But when it arrived, it had way too much rust color in it, and Nancy didn't like it. So Ron asked for a sample (which he should have done to begin with) before the top was reordered. Although it was a good decision, it took time.

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