When the average homebuyer completes the settlement process on a new house, the movers are called, the phone is connected, a few mini-blinds are hung, and it's "Home, Sweet Home."
But the watchword at the newly purchased home of Steve and Jill Shuart is "Wait, Let's Renovate." More than two months after they settled on their two-story, 30-plus-year-old Colonial in the Severna Park neighborhood of Chartwell, they're still not ready to put out the welcome mat.
In their quest for the perfect house, the Shuarts insisted on certain priorities: a location convenient to Steve Shuart's business, United Signs in Pasadena; good public schools for their three children, Blake, 2, Julia, 5, and Ally, 7; and a house filled with light. But, most important, they wanted to raise their children in Greater Severna Park, where they both grew up.
They got serious about looking approximately nine months ago, says Jill Shuart, and when they found the house, they put a contract on it, along with a contract on another house, "just in case." When the first contract for $407,000 was accepted, they had what they were looking for: a well-constructed house with lots of potential in a good location on a well-landscaped corner lot, and plenty of light streaming through the glass walls of a 42-foot sunroom.
But before they would occupy their new 3,700 square feet of space, they wanted to make some changes. Although they were satisfied with the basic floor plan and loved the charm of the 40-year-old community, they also wanted all the amenities they would have had if they'd bought a brand-new house -- amenities such as a beautiful, contemporary kitchen, a first-floor laundry room and lots of family-oriented space for relaxation and entertaining.
`We made a deal'
What gave them the confidence to undertake renovations that would delay their move for an unknown amount of time and have them living out of boxes with a house full of kids and a chocolate lab named Bear underfoot?
"I'm pretty laid back," says Jill Shuart, who has a master's in psychology from Radford University. "Steve is hard-driven as far as work goes, but the mess [we're living in at the moment] doesn't drive him crazy."
"We made a deal," says Steve Shuart. "I got the kitchen, and she got the rest of the house." For the kitchen, he selected light oak, raised panel cabinets, granite counters and Italian tile flooring, along with stainless steel appliances by Kitchen Aide, including a built-in, temperature-controlled wine cabinet. "We worked together on the rest; our taste is a lot alike," he says.
Architect Andrew Buck of Boston helped the couple put their ideas on paper, and they drew up a budget of about $75,000 for the renovation and new furnishings. Steve Shuart says they've stayed within their budget. When they're through, he says with a laugh, "I may have 10 cents left."
Baltimore contractor Jeff Maunes of Valley Custom Carpentry in Harford County was hired to renovate the kitchen and the basement. The biggest challenge, says Maunes, was trying to examine the potential job site while the former owners were living in the house. The fact that he couldn't explore as much as he wanted caused a few "minor hurdles" later, but things like that happen with any job, he says.
The hurdles turned out to be changes that had to be made as work progressed. In the upstairs hallway, an open banister alongside the stairs was discovered to be unstable and the contractor replaced it with a solid half-wall. Old flooring had to be replaced in the sunroom and dining room, and it was decided to turn a former office adjacent to the kitchen into a guest bedroom, full bath and laundry area. An arched pass-through was cut between the kitchen and the sunroom.
Attention to detail
Steve Shuart appreciates Maunes' attention to detail and his innovative approach to solving problems. When a single riser was needed at the entrance from the sunroom to the kitchen, the contractor machined a length of the mahogany flooring to fit into the space.
In addition to the crews hired by Maunes, an electrician was hired by the Shuarts to install recessed lights throughout the house and a centrally controlled sound system with speakers on two floors. The electrical capacity of the house was upgraded to handle the additional load.
To define different functional areas in the sunroom, which was incorporated more completely into the house by removing an exterior shingled wall and adding wallboard, two types of flooring were selected: 18-inch Italian tile for the eating area and a deep-hued mahogany wood floor for the family living area, where a gas fireplace is being installed. Joe Miller from Emerald Tile in Fawn Grove, Pa., laid new tile floors in the foyer, sunroom, kitchen and adjoining bathroom and laundry room.