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Making room for change Remodeling: With their family outgrowing its space, a couple sets out to turn their 1950s cottage into a roomier home.


When Dick and Nancy Councill moved into their 1950s-era house 10 years ago with their baby, the three-bedroom, two-bath cottage with den, family room and pantry seemed ideal. The Baltimore County location was convenient, the house was in great shape, and they were only the second owners.

They never thought they would be remodelers. They never thought that Ron and his crew from American Renovator would be tearing their house apart and putting it back together.

But in the ensuing decade, the walls began to close in a bit. Two more children -- the oldest is 11 1/2 now -- meant there were not enough bedrooms, not enough bathrooms, and no guest room.

Nancy began to long for a bigger kitchen, an informal eating space, a mud room, a walk-in closet, and a place for her ironing board "where it would never have to be put away." At first she thought she was longing for a different house than the white-painted brick cottage on a quiet, tree-lined street.

"Our needs were very different" from when they moved in, she said recently, sitting in the living room of the house where these days plywood separates the pantry from the construction site just beyond. "The kids got bigger, their things got bigger. Our family was changing. For five years we have felt the need to do something."

They looked at new houses.

"We looked at different areas, but we didn't want a long commute -- to us that's just wasted time," she said. The Councills are both executives, she in risk management and he in insurance. "But we were never able to find a place we liked location-wise that we felt was as comfortable as what we have."

There were all sorts of reasons to stay. The Councills knew and liked the neighborhood, which is full of children the same ages as theirs. They liked and got along well with the neighbors.

"So finally we just decided, we're going to do an addition," Nancy said.

But before they committed to tearing into the house, they decided to hire an architect to see what sort of space they might get, the features they could expect -- and what it might cost.

They consulted Henry Warfield, of Warfield Architects of Butler, who was an acquaintance -- Dick Councill had known Warfield's older brother. "He had a real good idea of the kind of space we wanted for our young family," Dick said. "And from [projects] he had done, he had a sense of what looks good."

"We didn't want the addition to look like this big thing tacked onto the house," Nancy said.

So they met with the architect.

"We had several long meetings with drawings and sketch paper," Warfield said. The Councills had a good idea of what they wanted, but they weren't sure exactly how the new space would be connected to the existing space, and what the exterior would look like.

To Warfield, it was clear early in the process that their main concerns were getting more private space to themselves, and "making the kitchen easier to keep three boys fed."

By incorporating space from the former kitchen, former family room and former garage, Warfield was able to keep almost the same outline for the remodeled house as the original house. However, all the space gained above -- the new master suite -- will be brand new.

The result was a huge gain in living space in the rear of the house, from the original 440 square feet to 1,962 square feet. (The former garage, 300 square feet, also becomes part of the addition.) Along with some work in the pantry of the existing house, the total area being re-created is about 2,100 square feet.

For the Councills, the value of staying in their house was worth more than living in a new one. They added up the costs of getting into a new house -- moving, closing costs and so on -- and it amounted to "a whole slew of expenses that to us was lost money," Nancy said. They decided it would be better to put that money to work improving the house they already enjoyed.

Costs vary widely according to finishes and labor involved, but typically a project like the Councills' -- mixed renovation and addition -- costs between $80 and $140 a square foot.

As they continued to talk with the architect, Warfield was able to take ideas that may have been no more than vague thoughts and turn them into useful spaces. The study, for instance, will be a small room off the new family room in the space that used to be a garage.

"Like so many folks these days, they have a computer that the kids need to use for their homework," Warfield said. The logical place was an alcove that was close enough to be part of the family activity but secluded enough for concentration, he said.

Ideas like this emerge from getting to know the clients, and getting a better idea of what they want, he said. "For an architect or designer, the responsibility is to be open and perceptive."

Early in the project, the Councills were experiencing little of the disruption that makes home improvement projects so frustrating. TTC Ron's crew installed cabinets, stove and refrigerator in the former pantry, so they won't be without a kitchen until near the end of the project.

The biggest problem seemed to be that their dog, Jaspar, who's 15 1/2 , kept returning to the place where the back door used to be -- now boarded up with plywood -- and barking to get out or in.

The boys, Nancy said, "are really excited" about the project. They're enchanted with all the equipment -- the backhoe, the crane. "They play with all those toys, and now they get to see how they work in their own yard."

Renovation checklist

Items done as of Nov. 1 to the Councill project:

- Stake out/excavate

- Pour footing

- Demolish roof

- Install drain tile

- Foundation walls

- Pour slabs


Install windows

Exterior doors

Shingle roof


Gutters and downspouts

Rough HVAC*

Rough plumbing

Rough electrical



Interior doors

Interior trim

Paint interior


Ceramic tile

Install bath hardware

Finish HVAC

Finish electrical

Finish plumbing

Install hardwood floors


Clean up

Final inspections


4 * Heating, ventilation, air-conditioning systems

About this series

During the next few months, Karol Menzie and Ron Nodine, authors of The Sun's Home Work column, will be following the Councills, Dick and Nancy and their three boys, as their kitchen, family room and garage are renovated into becoming a two-story addition with a new kitchen, breakfast room, family room, mud room, study and upstairs master suite.

Although every renovation project is different, the triumphs and frustrations the Councills experience are typical of a major renovation; what they undergo and what they learn can help anyone who is thinking of such a project understand what to expect.


Ron Nodine is owner of American Renovator Inc., a Baltimore design-build remodeling firm, and president of the Remodelors Council of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. Karol Menzie is a feature writer for The Sun.

If you have questions, tips or experiences to share about working on houses, e-mail Ron at or Karol at Or write c/o HOME WORK, The Sun, N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

Pub Date: 12/06/98

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