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$500,000-plus makeover


Richard and Diane Reba own a classic Victorian home in Frederick County dating back to the 1880s. With its arch-shaped dormers, grand staircase, delicate millwork and soaring ceilings, the house looks very much as it did when the original owners used the home as a summer retreat before the turn of the century.

But when the Rebas first moved in four years ago, their classic Victorian home looked more like a modern Colonial. "Someone over the years decided to totally change the house into something it was not," Mrs. Reba said.

When the Rebas first saw the home, the arch-shaped dormers were peaked, the grand staircase was cut off, the delicate millwork was missing and some of the 10-foot-high ceilings were dropped to 8 feet.

Still, the Rebas, especially Mrs. Reba, wanted the home.

"We had an old home in Chicago. Once you have an old house, you get used to what they are. They are truly works of art," she said.

The couple, who had lived in Montgomery County before Chicago, decided to move back to suburban Washington because three of their four children lived in the vicinity. The Rebas wanted to spend their retirement years close to family and friends in a house they loved.

Mrs. Reba, 59, was retired from her job as a registered nurse, and Mr. Reba, 69, a university professor, was planning on retiring in a few years.

Mrs. Reba knew the Frederick home, situated on almost 11 acres, was structurally sound. "Its bones were good," she said, but there were some things about the place that did make her a little nervous. "I knew that the only thing holding up the walls were layers and layers of wallpaper."

After purchasing the property for a little more than $400,000, the couple decided to do practically nothing to the house for a year.

They spent the time investigating the history of the house and finding a suitable architect and builder to do what would turn out to be a major overhaul. Mr. Reba left the majority of the decisions up to his wife.

The Rebas hired Stewart & McCready Architects and ARDO Contracting Inc. to do the work. The primary goal for the restoration was to have the house looking the way it used to.(For their work on the Rebas' home, the Home Builders Association of Maryland awarded ARDO Contracting the 1999 Award of Excellence in Residential Remodeling for projects costing more than $500,000 and also the Project-of-the-Year Award for the Rebas' master bath.)

"I wanted to preserve its architectural integrity," she said. The nearly total renovation took almost a year, requiring the couple to move "three times to various parts of the house during the entire process."

The exterior of the home was stripped to bare wood, patched, repaired and refinished with new paint. The peaked attic dormers were removed, and turned back into the curved, barrel-shaped form they once had.

The asphalt shingle roofing was removed and replaced with metal. The large aluminum columns in front of the home and the brick front porch were removed to restore the original dining room and to place the main entrance back into the central hallway.

Previously, guests had to skirt the fireplace in the former dining room to enter the home.

The staircase was redirected to again connect all three floors. The Rebas also knocked out a wall between two small bedrooms to make a much larger bedroom, and changed an in-law apartment into a bedroom and bath.

Much of the restoration work was made possible thanks to photographs dating from the house's early days.

The photos, of genteel Victorian ladies in long white cotton-lace dresses standing on the lawn in front of the home, clearly illustrated how the house looked before someone turned the once-grand mansion into an odd configuration of rooms and stairs. The photos were enlarged and given to the architects.

"This is the truly amazing part," Mr. Reba said. "They were able to scan these photos into the computer and then enlarge and enhance them so that you could see just about everything."

The tiniest of details became visible, he said, including the missing millwork around the doors and windows.

Those tiny details mattered just as much as the major restoration projects to Mrs. Reba. In fact, she joked that she became a bit "obsessed," scouring antique shops and specialty warehouses to find stamped brass door hinges and glass doorknobs, not to mention the rose-colored bathtub or the Scottish mantelpiece.

She also wanted the lighting fixtures to look more in character with the home. "They had lights from Kmart in here. I saw the boxes in the basement. They couldn't have cost more than $10."

She searched in vain for some of the original gas light fixtures, but came up empty-handed. Luckily, the couple's home in Chicago did have some period lighting fixtures, and Mrs. Reba installed two of them in the new butler's pantry off the remodeled kitchen.

"The kitchen is really my pride and joy," she said. There was nothing wrong with the kitchen when the Rebas moved in, "but it was out of character with the rest of the house."

The kitchen, with its dark cabinets and low lighting, looked as if it belonged in a home built in the 1940s or 1950s, not the 1880s, and was a bit ugly, she said.

The Rebas enjoy entertaining guests and Mrs. Reba loves to cook, so she wanted a state-of-the-art kitchen and pantry. The two most striking items in the room are her commercial kitchen-size Garland oven and her 1940 Peiffer-Hubbard refrigerator.

The fridge, which is about 8 feet wide and 6 feet high, has three glass front doors and was left by the previous owner of the Rebas' home in Chicago.

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