After the birth of their fourth child, Brian Advocate-Ross and his wife, Catherine, began to feel like the old woman who lived in the shoe: too many kids in a tight space. They considered finding a larger place off Long Island. But the East Williston residence had been Catherine's home from birth. In the end, they resolved to stay.
"We wanted to keep that integrity," Brian said, "that essence."
Deciding to relocate or renovate is a dilemma many face at some point. A nest may need to be enlarged or reduced as children are born, grow up or move away. A residence can deteriorate or go out of fashion. Looming retirement may cause a couple to consider moving or downsizing so they can age in place.
Renovations have been on the upswing along with the economy, said Paul Emrath, vice president of Survey and Housing Policy Research with the National Association of Home Builders. Its survey last year indicated most people do so because they want more or newer amenities. But there are reasons galore.
Homeowners may choose renovation over buying another home to avoid real estate commissions, financing charges and moving expenses. Then there is the emotional trauma of leaving friends and relatives, not to mention adapting to a new environment.
There are intangibles you can't put a price tag on," said Paul Pellicani, the architect who helped the Advocate-Ross family remake their home. "If you decide to move, rather than improve, you may go out and find your dream home and then it turns out your neighbors aren't so nice."
A homeowner may like staying put because of their commute, a good school district or their proximity to shopping and recreational facilities. Some realize they can use the opportunity to add solar panels or energy-efficient appliances. Others do so after learning that adding bedrooms and closets can up their home's worth and comfort.
"There's no doubt about increasing a home's value," Emrath said. "The only question is how much it adds compared to the cost of construction."
Generally, renovating a home is cheaper than buying one, builders say. Costs depend on whether it's something minor like improving curb appeal or major with additions and realigned rooms. Usually, this is established when the architect reconciles the client's wish list with their budget, said Commack architect Michael D'Aconti, of D'Aconti + Dirr Architects. Normally, a midrange home renovation runs between $200-$250 per square foot, he said, although costs can climb depending on the project's size, design and materials. It can get very personal and very specific, he said.
"Some people want to add a covered porch in the backyard so they can sit outside and enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning," he said. "That can be very important to them."
As far as taxes, generally if the renovation increases a home's value by more than 50 percent, they likely will go up, said Anthony J. Musso, a Cold Spring Harbor architect and consultant specializing in sustainable design. His client bought a home to renovate for their special-needs daughter. The result was a startling transformation.
"You have to get a good sense of where the bones of the house are," Musso said. "It's a combination of the interior space working with the exterior space and coming up with a rhythm that puts it all together."
Below are projects from these architects. All added green features.
The heart rules
For Jonathan Kleiman, choosing to renovate his Commack home instead of moving was a heart-over-head matter. His three young daughters liked their school district and the neighborhood. It was all too good to leave.
"It's a home," he said. "It's something you live in and enjoy."
But two of the girls shared a bedroom and all three shared the bathroom. The master suite and its closet was inadequate. The first-floor kitchen was too small to entertain.
The architect, D'Aconti, liked the challenge.
"It's like having a custom suit made," he said. "You tailor it specifically to your needs. When it's finished it feels and fits perfectly."
When the six-month renovation was over, he had eliminated the formal dining room, gutted and redesigned the kitchen and family dining room, relocated the staircase and powder room, added a locker area-mud room for the girls and moved the laundry upstairs. A master bathroom with expanded closet space was added above the garage.
They dug out one side of the home for a basement, then stacked a family room on top of that and a child's bedroom and bathroom above. Cedar shakes replaced the vinyl siding. A feature window was created in the front living room along with craftsman-style columns on stone bases to accent the covered entry and carriage house garage door.
"We utilized every square inch of the existing house," D'Aconti said.
Kleiman was elated.
"All the kids have their own rooms now," he said. "It increased the functionality, the flow of the house. It was nothing short of magical what Mike accomplished."
A knowledgeable decision
Brian Advocate-Ross's experience as a mechanical contractor was a major factor in deciding to stay in his family's East Williston home. He had examined many homes in his work and realized most had flaws. With a renovation, he realized he could make sure the work was done right.
"I decided I'd rather pay for my own mistakes rather than someone else's," he said.
The other consideration was the home's history. His wife, Catherine, was raised there and had happy memories. Her mother lives in back of the house.
"It's always been a lovely neighborhood," Catherine said. "You get to know everyone on the block and I wanted my children to have the same experience I did."
Paul Pellicani, of the firm architect's LOFT in Glen Cove, knew the family needed more space with four growing children. The renovation theme he and the Advocate-Ross crew chose was an Adirondack look with gray cedar shakes and a maroon trim. A 30-by-30-foot, two-story addition created room for a family room and kitchen, which has a gourmet oven and a 12-foot-long counter-island. A 10-foot-long table was placed in the dining area to accommodate guests.
The family room contains a fireplace and a library-study area for the children. Also on the first floor is Advocate-Ross' office, his study and a mud room. The home's dormers were enlarged upstairs and all the bedrooms placed around a landing filled with bookshelves. Radiant heat was incorporated in the floors.
A basement area carved out of one side of the home added guest bedrooms. Strategically placed boulders created a stairway to the backyard.
"Basements can be dark and dank, but this one has full-sized windows and doors with a recessed patio," Pellicani said. "It's a very private space."
It's exactly the effect Advocate-Ross wanted.
"Sometimes when you're sitting back there it feels like you're looking at an Ansel Adams photo," he said. "Basically, this was a home run."
Discovering the challenges
When Irene and William Fuhrmann decided to buy and renovate a rather dreary-looking Colonial in Laurel Hollow, they quickly discovered a messy challenge. The outside fiberboard was wet and moldy and had to be completely removed. Then, there was the decor.
"The house was stuck in the '70s," Irene said. "It had a lot of pink and sea-foam colors. Luckily Bill and I saw past all that and realized this could be a great house."
Their primary consideration was creating a safe environment for their special-needs daughter who uses a wheelchair. After picking out some designs from magazines, they sat down with Anthony Musso and concocted a plan.
The entire facade was changed, although the left side of the house remained structurally the same. Fiber cement siding that resembles wood clapboard replaced the outside brick. Musso opened up the center with a portico, extended the right side with a three-car garage, then placed a master suite above that. He put in new windows and doors and added insulating spray foam in the roof, interior walls and basement.
To accommodate the Fuhrmann's daughter, Musso added a covered wheelchair ramp leading to her own ground-floor apartment, making it almost self-contained.
"All in all, the effort took about a year to complete," Irene said.
"It's not for everyone," William said of the renovation process. "You have to have patience and you have to have vision."