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Bold renovations: Home design do-overs

Architect Paul Masi's renovation of this East Hampton

Architect Paul Masi's renovation of this East Hampton ranch house developed into a study of how architectural elements interact with the environment. This is the house after Masi's renovations. Photo Credit: Handout

Renovating a house can give a stay-put family everything their budget and the marketplace has to offer: granite countertops, spas, gyms, wine cellars, radiant-heat driveways and any number of other luxuries and necessities.

But if they fail to add one special ingredient to the mix, they likely will end up with just another look-alike house.

That subtle extra touch? Style.

PHOTOS: See the transformations

Today's residential architecture and design choices are limited only by the talent and imagination of the professional backed by the dreams of the client and, for some, a willingness to take a bold step into visionary design.

Of course, great style respects its environment. Plunking down a Frank Gehry-type contrivance of chain-link fencing and corrugated tin on a street lined with stately Colonials can cause, and has caused, heated neighborhood outcries - even in the Hamptons.

Here are five extreme renovations that have great fresh looks and startling new personalities - makeovers that transformed run-of-the-mill houses into beauties in the realm of the Cinderella story. Sometimes fairy tales can come true.

EAST HAMPTON

Architect Paul Masi of BatesMasi in Sag Harbor says his redesign of this 3,000-square-foot 1970s ranch house in East Hampton "developed into a study of how architectural elements interact with the environment."

In fact, Masi's approach took the house a step beyond - into the realm of esoteric kinetic sculpture that has what owner Janet Grove calls "a Zen quality." The front has a screen of mahogany dowels and copper tubes. "When it rains, it's like looking through a waterfall," she says. "There's a misty rainbow reflecting from the copper. It's magical."

The house, which was expanded to 3,900 square feet, is a year-round retreat. The house's new rear wall of glass opens the kitchen to an unobstructed view of the garden and surrounding landscape and overlooks an infinity-edge swimming pool that replaces the original pool, which was too close to the house. A newly built upper level for a master bedroom, bath and gym is "the ultimate retreat within a retreat," says Grove.

THE COST A renovation of this magnitude can start at $150 a square foot and reach up to $350 a square foot, depending on materials, finishes and the extent of plumbing, heating and electrical upgrades, Masi says.

PHOTOS: See the transformation

LOCUST VALLEY

If the mark of a successful renovation hinges on how well it serves its occupants over time, then architect Brian Shore's project for his own home scores high. After 12 years, says Shore, with a nod from his wife, Sally, "we wouldn't change a thing."

Despite its ideal location a stone's throw from Shore's Locust Valley office, there were problems - and compensations: Even with three undersized bedrooms, the house was small on space but big on charm. A former gardener's cottage on the turn-of-the-century Weir estate, the acre-plus property was dotted with mature trees and bordered with an ivy-covered wall, once part of the original estate's greenhouse.

But the cottage was short on closets, dining space and, above all, light. A huge brick fireplace and chimney dominated the rear facade, hogging the most logical place for a window. "The fireplace had to go," says Shore. And it went. In fact, the whole rear wall was sliced off. In its place: an 8-by-13-foot extension with a curtain wall of glass that now floods the interior with light. A pair of classic Doric columns add quirky grandeur. "The house needed - and got - more space, new windows and a revamped kitchen," he says.

Although the two-story extension added only 104 square feet to the footprint, bringing the size to just under 2,000 square feet, the floor plan now provides for a large dining table, built-in storage, much-needed kitchen cabinetry and, in the upstairs master bedroom, ample closets.

THE COST "In today's market, a similar renovation would cost about $150 a square foot plus the cost of kitchen cabinets," Shore says.

PHOTOS: See the transformation

DIX HILLS

It started 26 years ago, says Commack architect Michael D'Aconti, with the conversion of the garage into a home office for Robert Miller's 1960s builder's tract house in Dix Hills. Then came a new garage that sheltered five cars with two on lifts to accommodate the vehicles of parents and three children. "We liked the location and planned to stay put," says Miller. But that was just the beginning.

The house has grown from 3,000 square feet to 4,400 square feet as additional changes mounted up over the years: a new kitchen here, a master-bedroom suite there, a laundry room, a family room, an elevator to connect the structure's three levels. One of the five bedrooms was converted to a closet/dressing area. "We even had the stairway ripped out and replaced in a traditional style we preferred that was more in keeping with the upgrades," says Miller. "The house originally had a contemporary look."

Completed last year, the redesign of the back, which incorporated a new screened porch, brought this architectural odyssey into its final phase as a classic shingle-style Cape Cod. "The family spends most of their free time out back, and the traffic flow in and out of the rear facade is designed to allow easy access to many of the interior rooms," says D'Aconti. "It was such a complex interaction of so many elements that had to be pieced together over so many years as new ideas popped up and lifestyles changed. It was like fitting together a Swiss watch."

THE COST Costs for work extending over many years were unavailable, but estimates for similar projects at current prices are from $100 to $150 a square foot. The garage conversion, Miller recalls, cost $20,000, which, at today's prices, would translate to $75,000.

PHOTOS: See the transformation

WOODBURY

Keeping costs within budget during the renovation of a 30-year-old house can be a challenge for the architect, the contractor and the owner. The mechanics of an aging house - electrical, heating and plumbing systems and even insulation and windows - usually need redesign, replacing, rerouting and reinforcing. Even the infrastructure - the framework - must meet current building codes. And because most of these components are in the walls, sometimes there are unforeseen problems as work progresses.

"I take a cost-conscious approach these days as a matter of routine - like recycling existing components wherever possible and researching sources to find the best deals for materials," says Glen Head architect Paul Pellicani.

For his drastic renovation, redesign and 1,000-square-foot addition to client Hakim Azizi's 4,800-square-foot house in Woodbury, Pellicani used several additional strategies to keep costs down without sacrificing aesthetic appeal.

For example, he was able to create a 33-by-25-foot living/ dining space without support columns by installing high-strength engineered ceiling beams, which are cheaper than steel. Engineered lumber is manufactured of scrap wood bonded with special adhesives and also is environmentally friendly. The new design called for a flat roof, another savings because the roof rafters and ceiling beams form a sandwich filled with insulation, a system that serves as both roof and ceiling.

Pellicani's plan specified commercial glazing like that made for storefronts and industrial buildings, a less- expensive alternative to conventional windows. And a synthetic stucco siding now unifies the entire exterior.

"My advice to anyone going through a renovation is to have a lot of patience and to hire trustworthy people," says Azizi, who adds that the architect served as a watchdog who made sure the contractors fulfilled their obligations.

THE COST An estimated $150 a square foot.

PHOTOS: See the transformation

EAST HAMPTON

Bellport architect Ron Albinson says his initial strategy for renovating a house is, "I ask it what it wants to be. I look for its potential. Then I look at what it lacks, like enough light, and I look for its traffic flow, which is terrible in some older houses."

Along with his corrections of these and other deficiencies in this 1,672-square-foot East Hampton house - what Albinson called "a '70s builder's version of contemporary" - the architect's upgraded design resulted in a dramatic transformation that brought the house into the 21st century.

Owner Jeff Carter was involved in the process. "I felt that the existing house had some unique lines, and I asked Ron to respect the original architecture, just enlarge it and open it up, but to create a 'warm,' rather than a 'cold,' contemporary personality," he says. "That was done by using a lot of natural materials like cedar paneling, stone flooring and glass tile."

Expanding the floor plan by just under 1,000 square feet allowed for blending new dining, media and foyer areas with the original space.

The portions of the house that remained intact - mostly bedrooms - were treated to new windows.

THE COST Estimated costs for the windows, plus new roofing and cedar siding, amounted to about $200 a square foot; the additions were priced at $295 a square foot.

PHOTOS: See the transformations

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