The rehab of a historic Orlando bungalow tests the exacting systems of a 15-year-old remodeling firm. By Joseph F. Schuler Jr.
Photos: Everett & Soule
Northeast of the Disney hubbub that brands Orlando sits a National Historic District whose 35 square blocks have witnessed a progressive renaissance, powered by property tax rehab credits and 1990s urbanism.
Lisa Poole arrived mid-renaissance in 1996, buying a cozy, timeworn bungalow with a Dutch hipped roof in Lake Eola Heights for $164,000. Poole, an associate producer of feature animation for Walt Disney Co., transferred from Los Angeles and found the neighborhood, with its oak tree-shaded brick streets, to be a place where she could "relax and breathe. The house felt like home to me, right off the bat," she says.
Two years later, on a friend's recommendation, Poole asked designer Jim Ross of Ross Design Group in Orlando if he could help her convert a back porch into a master bath and add a closet (the house had just three). Ross suggested that Poole add a whole master suite and tack it onto a family room. He said that would balance the house out better, proportionally, than adding a smaller wing.
The scope of the project took shape, evolving from a ballpark $150,000 remodel to a complete $263,000 rehab and addition (with walk-in closet). Early on, at Ross' suggestion, Poole hired PSG Construction, run by brothers Paul and Stephen Gidus. They gently ferried the first-time homeowner through the eight-month rehab while she lived nearby in a rented home.
Part of the remodel's success lies in the fact that the Giduses systematize everything -- from how and where they erect jobsite signs to their 17 pages of general conditions.
So exacting and accommodating were they to Poole's desire to respect her home's heritage that they matched more than 30 details of the original home. The project, the partnership's second-ever historic rehab, would win an Aurora Award for historic restoration from the Southeast Building Conference. The renovation also bumped up the home's appraised value to $524,000, more than three times its purchase price.
After seeing another 1920s home PSG had meticulously restored, Poole was hooked. She wrote a check for pre-construction planning services, later to top $9,000.
"I build the entire project on paper," says Stephen Gidus, the partnership's salesman and planner. "Not only does the client know what's going to happen, when we send it to production, they can flip through and see exactly what we need to do and where," he says.
"The best thing they ever did was spend many weeks going through their books outlining the entire process," Poole says. "It was detailed to the point of, 'We're going to tear this door out and save this door.' We didn't sign a construction contract until we had done that three times."
Stephen Gidus says PSG's planning process grew out of years of problem solving, and that's how he and his brother look at themselves -- as problem solvers. "If we see something that doesn't work right, we create a system to fix it," he says. Product selection was a problem at one point. Now, their product selection manual not only makes clear what's needed in each room but it includes preferred suppliers, salespersons' names, and showroom hours and locations.
Poole says the partners' carefulness and honesty cemented the relationship and eased awkward moments. Two weeks after telling Stephen she was the sole decision maker, for instance, she had to tell him there was another. That was David Poole, whom she married right before construction began, and who helped her decide to add -- and fund -- such upgrades as a stainless steel stove hood in the kitchen and jetted showerheads in the master bathroom.
Stephen Gidus says it was the first time he'd encountered such a situation, but the process didn't miss a beat. "One person often can make as many changes as two," he says. "We tried to be as flexible as possible. I still looked to her as the key point of contact but had to be respectful of David's relationship with her and answered any questions he had."
The height of detail
The proposed project sailed through the Historic Preservation Board, due to its clear intent to match details and the district's moderate standards. Once construction started, however, there were several unanticipated delays that pushed the project back eight weeks.
Digging the addition's foundation, PSG discovered sandy soil, so they had to dig stem wall trenches deeper and wider and bring in new fill. And although the product selection manual pinpointed most products, finding specialty items such as glass doorknobs and iron grates matching those venting the crawl space ate up more unscheduled time. Paul Gidus says PSG spent eight hours researching the grates, only to discover they'd have to be made.
The Pooles made concessions to cost on what could be matched -- for instance, they opted not to match the front door's beveled glass on other door openings. Through CCS Restoration Millwork in Sanford, Fla., however, they had PSG restore and reglaze 19 three-over-one and four-over-one windows. Ten more single-pane, double-hung windows were custom made for the addition.
Interior door casings were matched, as was 8-inch baseboard molding. The mill made a routing bit to bevel the baseboard's cap. The picture molding, set a foot down from the 9-foot, 4-inch ceilings, threads through the addition, even through a built-in entertainment center in the family room.
Room scale and ceiling heights of the addition also were kept consistent with the main house. Push button light switches were found to match the old ones. And the Pooles helped find glass doorknobs and hardware on eBay and tracked down bathroom tile on the Internet. Once they provided Paul Gidus with the contact information, he learned the product specifications and purchased them. Everything arrived in good condition. Because the tile was purchased as part of an allowance, the Pooles were billed for the overage.
The addition's roof was built with 3/4-inch plank sheathing to match the existing home, and beadboard soffit and corbel details were duplicated under the eaves.
Wood detailing over the front door, faintly resembling an airplane propeller but really plywood routed to create an applique look, was reproduced over the new side entrance as well.
One of Lisa Poole's few complaints is that the addition's electric outlets are set in the wall, not in the baseboard, as they are in the original home -- perhaps the sole detail PSG overlooked. Someone passing through during a tour of remodeled homes pointed it out, long after the project was finished. "An oversight," explains Paul Gidus. "By code, we could have put them in the baseboard."
"Overall, we're thrilled," Poole says. "Basically, Paul and Stephen are as picky as I am."
The Gidus brothers have few regrets as well, calling it a "model job." "On a future historical project, I would probably put in the budget time that needed to be spent researching things along the way," says Stephen Gidus. "Our first restoration required fewer details that required research. This one had more research on little items." Although the selections manual helped pinpoint 95% of products, he says, researching such items as iron grates will always chew up time.
But overall, the project's attention to subtle details makes it a great success. Although the house is larger, it's as cozy as it was when it was built in 1925.
REMODELING Magazine, April 2002