If houses were living things, this one would breathe a sigh of relief, with its new front porch extended as a thankful handshake. Downtrodden and neglected in its most recent history, its rooms cut up for office space and storage, the 1909 bungalow at the edge of a downtown Orlando historic district was targeted for demolition when a custom builder bought it and the two adjacent empty lots in early 2005. Prevented by the local historic preservation board from tearing down the 96-year-old home, the builder instead sold it to a remodeling company to move it two lots away, to the other end of the parcel, for its revival.
Two years later, the house has been reborn with a nod to its history but with a design more in line with the lifestyle needs of a modern family. From the front the house looks much like it did nearly a century ago, with a deep front porch across its width and a glimpse of an upstairs bedroom in the forward gable. Just inside the door, the wide hall and flanking formal rooms pay homage to the home's original floor plan.
But from there on, the history gives way to contemporary living spaces. “Had we simply restored it to its original design, it would have been a nice house,” says Stephen Gidus, a partner with his brother, Paul, in PSG Construction, based in nearby Winter Park, Fla. “But it would not have allowed us to showcase the possibilities of bringing the house up to today's standards.”
All told, the 2,460-square-foot house grew to 5,439 square feet of conditioned space, with an additional 400-plus square feet for a studio apartment over a new, detached garage and nearly 800 square feet more in a trio of covered outdoor areas. “The historic board was happy to see the additional space because it was tastefully done,” Stephen Gidus says. “They appreciated the fact that we were creating a new landmark in an existing historic district.”
Getting there, however, was not without its challenges. The house had to be reset on a nearby lot, but PSG Construction had never moved a house before. In fact, the house had to be moved twice with this project, first to get it off its original parcel and make room for another show house and then again to place it on its new foundation (see “Moving Experience,” page 86).
And when it came to building that foundation, PSG Construction had to learn how to use insulated precast concrete panels and how to install a below-grade drainage system to relieve hydrostatic pressure and mitigate potential water leaks. The result: a finished, full-height basement (an anomaly in Orlando) of more than 1,400 square feet — and another element for the design/build team to ponder.
THE MAIN LEVEL PSG Construction initially intended to restore the house to its original stature and floor plan. Structurally sound but in desperate need of cosmetic care both inside and out, the building turned out to be ripe for 21st-century renewal. “Once we actually got into the house, we realized there wasn't a whole lot we'd be able to save,” Paul Gidus says. “Ultimately, the scale of the rooms and their arrangement were not conducive to modern living.”
The scheme called for a more open floor plan on the main level, which required gutting all but one wall (a central, load-bearing section) and starting over. “It's like peeling an onion,” says Karen Kassik, the lead designer from Lucia, Kassik & Monday, also of Winter Park. “We peeled off all the bad things and got back to the core, then started again.”