When Cindi and Larry Holbrook decided to renovate their Auburn home they didn’t mess around. They tore off the entire top story, down to the floorboards, and they didn’t stop there.

Built in the 1920s, the house had been through a lot of changes before the Holbrooks lived there and was a patchwork of afterthought bedrooms, sunrooms, porches and mismatched rooflines. Prior to their renovations, the house was one-and-a-half stories, with a bathroom on the second floor that was too small for a shower. Although Cindi wishes she had held onto the old clawfoot bathtub for possible use in another bathroom, it had to go to make room for a more functional and modern shower.

Larry, who also built a camp 20 years ago and readily admits that he “loves tearing things apart,” did most of the work himself, with Cindi by his side. When he ran into something he wasn’t sure about, he consulted his daughter-in-law (a master electrician), and his niece’s husband (a carpenter), as well as other family and friends with construction experience. He also hired out a number of projects.

According to Larry, a project of this scale should be looked at as having three distinct phases.

Phase 1: Decide what it is you want to get done and, in Larry’s case, help his wife see his vision of the finished product. He recommends taking a lot of time to plan and price out the project. “Don’t rush.” Take the time to consult with and line up the experts who will help with the trickier aspects of the project. You also will need to assemble your arsenal of “the right tools [because] you can’t saw with a screwdriver.”

Phase 2 he calls: “Let’s do it.” This is the phase when you “knock it out, cut it out, make a heck of a mess and ask yourself ‘what did I do?’” repeatedly. During this phase the cliche, “expect the unexpected,” is an especially accurate assessment of what one might encounter when ripping apart an old house. For example, a room that had been added by the previous homeowner was gutted. Cindi spent days ripping out the floor, all four walls and the ceiling, and was treated to explosions and showers of “whirlybirds” that had been brought in by squirrels and other critters over the years.

A small sunroom and exterior porch on the back of the house was deconstructed to make room for an expanded eat-in kitchen and entryway, with a laundry area hidden behind 6-panel bi-fold doors. To facilitate this large expansion, a load bearing wall had to be removed and an engineer was brought in to size the beam that would hold up the ceiling on the first floor, and support the soon to be new and expanded second floor. For Cindi, the day that this massive beam was threaded through her house was by far the most stressful day of the project. The main beam in the basement also had to be incrementally “jacked up” to level and stabilize the floors.

With the second floor gone, the family slept on the first floor with the old wooden slats exposed after the horsehair plaster had been removed. Finally, contractors were hired to do the framing, to install the roof joists and to create a shell on the second floor so that it would be structurally sound, watertight and ready for Larry and Cindi to begin Phase 3: “When it all comes together.”

With a little help from his daughter-in-law, Larry was able to do all of the wiring. In addition to electric, the house had to be ready for new technologies as well as television and telephone. “Everything is tied together,” explained Larry, who ran into a problem when he discovered that every time the furnace came on the lights in the kitchen would dim. As with other problems that they encountered, he fixed that, too.

The Holbrooks hired out the sheetrock installation. A local kitchen designer was enlisted to help with setting up the layout of the new kitchen, and Cindi picked out all of the paint, knobs, handles and window treatments.

The room with walls that had once been inhabited by wildlife would ultimately have a raised and sloped ceiling, a pocket door and a walk-in closet built by pirating one end of a large wrap-around exterior porch, all to create more space in what would otherwise have been a small first floor master bedroom.

Although they were able to keep the beautiful hardwood floors in the formal dining room, the old floor in the new master bedroom had sloped considerably over the years and needed to be raised to make it level.

Taking advantage of the large ceiling beam, the entryway, now a part of the newly expanded kitchen, was given a sloped, tongue-and-groove pine ceiling, creating warmth and dividing the space between the kitchen and the entryway without the use of walls.

While two new bedrooms and a modern bathroom were created in the reconstructed second floor, a few of the charming features characteristic of an older home were maintained including the hardwood banister and a built-in curio at the base of the stairs where Cindi displays china and other heirlooms.

New exterior siding and roofing, which brought the mismatched rooflines into sync, as well as the completion of a 2-car garage, provided curb appeal to the newly renovated home.

The only room in the home that has not been completely renovated is the living room situated at the very front of the house. According to Cindi and Larry, the living room, Phase 1, is next on the “to do” list.


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