Change for the better


Photos: Bill Frantz Photography

A dream of every remodeler is to work with a client that’s in a position to pay for the changes and surprises that inevitably surface in practically all remodeling projects. When unforeseen circumstances transformed what was to be an addition to this home in Delavan, Wis., into a total reconstruction, the homeowner, thankfully, was able to absorb the shock as well as the cost of the project’s new direction.

Design challenges surfaced from the start, says Russ DePietro, president, DePietro Design Associates, Delavan, Wis. The owners wanted to expand several spaces, and ultimately double the size of the house while keeping it cozy. The first and perhaps most significant challenge was the home’s foundation; rebuilding it was not part of the original plan. Once crews began digging into the perimeter of the house to start the additions, they found the foundation was “…horrid. One section was rubble and extended only 3 ft. deep, and it appeared as if someone had underpinned it correctly and poured a 5-ft. wall, but only on the inside face of the wall and not the outside,” DePietro recalls.

“When I saw all this, I told the owners that structurally it is not good. There’s no way we will be able to waterproof the exterior of this foundation and guarantee it won’t leak. When they saw how the previous construction was done, the decision was made to tear down the home and rebuild it,” he says.

Wish lists and changes

The homeowners desired to maintain the cottage feel of the old house. This included maintaining the existing floor plan while adding space. On the upper floors, DePietro’s team gutted the attic and transformed the space into bedrooms. Beneath the home, the team created a full-height space in the lower level. “We added a new laundry room and roughed it out for a future bathroom. There’s space for three more bedrooms in the lower level and egress windows for those bedrooms. The rest of that space is one big rec room,” DePietro adds.

Interior designer Lindsey Snow, owner of L.E. Snow Design in Oak Park, Ill., entered the project later in the process than she preferred, but made the best of it. Fortunately, Snow says, enough time – and additional budget – remained in the project to make helpful tweaks to many of the already constructed spaces.

Snow provided the cabinetry layout for the master and guest baths and modified the master bathroom doors to ensure a particular door didn’t swing as far into a room as it originally did. Snow also designed the built-ins, fireplaces and all bathrooms, including specifying plumbing fixtures and lighting.

“The wife on this project was laid back and wonderful to work with, but became a little concerned a few times, which is to be expected for someone who has never rebuilt a home. The entire process was a collaboration, which resulted in positive changes such as adding shelves under the stairs for grandchildren to use. We also added a bench and a closet in the front hall, because I know about lake house living and how convenient it would be to have the extra amenities in that area,” she recalls.

Another critical change Snow initiated was repositioning the kitchen island to accommodate up to six people. “The clients were thrilled,” she says. “The way I work is all about learning how the clients will be using a space and making sure it accommodates the way they want to live. Another example is in the second bath; there was a 3- by 3-ft. shower. I know what it’s like to live in a lake house, so I knew that people will use the shower a lot. It made sense to make the shower larger, which we did,” Snow says.

Satisfaction’s the goal

Snow and DePietro share the client-first philosophy to design. “We design for the client, not for ourselves,” DePietro says. “Our goal is always to get the best value for the client and to give them what they need or want. Sometimes needs and wants don’t mesh, so it’s our jobs to help them accomplish their goals the best way possible, explaining things such as which door style goes with which architectural style and helping them make informed decisions.”

To determine if a project is a success or not, DePietro always looks to the homeowners for their reactions to the finished product. “I want to see what their expressions are. If they’re not happy, I didn’t do my job. In this case, they were thrilled with the house, so much so they threw a party just so people could enjoy their new space. I think this one turned out fabulously.” QR



Homeowners don’t always want to speak with Qualified Remodeler editors, but the owner of this home in Delavan, Wis., was happy to share his experience with DePietro, Snow and the entire design and construction team. He didn’t want to be identified.


Evolution of a remodel

We started with an old lake house. A summer house, really, with poor insulation, a damp basement and no access to the basement from inside the house. There were one and a half bathrooms in the house, and we wanted to make it a year-round home to live and entertain in at any time of the year. First on our wish list was to have a master suite with bedroom, bathroom and closet space. Second on the list was improving the kitchen. Third was inside access to the basement. Fourth was to add another bathroom on the first floor. We ended up with all of this plus a lot more.


Original plan

I hired Russ [DePietro] to create a plan for the extensive remodeling of our existing home. Was going to expand the kitchen area and dining room and two of the first floor bedrooms, and add two baths. Russ drew up that plan and I bid it out to builders, and when I selected the builder I began the remodeling plan. As the team began excavating around the house there were some structural issues. Ultimately  we made the decision to tear down the house. When we rebuilt it, we rebuilt it similarly to the remodeling plan that Russ had originally done. While the house is brand new, it retains many similarities to what the old house looked like including the remodeling plan that Russ had done. The floor plan is similar to the old one.


Benefits of changing plans

We were going to build a second floor, or convert the existing attic to a livable second floor under original remodeling plan. Under the new plan, we made the second floor larger than planned because it’s new construction and we had the flexibility.


The interior designer

The interior designer [Lindsey Snow] was extremely helpful with the space planning, as well as the interior design. She was superb. She took Russ’ plan and was able to look more closely at the interior space. For example, the kitchen space was expanded from what we had planned. She was able to reconfigure the island and sitting area. She didn’t really alter the fundamental plan for the home, it was more about reconfiguring how the space was used. Some of her changes were mundane and simple, and some of them were more decorative. She was interactive with builder and Russ, and she played a much bigger role than what we had anticipated.



The project ended up being more expensive than what we had planned, but a lot of that had to do with the materials we used such as spray foam, the wood, the flooring with wider planks, etc. Russ was helpful in that process to give me some perspective on the cost issues relative to other projects he had worked on. And his knowledge of local trades was helpful.


Glad for the architect

I felt that doing design-bid-build for a big remodeling project might be more affordable than design-build. I was thinking the economy was still coming out of doldrums and builders are hungry for business. Had we known the project would evolve into a full teardown I would have thought differently. Ultimately, Russ [the architect] was more engaged than anticipated, which, with his engineering knowledge, really helped get things built right. In the end it was beneficial to have architect on site. Russ was hands on.


Word of mouth, local knowledge

I decided to hire an architect as opposed to a design-build contractor because Russ had done a number of homes on Delavan Lake, and we knew some of the homeowners he worked for who had great things to say about him. He was very familiar with the lake and the lake style homes I was interested in.



We went from planning to use similar insulation from the old house which was fiberglass batts, to using all spray foam in the new plan. The house is like an igloo.


The best part

I guess the part the turned out the best was the kitchen dining room area. The ceilings and the look of that space came out better than I anticipated. The kitchen dining space, the ceilings, the style, it’s all different from the usual but that’s what people jumps out the most, and it works.

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