“I knew this house had good bones so I wouldn’t have to do as much to improve it. Because I live in it, I’ve also been able to try new design ideas without concern about how they would affect others. Now I can show people the new things I’m doing by taking them through my personal home.”

Phil Kean, founder of Phil Kean Designs Inc.

Although Winter Park, Fla., may be famous for its spectacular historic mansions, the central Florida town of 28,000 also has many modest, moderately priced homes.

Such is the case for the 2,230-square-foot mid-century modern rambler that won Silver in Qualified Remodeler’s 2010 Master Design Awards in the Whole-house Remodel under $200,000 category. Phil Kean, founder of Winter Park-based Phil Kean Designs Inc., the design/build remodeler for the project, first spotted the house along his regular running route. When he saw a for-sale sign posted, he decided to take a look.

As an architect and certified residential contractor, Kean immediately envisioned how making strategic, cost-effective changes could increase the curb appeal and value of the home, which is in a high-demand neighborhood 1/2 mile from Winter Park’s downtown. In March 2009, when someone expressed interest in renting the house Kean owned at the time, he decided to purchase, remodel and occupy the rambler as his personal residence. 

“I briefly considered tearing it down and building a new home on the property,” Kean says. “This house had a lot of personality though. It definitely had glam in its day. It looked like you should walk in, pour a martini, and listen to jazz or Frank Sinatra.” 

Reviving the glam on the $90,000 budget Kean set for himself, however, presented a formidable challenge. He started the planning and design process by determining which of the home’s existing features should be saved and refurbished.

Integral Inside

The terrazzo floor in the family room was beautiful, low maintenance, durable and in good shape. Floor-to-ceiling windows in the living and dining rooms brought in a lot of natural light and closely related indoor and outdoor spaces. The rooms were reasonably sized and efficiently arranged.

Kean’s first bold move was to remove a wall that separated the kitchen from the living room. This increased daylight levels and enhanced the general sense of interconnectedness. The alteration required addition of a structural beam and reconfiguration of major kitchen elements. The refrigerator was moved from its former location to where the door opening between the kitchen and living room had been. The range was moved from the outer wall to the island.  A hidden pantry was added where the range originally was located to mask the exterior door to the garage and create storage space. 

Kean was able to replace the kitchen’s cabinets, plumbing, fixtures and appliances while sticking to his budget by installing new, discount-priced equipment, including a scratch-and-dent range, an overstock refrigerator and a dishwasher that had been a floor model.

“You don’t have to spend a lot to maximize impact,” Kean says. “I reused everything I could. All the wood floors were sanded and refinished. I stripped, cleaned and reinstalled all the doorknobs. I liked the color of the metal, which was somewhere between a bronze and chrome. The round glass knobs were ribbed to ensure a good grip.” Kean avoided totally gutting the bathroom by having the tub and tile refinished with spray-on enamel paint.

Kean also blended off-the-shelf, overstock and clearance-priced products to keep costs in check.  His strategies included adding basic white shutters to the bedroom windows to greatly improve their appearance; buying typical light fixtures at a large home-improvement store and unique ones on clearance at a lighting showroom; replacing the bathroom’s toilet with an inexpensive model by a reputable manufacturer; and using overstock travertine tiles for the floors in the bathroom, kitchen and front foyer.

“The secret for finding good overstock items is to avoid falling in love with a specific product,” Kean explains. “I looked for a good material within the range of what had been marked down.”   

In turn, this series of frugal decisions allowed Kean to splurge on a few special features. He purchased high-quality, thick glass shower doors for the bathroom and added a wall in the living room that has display niches custom-designed to showcase his glass art collection. He had a television and sound system installed on the side of this wall that faces the family room. 

“I wanted a place for a TV but didn’t want it to be the first thing you saw when you walked into the living room,” Kean says. 

Optimal Outside

Of course, adding the curb appeal that Kean first envisioned meant improving the exterior of the house and its landscaping. His construction team removed the concrete pad outside the door leading to the backyard. A new patio with wrap-around steps was built in its place. The team added French doors that complement the large windows of the adjacent family room. 

“We took out plants, added some and trimmed everything else,” Kean says. “The backyard already had avocado, kumquat and lime trees. We added hedges for privacy. We bought a bunch of plants at the farmers’ market and put these in planters that I already owned. We were working on another project that required taking out boxwoods. When we asked, the homeowner for that project was happy to give us the boxwoods so they could be replanted and wouldn’t go to waste.”

Now that construction is complete and Kean has literally lived with the results of his design, he couldn’t be happier. 

“I try to be smart about where I invest my money,” he says. “I knew this house had good bones so I wouldn’t have to do as much to improve it. Because I live in it, I’ve also been able to try new design ideas without concern about how they would affect others. Now I can show people the new things I’m doing by taking them through my personal home.”

One of those people is a city council member who lives up the street. Not long after Kean moved into his remodeled rambler, the council member paid him a visit. “She came up, knocked on the door and told me she was just stopping by to say she loved what we’d done.”
Heather Beal writes from Minneapolis about design and remodeling.

Fast Facts 2010 Master Design Awards Whole-house Remodel under $200,000 Silver Winner

  • Design/Build Remodeler: Phil Kean Designs Inc., Winter Park, Fla., www.philkeandesigns.com
  • Location: Winter Park
  • Project cost: $90,000
  • Before and after: 2,230 square feet

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