Remodel fits home to couple’s retirement

CorrespondentAugust 30, 2013 

Remodeling a home for their retirement has been a rewarding experience for Rick and Sue Lehner of Chapel Hill. The couple bought a house in 2009 near UNC-Chapel Hill a few years before retiring. This was fortuitous as it allowed their son and his family to have a convenient place to live while working at UNC and allowed remodeling work to go apace with a family member there.

Soon after the young couple moved in, structural engineer Bruce Raymond of Pittsboro was hired to make sure swayed floors on the main level were safe. They were, but would have to be supported before the floors of the great room were refinished or the basement remodeled. And some foundation work would be required.

Knowing these structural problems were in the home’s future, Raymond recommended L.F. “Fred” Griffith Construction of Pittsboro to work with the Lehners. Griffith, who has been building and remodeling homes in the Triangle since 1985, says his is a “problem-solving” company. “We have worked with Raymond a long, long time,” Griffith said. “He recommends us often to resolve structural problems.”

Griffith used his employees and local companies he had used for years to begin the remodeling. Concerns the family had about the foundation and the need for new, air-tight windows came first. As soon as Lehners’ son moved his family into the house, Pella windows began going up by Pella Windows and Doors and foundation problems were addressed by Lindsley Waterproofing.

Between 2009 and the summer of 2011, Sue redesigned the floor layout to bring in more light, open up cramped spaces and provide more main-floor storage and convenience.

By summer 2011, between the time the young people moved out and Rick and Sue moved up from South Carolina, Griffith Construction used Sue’s design to gut the unwanted walls and flooring, fix the structural problems, and install new flooring.

Griffith’s son, Caleb and assistant Erik, laid new tile from Best Tile (919-401-9420) in the kitchen, family and laundry rooms.

“They used beautiful tile,” Griffith said. “Once tile is on the wall or floor, it is stuck there. We pride ourselves in doing things one time. We have a quality, professional way of doing things. We try to set standards. We love it when clients are very happy.”

David Stallings Floors is a family business that has been in the Triangle since 1965. David’s son, Jonathan, manages most of the projects now, but his father still owns the company.

“Jonathan Stallings and his men were very good,” Sue said. “They hand-sanded all of the edges and matched the colors perfectly to new flooring in the bedrooms. Even our steps are beautiful, and they had carpet and tack strips that had to be removed.”

“We do not cut any corners,” Stallings said. “We use the very best products available.

On the Lehners’ floors, Stallings used a Minwax Provencial stain and Duracell Polyurethane, which is Minwax’s commercial division.

Ronnie Ruth Drywall (919-649-1203) put up the drywall for Griffith, and Ruth came back to paint a hard-to-reach corner wall and ceiling in the stairwell and to redo a wall of the great room when a roof leak down the chimney uncovered a long-standing damp structural problem.

“Ronnie was very experienced, a perfectionist, and was so good to work with,” Sue said. “He was easy going and loved listening to country music.”

By late summer 2011, the interior rooms were ready to be painted. Sue and Rick were ready for the challenge. The couple had painted rooms in almost every house they had lived in while Rick was working in the Public Broadcasting system around the country. Sue says that Rick does the large walls and ceilings, she does the trim work.

“He has the overall vision, and I attend to the details – ying and yang – we complement each other,” Sue said.

The couple used Valspar paints. The great room and dining room are White Pepper, which coordinates with a slightly darker hue in the hallway, Winter Calm. The kitchen paint, Lyndhurst Celadon Green, is from Valspar’s line of colors used on homes on the National Trust for Historic Preservation. During their travels, the Lehners toured Lyndhurst, which is located along the Hudson River north of New York City.

As the remodeling progressed, Rick also installed Ikea cabinets in the laundry room and a glass tile backsplash in the kitchen (also from Best Tile). He did not want the challenge of installing Ikea cabinets in the kitchen.

“I’m so glad we hired Kitchen Complete, a company suggested by Ikea of Charlotte, to install the kitchen cabinets,” Sue said. “The installation was an extra $1,000, but the cabinets were installed perfectly in one day.”

The couple found Raymond Engineering through Angie’s List and relied often on that review site when deciding who else to choose to do work. They also trusted recommendations from companies that did good work for them as the project progressed and on word-of-mouth.

For example, by the time the interior work was finished the couple, who had been living in the home for about a year and a half, were sure they wanted to paint the brick and vertical siding one color to emphasize the home’s contemporary lines.

Sue had seen the Above and Beyond Painting sign at a neighbor’s home and met business owner Pat Elsayed as the two walked their dogs in the evenings.

“Pat asked me to allow her to bid on the job of painting my home’s exterior,” Lehner said. “I asked her if she would spray it. She answered, ‘I’m a painter. I paint the house.’ I felt good about that immediately.”

After painting many color samples on a board, Sue and Rick painted several color swatches on the exterior siding before settling on Sherwin Williams solid-color stain ‘Backdrop.’

“Our first choices were too light to stay true when the bright light of day fell on them,” Sue said. The earth tone ‘Backdrop’ allows the house to blend into surrounding woods and draws the eye up a stone path to the welcoming front deck and door.

The paint choice for the deck and railings, ‘Griffin,’ is a shade darker; and the front doors on both levels are a contrasting mauve shade of Sherwin Williams’ satin oil-based paint called “Soul Mate.”

The couple considered several contrasting colors, including aqua, before deciding on the mauve hue. While her husband sanded the paint off the old door, Sue painted several large pieces of cardboard contrasting colors so she could cover the front door opening and see how it looked from the street.

“I love helping people choose colors whether they have a definite sense of what they want or are totally stumped but just know they don’t want what they have,” Elsayed said. “With Sue and Rick, they had a lot of experience choosing colors from a lifetime of owning homes in different parts of the country.”

After the house had been pressure washed, Elsayed sealed the brick with a Loxon primer then applied two coats of Backdrop stain — using a brush and roller in all cases.

“Pat did an excellent job,” Sue Lehner said. “She is fussy like me, so she knew exactly what I was going to say about things. She was easy to get along with. The time estimate was right on target. She showed up on time every day.”

Elsayed echoed the sentiments of many of the companies working for the Lehners, saying, “They are really nice people that ask for and weigh your opinions, decide what they want, let you know, and set you free to do the work.”

The result of the remodeling is a light and airy home with beautifully refinished hardwood and tile floors, tile baths, and a kitchen with quartz counters, Ikea cabinets and stainless steel appliances. The couple plans a long and happy retirement in what is now a practically new Chapel Hill home.

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