May / June 2008
A Whole-house Renovation
by Rita C. Stevens
Photos by Randall Perry Photography

On a quiet, tree-shaded street in Albany near Buckingham Pond a  modest brick Colonial sat for a year empty and overgrown.  The previous owners, who had built the home and lived there for 50-plus years, had died and the home was on the market.

A professional couple who lived on the other end of the street had admired the home for a long time and decided it would be the perfect home for their growing family — with some expansion. It was very important to them that the integrity and classic character of the house remained.

The couple, Tom and Lisa, hired Chuck Sano Restorations to help them make the changes to the home that would refect their lifestyle. (Chuck had done some remodeling for them at their previous house.)  Because their ideas for the home mushroomed into something more complex, Chuck suggested they get an archiect involved.  He and some other people recommended Bob Bucher of Design Logic.

The 17-month-long renovation saw the house grow from 2,500 sq. ft. to 7,000 sq. ft.  The  two-car garage was converted to two-stories with a family room on the first floor and a master bedroom suite above.  A new wing was added to accommodate a three-car garage with a recreation room on the second floor. The house itself was gutted with only the dining room and the formal living room retaining the same footprints.

The architect’s perspective

“Tom and Lisa had specific lifestyle requirements they wanted to incorporate into the project within a specific budget,” said Bob Bucher. “[They] were great.  They gave us a lot of creative license as long as we had conviction for why we were doing something.

“The colonnade evolved as an integral link between the recreation room over the garage and the family room and kitchen and the living room.  I designed it as an organizational spine to the house and also to connect to the outside.

“The hallmark of our firm is to strive to have any additions we design on a home to not look like an addition. With this home, a basic Colonial form, by stepping the addition and rooflines we tried to make it not just a massive box. We added dormers to the house, and to unify that we created and organized dormers on the new structures.”

About some of the tougher aspects of the renovation design on this home, Bob said:

“We looked at the wings and additions to get the volume and height we wanted.  Once we added on to the original box, we had tiered steps into the family room to get higher ceilings.  We went down instead of up so as not to disturb the original roof line of the house and still give some of the newer home qualities of volume and space — more of an open floorplan.  We used the contour and the grade.”

The builder’s perspective

Ninety-five percent of the house was altered. “ We guttted the house,” said Chuck Sano. “The house was in good shape structurally, very clean.  I thought we were going to have a problem with all the ivy that covered the brick on the house. As it turned out, the brick was undamaged. We took the brick off the back of the house and reused it on the new garage, the upper floor of the family room (former garage) and the side of the house. You can‘t tell the difference; it blended well.”

The framing was very important to the homeowner. Chuck said: “Tom wanted the house to be solid for sound proofing. We used 5/8” plywood on the exterior and the whole house is 5/8” sheetrock.  The front entrance actually sat lower than the dining room and living room.  So we had to reframe that.  There are no transitions.  Everything is on one plane.  That is our trademark.  You want that perfect. All the interior walls are insulated for sound control.  Even the drains are insulated so you don‘t hear water coming through. It adds only a small percent to the budget to do that.

“The living room and dining room off the front entrance didn’t change dimensionally, but it got all new sheetrock,  the crown was changed and cherry floors with granite inlays replaced the old floor. A half bath and a coat closet  to the left of the entrance were removed to make a more grand entrance. We moved the bath back farther behind the kitchen and laundry room.

“The floor plan for the kitchen and family room is wide open and tiered from the kitchen to the dining area, to the family room which has a coffered ceiling with indirect lighting. The kitchen island has a slate floor around it.  Slate was also used in the colonnade with radiant heating beneath it.

“We set up the house with two separate furnaces. We did that with everything, including the electrical. There are subpanels on the second floor and in the garage, plus the main panel in the basement.”

For the rec room above the new three-car garage Chuck was able to salvage cherry cabinets from the old family room that were used as a backbar with a full sink. The front bar is made of stone. The floor is tiger wood.

On the second floor the master bath, shown here, features all tumbled marble and glass block with a steam shower and radiant flooring.

Because of the heavily wooded hilly nature of the lot  no one realized that the property included nearly four acres — a rare find in the city of Albany.  Chuck said: “Where the garage is there was a 120-foot old willow tree that had to come down. The landscapers took all the hill out. A Gunite pool was added and  limestone rock was trucked in to hold the hill up.

“It was the biggest project going on in the city, except for the hospitals,” Chuck concluded.

The homeowners’ perspective

Tom and Lisa had almost finished renovating their former house with Chuck Sano when  they started to investigate the possibilty of buying this house.

Tom said: “The house was dated, had some elevation problems, but Chuck said ‘No problem.’ So we purchased it.  Lisa said: “We left for the Cape for a week and when we came back it was down to the studs.  It was shocking.” Tom said: “That’s when the grim realization that this was ours set in. We had been told by many that it was cheap entertainment for the neighbors to watch. Not for us!  But it has been very rewarding and we found a house in the city of Albany with more than three acres.  Chuck had the ability to rapidly detect and solve the problems you run into trying to marry old and new.  And with a job of this scope there was a lot of that.”

“We liked the older homes, though we looked at new construction,” Lisa said.  “We thought the older homes were more solid.  Tom didn’t want to hear things from one room to the next.  So we insulated like crazy and doubled up drywall.  It makes a difference.”

“There was no portico on the front, just two steps. So we put the 14 x 16’ portico on.  We still have to put shutters on … maybe next year,” Tom added. “The door was recessed about two feet and we brought that out to flush with the front of the building. That was not in the architect’s plan, but Bob took it well. Chuck was very flexible too.

”We all entered this agreement and exited it on the same footing with respect for each other.  It was like a 17-month marriage.”

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