Renovation Realities

A renovation turned rebuild in downtown Fuquay is a family affair

Homeowner Diana Klar and her brother, builder Steven Eisenberg. Photo by Jonathan Fredin.

If these walls could talk, they wouldn’t say anything because they are brand new — all except one.

When Diana Klar and her husband purchased a fixer-upper in downtown Fuquay, they intended to keep as much of the original structure as possible. Demolition uncovered problem after unexpected problem, including lots of rotted wood and even asbestos.

“Around every corner ended up being more money. Every time we’d open a wall, we were like, ‘Man, got to replace that too … and that too,’” says Klar.

The master bathroom showcases custom vanities and a bold tile floor.

The home’s foundation and one wall were salvable. That’s it.

“Once we figured out it was much more of a tear-down, we were able to transform (the home) a little bit more.”

The Klars, who lived in Boston at the time, intended to turn the property into vacation rental and a “home base” for when they came to the Triangle to visit family.

A private hallway leads to an inviting master suite.

“It checked off a couple criteria, especially, easy walking distance from downtown (Fuquay),” she says. “That’s what we like when we go somewhere, so we were like, ‘Let’s do this project.’”

Klar teamed up with Cary architect Dawn Christine to create the house plan and her brother, builder Steven Eisenberg, of Butler Homes, to bring the vision to life.

“I’m interested from a design standpoint, so it was fun to pick out everything I wanted. I started with Pinterest and Houzz and architecture magazines. … I would go to my brother and say, ‘I want it to look like this, how does that work,’ and he would explain it to me.”

Fuquay-Varina company, Noles Cabinets, crafted the custom cabinetry in powdery blue.

That open communication was especially important since Klar wasn’t living in Fuquay-Varina during the renovation. Even so, Klar wanted to work with local craftsmen whenever possible.

TOP TIPS from Diana Klar, homeowner

Plan ahead and know what your style is.

Budget more space for storage than you think you’ll need.

“We used a local company for cabinets, Noles Cabinets, I was really excited to use a Fuquay business. … They were lovely to work with. They were so patient with me and my newness to design a functional kitchen and get all of what I wanted in such a small space.

“It feels like a huge kitchen, which I love.”

The unique metal stair rail was fashioned by a local metalsmith, Chris Gitthens, owner of Iron Rod Welding Services.

“He custom built it in place,” said Eisenberg, the builder.

“It brings that modern element with a traditional vibe,” says Klar. “I showed Steven a picture and he found someone to replicate that for us.

Expansive sliding glass doors open from the main living space onto a screened-in porch. A locally crafted metal stair rail accents the home’s modern-meets-traditional style.

“Because I was so far away, it was hard to be involved in some of the detail pieces. I had to let go, and trust that (Steven) would do the right thing.”

TOP TIPS from Steven Eisenberg, builder

Choosing the right contractor is super important. Trust your gut and investigate any red flags that surface during the interview process.

Renovations are not going to be easy. When the hammer starts swinging it won’t all be fun, so choose to work with a team you can trust.

The home’s standout star is the screened porch. Sixteen-foot sliding glass doors connect the dining room to the porch, making it feel like an extension of the main living space.

“The whole reason why we wanted to move here was the weather,” Klar says. “Everyone always ends up on the back porch.”

Another favorite is the master bath. “I went outside my normal comfort zone and did the crazy tile on the floor. I wish I would have done that in more places,” Klar says.

And even though the home was almost totally rebuilt, Klar wanted to stay true to its origins.

“We wanted a carport because that’s what fit into our neighborhood, versus a garage. I wanted it to look like it had been here for a while,” she says. “I always wanted a big Southern front porch. It’s my favorite afternoon spot with the kids. We wave at neighbors while the kids play in the driveway.”

The homeowners selected bold paint colors and graphic tile combinations throughout. Mudroom.

Just as the project was nearing completion, the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“We were in Boston; had no plans of leaving. As COVID-19 progressed, my husband was working from home … We had always toyed with the idea of moving down here, but could never quite do it. During coronavirus, we had this opportunity to at least try it,” says Klar.

Now, as N.C. residents — “I am loving the house,” she says.

With a full-scale renovation behind her, Klar’s best advice is to “Plan more than you think. Really think about the little details that you live with on a day-to-day basis and the things that you need to function.”

Hallway bath.

Eisenberg’s company, Butler Homes, tackles construction projects of all types and sizes. During his three years as a licensed general contractor, Eisenberg witnessed the impact a cohesive building and design plan can have, which prompted a partnership with Durham-based designer Melissa Cross, to provide clients a full-service approach to achieving the aesthetic and function they want.

“We now are teaming together to work with clients to give them, not just a contractor to build, but also a designer on the team that’s helping them make their design selections early on, so that when the construction starts we are providing a cohesive plan and strategy,” says Cross.

“Design choices are informing the construction, and construction is informing what’s possible design-wise, so homeowners aren’t in the position of falling in love with images on Pinterest then find out they can’t do that.”

Master bath.

Eisenberg adds, “It allows us to buy material when it needs to be bought, versus at the last minute, so there isn’t as much downtime. We’re able to do more accurate pricing for the project this way.”

TOP TIPS from Melissa Cross, designer

Understand where to splurge on quality materials and finishes, and where to pinch pennies.

Choosing what you love, rather than chasing a trend, ensures you’ll still love your project in 10 years.

Timing and availability of materials is more important than ever in the current building climate. Materials and labor prices have increased, and shipping and supply inconsistencies often force long lead times, making accurate orders crucial — and mistakes can be very costly to fix.

The sliding glass door for the Klar’s screened porch, for example, arrived damaged, and it took three months for the replacement to arrive.

“You’re at the mercy of everyone shipping (materials). There’s nothing you can do about it, because it’s outside of your control,” Eisenberg says.

The partnership between Butler Homes and Melissa Cross Interiors addresses a shift in the mindset and expectations of homeowners, says Cross.

“HGTV and Pinterest have certainly elevated what homeowners are expecting in their homes, in terms of both renos and interior decorating,” she says. “Your relationship with your home is reflecting who you are, instead of merely functional.”

“Homeowners are really looking for something that makes the space their own. A unique element that makes the existing space fit their lifestyle and who they are as people, versus just cookie cutter builds,” says Eisenberg.

“Your home should be a place that brings you joy. That may mean it is your sanctuary and your place for respite, or it is exciting and inspiring. (Our homes) are more of an extension of ourselves than they’ve ever been,” Cross says.

“Personally, I think that is such a powerful tool in our life — for us to go out into the world from a place of balance and harmony and joy, when we are able to create that at home.”

Interiors styled by Melissa Cross. 

1 Comment

  • John says:

    I personally know the contractor and designer, and all I can say is that they are exceptional people and lead building and design with passion, heart and absolute care! I am so proud to see this write up about their inspiring work – way to put Fuquay on the map!

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