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Starting out from scratch

Hercules Pappas had no design style in mind. The result: A mix of modern decor and innovation.

Herc Pappas in his spacious living room. (Ed Hille / Staff Photographer)
Herc Pappas in his spacious living room. (Ed Hille / Staff Photographer)Read more

When Hercules Pappas cut off two fingers, his primary concern wasn't the missing digits.

No, he was worried about getting blood on the renovation work he'd already completed. He even took off his shoes at the top of the stairs so he wouldn't get basement dirt on the first floor.

"I was shooting blood everywhere, but it was the walls and floors I was concerned about," he said.

"I spent a lot of time and effort on those renovations. I didn't want to get blood on them."

Pappas, 39, jokes about the incident now. He found the fingers, and they were reattached. Then, he completed the five-year-long project that transformed a ho-hum space in the Clusters at Turtle Creek development in Medford into a four-bedroom, three-bath home for himself and his two teenage children.

Pappas, a business-litigation lawyer at Pappas & Wolf L.L.C., of Haddon Heights, didn't have a design style in mind. The result mixes modern decor and a few ideas he literally cooked up in his sleep.

When Pappas bought the house in 2004, it was the very definition of "handyman's special."

"Nothing had been done to the house since it was built in 1990," he said. The previous owner had used it as an unofficial halfway house. There were beds in every room, even four in the unfinished basement.

Pappas had renovated his previous home, a condo in Mount Laurel, by himself, learning through trial and error and Home Depot books.

He closed on the Medford house a month before going to settlement on the condo, so he gutted the new place, except for one bathroom.

When he moved in, he slept on a mattress in the living room. He hung a sink from the ceiling of the kitchen so he'd have running water there.

He knew this about himself: "If it's livable, I won't have that motivation and drive to finish it up."

Pappas started with the essential rooms: first, he finished the kitchen, then the master bedroom.

He worked 7 to 2 every weeknight after work, and all weekend long.

"I worked at that pace for about a year, to where I got it to livable and presentable condition," he said.

Going in, he did not have a set plan, but his goal was to include one interesting lighting element and one interesting design element per room, starting with the living room.

Not only does it have recessed lighting, but Pappas hid the flat-screen TV behind a work of art that rolls up when you want to watch.

In the kitchen, he put lights under, inside, and over the cabinets. For ventilation, he used a downdraft system rather than a range hood - a telescope vent pops out of the counter when needed and pulls smoke down and out.

Instead of a traditional railing for the stairs, he designed and installed a cable system.

"I had a dream about it that put this picture in my head," Pappas said. "I woke up and immediately drew it out, went to the store, bought the materials, and just built it."

Onto the back of the house, he put an addition that gives him enough space for an expanded living room and piano room on the first floor.

In the basement, he created a second family room. But because he's a big movie buff, Pappas didn't just put a big TV there - he installed a projector and a screen and stadium-style seating, and carpet so plush you could sleep on it.

He also added a finished bedroom and bar downstairs - the bar he was building when the finger accident occurred.

"When you're working with a table saw like that, you take another piece of wood to push through what you're cutting, so your fingers don't get close to the blade," Pappas said.

He didn't feed his fingers through the saw - he hit the blade when he reached over it to grab that feeder piece of wood so he could cut another panel.

When the EMTs arrived at his house, he asked one of them to get him a clean shirt - he had wrapped the one he was wearing around his hand - and shoes because he didn't want to go into the hospital in just his work pants.

The EMT who fetched them was so impressed with Pappas' custom closet system in the bedroom, including glass-front pocket doors, that he called the other EMTs to see it - before remembering that the bleeding guy needed to go to the hospital.

Pappas and his business partner, Matthew Wolf, just moved their practice from a shared space in Medford to what had been a big house on the White Horse Pike in Haddon Heights.

But though Pappas is now done with the renovation on his house, he doesn't have the bug to do much more on the new office.

"I did mostly what we call lipstick renovations - painting and some minor things," he said.

In other words, no table saws required.