Bob and Nicole Rodowicz's 5-year-old son thinks home renovations are just what people do. Perhaps that's why he was perplexed to report recently that a friend's family bought a house, and "they were just moving in."
"I had to tell him, 'It's OK, sometimes people do that,' " Nicole says.
For the Rodowiczes, whose renovated Bucks County home was one of six featured on the 48th annual Newtown Holiday House Tour, just moving in has never been the way.
"Renovating is just our thing," Nicole says. "We find value in things that are underappreciated."
The couple, now the parents of four little boys, bought a twin house here when they were starting out. "When we first looked at it, the inside looked like something on the program Hoarders," Nicole says. "My father-in-law could not believe we were going to buy it."
They rehabbed the rooms and added a new kitchen and were pleased with their hard work. They made it a home for four years and welcomed two sons there, Tyler and Owen. But Bob had slightly bigger plans.
"My husband really wanted a single in the borough, and we hoped for a little yard and a driveway," she says.
They happened upon an eyesore nearby on Liberty Street, not far from Newtown's quaint downtown filled with restaurants and shops - it was an estate sale, and the house had been vacant for more than two years. Everyone knew the property: The trees out front were overgrown, the sidewalk buckled, and the neighborhood cats (and squirrels and other rodents) liked to prowl around there.
But you'd never know all that from the looks of the place today. Three of the 800 people who came through the newly reborn house on the holiday tour said they had looked at the property when it was on the market, but walked away.
"Most of them said it needed too much work - and it smelled," Nicole says with a shrug.
Their original offer for the house was rejected, but Nicole and Bob waited and hoped. Then the market changed. Eighteen months after they first saw it, they signed a contract. And the rehab began.
The Victorian Gothic dates to 1870, and in 1942 it had been turned into a duplex. To transform and expand the building, the Rodowiczes called on Bob Valimont of George J. Donovan AIA & Associates in Bedminster. After a four-month approval process before the borough's Historical Architectural Review Board, they broke ground in October 2008.
"We wanted to be respectful of the old and blend it with this new," says Bob Rodowicz, who helped with demolition of an exterior staircase and chimney before the construction crew showed up.
The open floor plan he and Nicole wanted on the main floor was complicated because it involved structural issues - essentially, taking off the back of the house and attaching a 25-foot-square addition that would go up three stories.
On the first floor, the dining room was left intact, except for a wall that was moved to add a powder room. Behind the dining room, they installed the kitchen, which features a large island where guests can pull up to watch the cook.
"We like having the kitchen in the middle of the house," says Nicole, "because that is where everyone always gathers."
The space flows into the family room, which like the kitchen has a view of the back yard. The centerpiece here is a fireplace mantel Nicole found at the architectural-salvage store Edna's Antiques in Buckingham.
Because Nicole and Bob had redone the kitchen in their previous house, they knew just what they wanted, like a beverage center and a spice rack. Valimont talked her into a small pantry, a feature Nicole never thought she needed - though now, with four boys (twins Kellan and Eagan were born in March), she can see how it might become a favorite.
Off the kitchen is a staircase that runs from the new finished basement through the addition. On the second floor are four bedrooms and two full baths; the third floor has an office for Bob, a guest bedroom, and a small bonus room.
The family lived with her parents in Richboro during the renovations, but as the work neared completion, Nicole and Bob would "come in and put some music on and paint from 8 to 11 p.m. We painted the whole house ourselves. We had put so much money into the house, it was a way of saving a little," she says.
Where they could, they tried to preserve doors, door frames with their original transoms, and hardware. And out front, Waitkus Design Inc. of Newtown used the 140-year-old bricks to re-lay the sidewalk.
"Having been through another renovation, anything we didn't have at the other house we made sure we had here," says Nicole. "Many times with older houses, you don't have closet space. Bob [Valimont] gave us a walk-in closet off our bedroom and one downstairs for coats."
Opening their house to so many guests for the holiday tour helped validate their hard work.
"Many people said to us, 'Your neighbors must be thankful that you took a house that was falling down, that had been a duplex, and made it into a beautiful single home,' " Nicole says.
"We see ourselves staying here for a long time," she says. "We put so much love into this house, I just don't see ever leaving."