Chris Weber, a lifetime Pelham resident who grew up at 522 Stellar Avenue, a modest Colonial in the Manor that the family had bought in 1963, recalls: “It was a sad day.” She is speaking about the day that her father Gus, a former TWA pilot, told her that they had to cut down the cherry tree in the front yard. When she was young, every summer it had yielded a bounty of juicy black cherries that delighted her and the neighborhood kids; now it was diseased and had to go. It was the last remaining cherry tree on the block, in an area that had once-upon-a-time been a cherry orchard. It seemed like the end of an era.
Chris was long gone from Stellar Avenue (she currently lives with her husband on First Street near the station) when her father passed in 2011. When she inherited the property, she was faced with a dilemma, one that is still unresolved: whether to move back to the family home or stay where she is and sell. But in either case she knew that the house, untouched for years, needed renovating. An immediate need was the two upstairs bathrooms, which she immediately had fixed up using a contractor recommended by a cousin, Paulo’s Contracting of Harrison. Also, new windows by Harvey were installed throughout. Then followed a period of design and reflection. She was prepared to bear the double tax burden while the hard decisions about occupancy were made.
The back of the house had a one-floor addition and she toyed with building above it and various other extensions, but in the end decided that the work did not justify the expense, and the effect it would have on the property taxes. So she decided to open the kitchen into the back room to make an attached family room, which would become the heart of the house. She hired a separate company to do the demolition and put in the structural beam that was needed to compensate for the removal of the connecting wall.
In a smaller house, kitchen design can be tricky and Chris spent awhile configuring the space, acting as her own designer, eventually allowing the counter top that flanks the outer wall to extend slightly into the new family room to provide extra workspace. In the house’s original layout, the refrigerator was in a separate room and getting all the appliances into the new space proved a challenge, but one that she has mastered with ingenuity and style. Wanting to keep a formal dining room in the floor plan, Chris allowed for a clever pocket door between it and the kitchen.
Still with one eye on resale and the other on her personal taste, Chris chose her materials carefully. “That’s been my process all along,” said Chris. “If I want to move there, I want to do it my way, but I also have to think if I don’t move there, I have to make it neutral enough so that it will appeal to the general public.” The result is a Balthus granite counter top and cherry cabinets with an espresso finish.
Chris was adamant that she wanted a seamless counter top and this proved the biggest challenge both for her and the installers. Finding a piece large enough and the right color led her, after an online search, to an area of Long Island where several stone dealers are located, clustered around Farmingdale. She thought she had found the right piece but it was agonizingly inches too short and would allow for no overhang. Discouraged she moved on. “I went down the road to another store and lo and behold there was a piece exactly the right size and exactly the right color,” remarked Chris, marveling at her luck.
The countertop was massively heavy and it took a six-man team to get it into the house and fitted in place using an ingenious series of moving sawhorses much in the way that the ancients of Egypt and Stonehenge moved the blocks used to build their monuments. Luckily Chris already had six foot-wide sliding French doors in to the back wall the new family room. “Anyone doing a kitchen should plan in advance the sizes of granite,” pointed out Chris.
One of the reasons that the kitchen took so long to finish was because of the cabinets. Chris had initially worked with one store, which at the time was using a custom cabinet-building company whose quality control proved unreliable. There were problems with color and sizes and, despite the store’s valiant efforts to remediate the problems, the cabinets were delivered in unsatisfactory condition again and again. Eventually Chris turned to Kitchen and Bath Source of White Plains which did the work in a timely manner and at a price that matched lower quotes that she had got elsewhere.
The KitchenAid appliances were all bought from Pelham store Tiso Appliances, which Chris has used in the past because of its reliable local service and willingness to match prices. Again she was not disappointed.
Chris then had installed new outlets and light fittings. Upstairs a closet will be added to the master bedroom and then the original oak floors throughout the house will be sanded and refinished.
Reflecting on the overall project, Chris believes that she fell victim to something that many have experienced: an overly busy contractor juggling several jobs. Asked how she might do things differently, Chris said, “You need to have a definite time line (for the contractor) and tie your payments to that time line to keep them to it (with penalty clauses for late completion).” Obviously, sometimes the unforeseen occurs, and plans and budgets can change midway through a project, but her advice points to the vital trust that must exist between client and contractor when setting realistic goals and finish times.