Lebanon home renovations are Liz-designed and Phil-built

News-DemocratNovember 3, 2013 

You might say the Hunds' kitchen update has been in the works for 31 years. That's how long the Lebanon couple have been married.

"I have turned into being very handy," said Phil, 51, a Charter Communications company supervisor, who first learned carpentry when he worked on homes as a teen. "The kitchen was an opportunity to get good at a lot of different skills."

He and wife Liz, a fourth-grade teacher at Freeburg Elementary, are the second owners of a Craftsman-style home built in 1913. They've made it their own with updates over the 27 years they've lived there.

The kitchen was a winter project that keeps evolving. They recently installed can lights. All thats left is to refinish pine floors, original to the house.

"The only thing that he didn't build in here was the base for the cabinets," said Liz, looking around the room. "Those are original. He replaced all the fronts."

Years ago, Phil built a V-shaped stove hood with a professional ventilation system.

"I had seen it in magazines," said Liz. "I showed him pictures."

"We are a pretty good team," said Phil. "I am not good at what she does with decorating and she's not good with what I do."

"I tell him what I want and he sketches it out," said Liz.

"I find that's the biggest challenge," said Phil. "She has her vision and it's trying to fit it in and make it work with a house that's not always square."

The Hunds estimate their kitchen renovation cost $5,000, of which 20 percent was countertop. They had the sink put in five years ago.

"If it wasn't for him making the countertop, it would have been a lot more expensive," said Liz.

The old-style, but updated kitchen has beige walls and white-painted cabinets and shelves. There's beadboard on two walls and an exposed brick chimney in the corner. Walnut countertops warm the room.

Phil bought wood for the counter at Kunz Lumber in Trenton, joined four pieces together, cut them carefully to fit two sides of the room, then used a food-safe polyurethane-type finish.

"When it was finished, the wood's (grain) really came out," said Phil. "The stripe gives it character. That's what we have, so we went with it."

Open shelves above the counters display white dishes, along with family treasures such as a coffee mill that belonged to Phil's father and a little bird Liz got when daughter Jennifer, now 25, was 2.

"When I took down the cabinets that were up there," said Phil, "you could see the pencil drawings from 1913."

Years ago, the couple came across the charming wood kitchen cupboard in a barn.

"It was sitting in barn stuff," said Liz. "We took it away, hosed it down and cleaned it up. It's one of the first things he refinished."

Phil used sandpaper and a sand block, painted shelves white, cut a whole in back for a light and trimmed the shelves so the light would shine through.

Beige, brown, tan and black print curtains with a touch of gold give the kitchen an elegant, but cozy feel.

Everything is arranged just so. That's Liz's doing.

"The cookies were chosen for their color," she said of the iced cookies in a tall glass apothecary-type jar. Cookbooks are covered in brown paper to match. Potatoes and tan-skinned onions fill a metal stand. A container of not-quite-real bagels sits on the kitchen table.

You've got to be careful what you pick up in the Hund kitchen. In turn, Liz is careful of what she puts out for decoration.

"We had root beer on the table with an old-fashioned bottle opener," she said. "Our daughter's fiance would come over and we'd be missing a root beer bottle. I thought, 'Who is eating my decorations?'"

It's no surprise that Liz wanted the refrigerator to blend, too. Its front looks like an antique icebox.

"This is a regular refrigerator," she said. "We priced panel-depth refrigerators. They were over $5,000."

But the Hunds found a way to get the look, using an epoxy to adhere wood slats to the front, then screwing in panels and finishing with icebox hardware ordered online.

"It was very time-consuming with the curved front on it," said Phil. "It was a lot of detail work."

A tour of the rest of the house shows more of their handiwork. They turned an unfinished basement with concrete floors into a cozy retreat, filled with storage cabinets and shelving.

"We patched it up to make sure it didn't leak, then put down 3-by-3 (inch) carpet tiles," said Liz. "You can lift them up if there's a problem. They're heavy duty. You can take them to the car wash, rinse them off and lay them in the sun."

One room has an office feel; in the other, they've added an easy chair for TV watching. A flat-screen TV sits atop Phil-built cabinetry. Beneath, they've hidden their washer and dryer. Sit down and watch Judge Judy as you wait for clothes to dry.

"It's another example of going with what you've got," said Phil.

"We definitely would change things if we could," said Liz. "You can't change the height of the basement. We just went with it."

Daughter Jennifer's main floor bedroom is now a guest bedroom. Liz redid it in red and turquoise.

"We're recent empty-nesters. Our daughter moved out in May," said Liz. She's a pharmacist. She finished residency while living at home. She's left but we got to keep her stuff for the guest room."

That includes a sturdy, tall bookcase, one of the first pieces that Phil built.

"It was primary green, then it was red, now white," said Liz. "Our daughter will be getting married next May.

"The house doesn't seem as small anymore. It was our starter home. Now, it's our place to retire. We don't have to downsize."

Just before the the Hunds redid the kitchen, they built a two-car garage that matches the house style. It's Phil's shop, full of wood-working equipment and lined with storage cabinets.

"It's been a dream since we got married," he said. "I've always thought it would be nice to have a wood shop."

The garage has carriage house doors and wood-look vinyl flooring. The Hunds made sure the garage could also become a studio apartment by plumbing it for water, a toilet and a shower.

"We really put a lot of thought into it," said Phil. "We have had barbecues out here, opened the garage doors, and people can be in there covered."

What's next?

"He's going to paint the outside of the house," said Liz.

"Inside, I want to tear down the wall between the living room and dining room," said Phil. "That's going to take some time. I need to figure out how to match floors."

Their advice:

Research before you begin a project, said Phil. "When I am going to do something I haven't done before, I research. I talk to people who have tried it before. Ask a lot of questions. Look at the Internet."

Don't be afraid to fail. "You go with what you have," he said. "You can't be afraid to make a mistake once in a while. Some are good for the character of the house. Big mistakes? You may have to start over again."

They knew they didn't need the kitchen chimney before removing plaster to expose the brick chimney. "If it didn't look good, we could tear it down," he said.

"That's how you get better," said Liz. "You see your mistake and try again."

Work carefully and concentrate. Measure twice, cut once, said Phil.

Know what your style is, said Liz. Find pictures of things you like and see what they have in common. "See what colors keep popping up. I like to work with white. You can change other things around it. This kitchen could look totally different if I changed the curtains."

Think about color, texture, scale and function. Mixing textures makes for an interesting look, Liz said. "If everything is hard, I put something soft in."

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