Remaking herself at home, again

Mary Odabashian and fiance Bill DiClemente in their remodeled, expanded kitchen.
Mary Odabashian and fiance Bill DiClemente in their remodeled, expanded kitchen. (CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 07, 2014

Should she move, or improve?

When she was single, Mary Odabashian opted for the latter with a near-complete remodel of her Gulph Mills home: an open-space kitchen that required a new roof; a master bath and hall bathroom remodel, and new flooring, plus other details throughout the house.

And now that she's engaged, she's improving again - tackling construction of an outdoor living area at her mid-century split-level, so she and her fiance can entertain al fresco, as well.

Odabashian's three-bedroom, 21/2-bath house was built in 1958 in a development with a King of Prussia zip code known as Executive Estates. She bought it in the mid-1990s for $180,000. In a small park nearby, she said, George Washington made one of his last camps before wintering in Valley Forge in 1777. Centuries later, another famous neighbor moved in down the street: Ed McMahon of Tonight Show fame, who bought a similar split-level house.

Originally, Odabashian's house was an "East Coast expression of the West Coast design that was the split-level ranch, which was very cutting edge in the '50s," says her architect and designer, Pete Cooper.

Odabashian, who was referred to Cooper through a coworker at software giant SAP, made the decision to modify, not move.

"I wanted a grown-up house," she says. "Why should I move, pay a higher price and higher taxes outside of King of Prussia, when, instead, I could stay here, renovate, and get exactly what I want in this house."

First, Cooper opened up the kitchen - which, as in most 1950s homes, was essentially a service area rather than a place to spend time and eat. They discovered that to expand the kitchen, they would have to demolish the back porch. Odabashian also would have to install a new roof with a beam to support the whole new structure.

To save money, she bought what looked like crystal lamps to hang over the granite island, which were in fact knockoffs from Bright Lights. "They look expensive, but they're not," Odabashian says.

She chose not to install high-end kitchen appliances and instead upgraded the master bathroom with a stand-up shower, a crushed-glass backsplash, and bamboo cabinets.

In the hall bath, she put in "boardroom-style" brown tiles and faux crocodile flooring. She asked for special metal "schluter" strips to accent the shower.

"I lived in Germany for a year, and I liked the style of installing bathroom tiles up to the ceiling, and the European shower," she says.

She also liked the fact that Cooper set up a shared online calendar for the project. "He knew my schedule, and I knew his. That's how I am in the work world at SAP, so I appreciated that."

Odabashian decided to install a new HVAC system, because the house had no air-conditioning, only baseboard heat.

"Pete and I always joked that I would finish the renovations, I'd find the love of my life, and sell the house," she says. And that's almost exactly what happened.

About a week after the project was completed, she got a first phone call for a date with the man who is now her fiance. She has no plans to move out; instead, Bill DiClemente, an elementary-school teacher, will be moving in.

The demolition of the porch and the construction of the new roof added to the project's cost. A similar kitchen remodel - demolition plus a porch rebuild - would price at $125,000 to $175,000, Cooper estimated. By itself, a kitchen renovation would run $65,000 to $100,000.

By expanding the kitchen, Odabashian added another 300 square feet to the 2,200-square-foot house.

Work on the space outside is set to start this summer. The idea is to expand the outdoor-living footprint with a wooden deck that curves up into a six-foot-high wave-style wall, with floating concrete benches and a barbecue and bar area.

"It used to be that people tried to bring the outdoors in," Odabashian says, "but we want to duplicate the kitchen I've created inside and bring that outside."

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