Center of Attention

For more than two years, Allen Arsenault had watched a prime lot sit on the market as buyers were scared off by the deteriorated vacant building. "It was a sweetheart of a location on one of the busiest roads in town," says Arsenault, the owner of New England Design & Remodeling of Northborough, Mass.

June 30, 2007
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The entire exterior was reworked to transform the decaying bicycle shop into a showroom that would reflect the Massachussetts town's classic New England style.

Photos by Emma Gillespie and Brian Saulnier

For more than two years, Allen Arsenault had watched a prime lot sit on the market as buyers were scared off by the deteriorated vacant building.

"It was a sweetheart of a location on one of the busiest roads in town," says Arsenault, the owner of New England Design & Remodeling of Northborough, Mass. "Rush hour traffic is stopped and backed-up in front of the building everyday, so it gets great exposure."

Arsenault already had a showroom and wasn't necessarily looking for a new one. He had always leased space for his previous offices and showrooms, though, and was intrigued by the idea of owning his own building.

"I wasn't aggressively looking for something, but I figured if the right deal came around, I'd do it," he says. "We just decided we couldn't pass up the opportunity."

Salvaging a Mess

The former bicycle shop was in terrible shape, but Arsenault knew what he was getting into when he bought it.

 

Before

"Most people said it didn't need to be remodeled — it needed to be removed," he says. "It became a place that everyone in town expected to be demolished."

That expectation brought an opportunity for New England Design & Remodeling. The building was well-known throughout the region as the "bike barn." Arsenault knew that if the company could save this local landmark, it would be a drastic demonstration to potential clients of what could be accomplished.

"If we could remodel this building, we could remodel just about anything," he says.

Inside and out, the building was a mess. The front wall had completely rotted, and the side walls were 70 percent rotted, Arsenault says. The roof was no good, and the electrical system had to be torn out and replaced.

The building had been remodeled at least four times, with additions to the side and front of the building. When people entered the building they could immediately tell where each remodel had been added because none of the floors were even; each remodel was at a slightly different height.

 

Before

To preserve as much room as possible for displays, they raised the roof to create second-floor office space out of what had previously been attic storage.

The first job was to simply make the building usable. New England leveled the floors, rebuilt the walls and added air conditioning. The company replaced the existing oil heating system with gas. To create more office space, New England raised the roof to convert the previous attic storage space into a full second floor.

With the rush hour traffic passing by his building everyday, Arsenault knew curb appeal would be very important. One of the most important changes became moving the entrance to the front of the building to take advantage of the existing alcove that had been created by one of the previous remodels.

The company created a classic New England look with sage vinyl siding and white trim.

"I wanted this to have the right historical value to the town," he says. "We spent a lot of time thinking about adding details to give it that look."

To maintain that authenticity, New England opted for subdued signs accented by antique lighting on the building. The air conditioning units on the roof were hidden from passersby on the street by a new parapet that also housed a 5-foot clock that has quickly become the most recognizable part of the building. The clock is backlit at night and is linked to GPS technology that keeps the time accurate. The building is now known in town as "the clock tower," Arsenault says.

The office was designed to replicate the exterior of a home to show off the remodeler's siding and decking work. The showroom also displays a number of flooring options, including marble, wood and carpet.

Building the Showroom

As Arsenault made his decisions about what to include in the remodel, he tried to choose as many different products as possible to showcase the lines he offers. For example, he used several styles of Pella windows and doors rather than choosing just one consistent look.

"A lot of the things I brought in were to show comparisons," he says. "We wanted everything in the building to be an example of what customers could get."

Inside, the building features 1,900 square feet of displays, including three full kitchens and two bathrooms, plus smaller vignettes for carpet samples, cabinets and other interior features. The main office is designed to look like the exterior of a home, giving the company a chance to show off its cedar decking and rail system and other exterior products. The showroom also features an entertainment center that constantly plays a slide show of before, during and after photos of the building's renovation.

"I use the showroom as a teaching center," Arsenault says. "I can educate the clients about the products I like and the products I don't like. In this showroom, we can show them everything we do."

This building is Arsenault's fourth showroom, which allows him to apply the lessons he learned from previous ones. His largest was more than 6,000 square feet, but Arsenault says he prefers his current smaller operation, which is easier and less expensive to maintain.

 

"If you're going to be in the business, you need a showroom," he says. "It tells the customers that we're a serious business and not just some guy in a van."

The new showroom has been a great success, helping to increase business and garnering attention from local media and government, including a letter of commendation from the city.

"People have seen what this building was and what we did to it," he says. "It draws people in more than a normal showroom would."

Besides the remodeling revenue it brings, New England also created a new source of income with two apartments in the building.

While the project worked out, Arsenault admits there was a risk factor in taking on the challenge. If New England had not been able to transform the building as well as it did, that failure would have been on display for the whole city to see, Arsenault says. That's why he made sure that "every inch" of the building was perfect. A creative design by New England employees Brian Saulnier and Elliot Arsenault was key to the success of what was probably the most difficult project the company has ever taken on, Arsenault says.

"We knew this building was going to reflect our business even more than a normal showroom," he says. "We could have come in and done it for a lot less money and a lot easier, but we knew this had to represent our business and everything we can do."



Budget History can be found in the July issue of Professional Remodeler.

Date Stage of Project
February 2005 Purchased building
May 2005 Started demolition
June 2005 Completed exterior work
July 2005 Interior walls completed
August 2005 Showroom displays completed
September 2005 Interior finishes completed
October 1, 2005 Moved into building
October 30, 2005 Showroom opened for business


 

The showroom features three full kitchens in a variety of styles.

Products List

Cabinets: Aristokraft, Custom Wood Products, Canyon Creek Countertops: Ceasarstone, Cambria, Corian, Formica, Granite Doors: Alterna, Pella, Stanley, Therma-Tru Faucets & Fixtures: Delta, Kohler, KWC, American Standard, Gerberit Flooring: Mannington, Target, Dal-Tile Roofing: CertainTeed, GAF, Owens Corning Siding: CertainTeed, Georgia-Pacific, Mastic Sinks: Kohler, KWC, Franke Windows: Pella



Company Snapshot

New England Design & Remodeling 

Owner: Allen Arsenault

Location: Northborough, Mass.

2006 volume: $3 million

Projected 2007 volume: $3.5 million

Biggest challenge: Undoing the damage done by previous remodels

Web site: nedesignremodel.com

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