Whole House: Attention to detail restores home to its Italianate essence

This whole-house renovation transformed a Midwestern farm complex into a distinguished home and garden suitable for large-scale entertaining.

February 29, 2004

This whole-house renovation transformed a Midwestern farm complex into a distinguished home and garden suitable for large-scale entertaining. Robert Clarke, principal at CBI Design Professionals, says the homeowners wanted to enlarge the house without sacrificing coziness. Additionally, they wanted Clarke to modernize the home's systems and give it a maintenance-free exterior.

Trying to reverse decades of haphazard additions and renovations posed the first challenge. Crews removed all but two of the previous additions and demolished the farm's outbuildings. Upon stripping multiple layers of siding and all of the trim from the existing home, they uncovered its original Italianate structure. Clarke and the homeowners then centered the project on re-creating the home with its authentic detailing and character. They took the home down to its bare studs and dug a new, 10-foot-deep foundation. They also updated the plumbing and HVAC, and added Category 5 wiring. With new additions for increased space, the home's design mimics three superimposed squares.

The finished 6,861-square-foot home almost triples the size of the original 2,578-square-foot structure. Interior features include black walnut flooring, custom cabinets and granite countertops. The estate also has an 8x15-foot pond, a 35-foot-deep reflecting pool, an orchard/sitting garden, and a three-car garage/storage area that, given its detailing and seamless blend into the rear of the home, looks like a carriage house.


Much of the home's beauty comes from its 85-plus windows. Robert Clarke specified two sizes of muntin bars to emulate the Italianate style. In addition, to compensate for the original homeÆs out-of-plumb lines, the exterior carpenter had to level and square the rough openings to ensure that they would work with the new windows. To accommodate a variation in wall thickness between the old home and the additions, the carpenter fabricated all of the window jambs, sill extensions and exterior casings for each window once installed.

A privacy berm created from the fill material amassed in fixing grade problems and digging the pool, pond and elevated front terraces extends along the estate's sides and rear. At approximately 20 feet tall, the berm obscures adjacent properties.

This project employed big ideas and equally ambitious contributions. To ensure consistently high craftsmanship, Zelinski Builders owner Dan Zelinski entrusted just one carpenter with all of the exterior work. The carpenter worked alone for seven months to install all of the siding, trim and soffit vent.

Equally impressive, Clarke used technology to replicate the style of the home's original exterior components. He had molds of the original solid wood corbels, brackets and crown molding panels made to create identical pieces constructed of cellular PVC. Clarke also took digital pictures of the home's original color schemes and used computerized mock-ups to find the most authentic color combinations. Once the colors were chosen, all accent and detail pieces were painted by hand.


Remodeler: Zelinski Builders Inc., Bath, Mich.

Architect: CBI Design Professionals, Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

Project location: Mason, Mich.

Age of home: originally built in the mid- to late 1800s

Scope of project: remodel of home and adjacent structures on estate of 35-plus acres

Clarke and Zelinski say the key to the project was the working relationships, which had to be effective given the project's scope. "There was a perfect fit between client, architect and remodeler," Zelinski says. "With a project of this size, if the chemistry wasn't right, that could be a ticket to disaster. We had constant communication and idea exchange. Even though we didn't always agree, we worked it out."

This project spanned more than 18 months. Since its completion, the home has become part of historical walking tours and been used for numerous private functions.

Floor Plan: First Floor

Floor Plan: Second Floor

Floor Plan: Before


Siding: James Hardie Windows: Marvin Roofing: CertainTeed Paints and stains: Glidden Insulation: Knauf Housewrap: DuPont Tyvek Doors: Marvin, Therma-Tru, Michigan Millworks Garage door: Overhead Door

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