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The now-transformed Loe-Loving house in Bon Air. Renovations took nearly a year and involved extensive work on the foundation.
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A bright-blue hanging light fixture complements Loe’s painting on the landing of the main stairway in the front entrance. The family has many more mobiles from its old house yet to be hung.
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The full-length French doors in the dining room open onto the front porch. Screened doors are behind them, extending the season to dine al fresco.
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When Laura Loe and Will Loving first saw the house in Bon Air, built in 1881 as summer refuge for city people, they weren't planning to move. However, the 7,000-square-foot house, which was barely visible from Buford Road and surrounded by seven outbuildings on two acres, issued a siren call they found difficult to resist
"I fell in love with it, and so did my husband, on the very first day," Loe says. "What blew us away was the yard size. It's freakin' huge. I'm a Fan rat by default. It never occurred to me to leave, but you get three kids and your priorities change."
Now, with its sunny yellow exterior and artfully designed interior brimming with paintings, books, fireplaces, back stairways and all manner of nooks and crannies, the couple's home is an unexpected retreat, right beyond the edge of the beaten path.
But it wasn't always such a showplace. Despite a massive renovation during the World War I era, the home had not experienced significant change or routine maintenance for years. However, Loe, an artist, and Loving, co-owner of Ironworks Consulting, could see beyond the sagging porch and leaking roof. "I'm a painter, but I also love to nest," says Loe. "My quest was to maintain the integrity of the house but to update it, without making it look new."
Discovering that the entire foundation of the house was on the verge of collapse, Loe and Loving replaced the sill plate, tore down the back addition that included the kitchen, then replaced and expanded the space. They kept the front of the house intact save new ceilings, lighting and Sheetrock. The basement also required a complete renovation. "This was the Jeffrey Dahmer area," laughs Loe in the renovated basement, which now sports a storage area and a home movie theatre. "The only new square footage is the big honkin' family room and the master bedroom. What we really paid for was the location and the yard. The renovation cost almost as much as the house itself."
Between buying the house in November 2008 and moving from their Grove Avenue home during January 2010, the renovation took the better part of a year. "It was the most action-packed, pain-in-the-ass year of my life," says Loe, who acted as project manager. "I thought I'd known what busy was with three kids … but there's nothing more disruptive than renovating. I am never, ever, ever doing anything else [to this house]."
With a respect for the old and an eye for the new, Loe reused doors, windows and panes of glass for the interior renovations as often as possible and searched out special finds at Caravati's and S.B. Cox. In addition to painting each of the outbuildings yellow to match the main house, the couple installed electrical systems and plumbing in each building. Now the carriage house, pump house, icehouse, garage, playhouse and old chicken coop are parts of the whole. The 1920s concrete pond is back in working order alongside a brand-new circular drive, fire pit, outdoor shower and screened porch complete with Tiki bar. The ground has been graded, and Loe and Loving plan to plant grass in the fall.
"A lot of things happened by accident," says Loe, who on the spur of the moment decided to add another porch to hold the family's recycling and a fake closet to counterbalance an off-center doorway in the back of the house. "I was a graphic designer, so I must have seen the symmetry at some point."
As for the interior decoration, Loe did it all herself. "There's no interior designer working here; they'd probably run in horror," she laughs. "I don't have trouble making choices or admitting when they're wrong. If you have a misfire, redo it. I'm not into commitment. That's why I don't have tattoos. This is a work in progress, all the time."
Amazed at how home builders often take the cheaper, faster route, bypassing craftsmanship, Loe and Loving combined their resources, imagination and sweat equity to see their dream house through to fruition. Each decision was planned and executed with precision. Loe and Loving chose what they felt would last, not what would simply do. Nothing happened by chance — an impressive feat for such a large-scale home makeover.
"Why can't your life be like a vacation house?" asks Loe, looking out over two acres of sprawling lawn from the elegantly decorated, adults-only porch that sweeps off the master bedroom. "These are your days; this is your life. This is the place you live. It's an aesthetic appreciation. People feel it's indulgent, but if you have the space to do it, why not?"