GLENVILLE — Ani and Zack Port were about to close on a house in Glenville when COVID moved in.
The couple was excited to find a home with more space for their growing family in a friendly neighborhood just blocks from Pashley Elementary School, where the two had met in fourth grade. The circa 1959 split-level needed some fixing up, but they were OK with that.
The closing was planned for the end of February. As the date approached, the Ports, who have a 2-year-old son and another child on the way, scrambled to get ready. They lined up a contractor to perform renovations, arranged for a place to stay while construction was underway and stashed stuff in storage.
Then, everything came to a screeching halt.
COVID-19-related restrictions turned their home-buying endeavor into a nonessential transaction. The closing was bumped to March. Then it was postponed again, then again.
“That month, I kind of thought maybe we’d never move,” admitted Ani. “It was just a really weird in-between that seemed to stretch forever.”
The closing finally happened on March 27. Due to COVID restrictions, the paperwork had to be signed without a final walk-through of the property.
Post-closing accommodations had to be rearranged due to COVID concerns. The Ports had planned to move into a relative’s home for between four and six weeks while renovations were completed at their new place. They instead stayed with Zack’s parents for just five days, then moved into their new home, which was still very rough around the edges.
“It was a mad scramble to make the kitchen usable, which our moms came over to help with. There was mouse poop all over the countertops,” Ani recounted. “We didn’t have a shower for about a month, or a bath for our son, Finn, so we had to take him over to one of the parents’ houses.”
Although the Ports moved in sooner than expected, renovation work took much longer than anticipated thanks to COVID-related complications. Early on, only one worker was allowed to be at the house at a time, and acquiring materials took longer than usual, Zack said.
“It was already such a frenzied situation, living in a pandemic, living in a home that’s being renovated, while pregnant, with a toddler,” Ani said. “It really did force us to slow down and adjust our expectations. Looking back now, March seems like years ago because we’ve had to just slow down so much.”
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The couple, with help from family, took on some of the work themselves, including bathroom demolition, tile-laying and finish plumbing. They ripped out wall-to-wall shag carpet and Zack used a restorer product to spruce up the worn oak floors beneath.
The complicated projects were tackled by Vince Dunn of Dunn-Rite Construction.
“We ended up having to tear out and rebuild part of the foundation, redid the roof, put on gutters. There were pieces of the siding that had been completely pulverized by woodpeckers,” Ani recalled.
The roofing job was on hold until the end of July when COVID-related work restrictions were scaled back and a crew could get the job done.
Ani said she quickly learned how expensive home renovations can be.
“I was thinking of all these things we could do,” she said. “For me, it was like, ‘Kitchen and bathrooms; we’re going to make them beautiful, and we can do all these other things,’ and Zack was like, ‘Well, do you know the roof is going to cost almost $10,000? That’s about one-sixth of our budget right there.’ ”
The Ports stretched their budget by seeking out bargains and freebies on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace — and along the side of the road.
A vintage wooden sign that hangs in the entryway was a free roadside find. In weathered letters it reads, “Stop at The Whipple Tree – First Quality Hot Dogs and Hamburgs – Ice Cream.” The sign inspired the name for Ani’s natural wellness business, The Whipple Tree.
Long before the Glenville home was officially theirs, Zack found a mid-century sideboard on Craigslist for $150. He thought it would make a great bathroom vanity. Ani wasn’t so sure.
“It had stickers all over it and wasn’t refinished. It had water stains,” she explained.
Zack refinished the piece, put a coat of epoxy on top to make it waterproof and turned it into an eye-catching double vanity. The new focal point helped transform a bathroom originally decorated in what Zack called a “late-70s grandma” theme.
The makeover also included the addition of a vintage clawfoot tub found on Facebook Marketplace for $150. Classic white subway tile replaced the pink tile. The wall behind the new vanity, previously papered in a busy floral print, was painted a cheery coral.
The home’s master bath also received budget-friendly upgrades. Zack found a mint-green metal pedestal sink on Craigslist for $50 to replace a dated, space-hogging vanity. The walls were updated with quirky wallpaper that sports tropical leaves and clothed animals. Zack built the shelf that hangs behind the toilet. Silver sink fixtures were a gift from a friend. The couple’s big splurge was a space-saving corner shower.
Other rooms in the house needed less work. Once heavy old curtains were taken down and a fresh coat of paint was applied to the walls, the main living area became a bright, airy space. In the adjacent dining room, a sliding glass door was installed in place of a picture window with a rotting frame. The kitchen simply required a coat of paint, although matching appliances are on the wish list.
On the home’s lower level, the den’s water-stained drop ceiling was replaced with wallboard. A half-bath, previously decorated with busy wallpaper and bright red trim, has been painted a pretty terracotta color and a vintage cast iron sink Zack found on the side of the road has been installed.
The bedrooms and office on the upper level were painted and hardwood floors revealed. Doors were removed from a small wall cubby in Finn’s room and the space was transformed into a reading nook complete with throw pillows and a recessed light.
Damaged cedar shakes were replaced on the home’s exterior. The garage doors were pressure-washed and now look like new. A flagstone walkway was taken back from encroaching weeds and the pine trees crowding the house were taken down. The couple painted the white front door purple to set off its art deco wood pattern. The bay window that faces the street was scraped and painted. Zack printed out their house number on his 3-D printer and hung it out front.
Now that the renovation work is behind them, the Ports are enjoying their home. They’ve spent more time there than expected due to concerns about COVID, but said they don’t mind.
“I think it’s made us value our space even more, just because Finn and I weren’t going to the library, weren’t going to the playground, weren’t going to play dates like we normally would be during the day. So it was like, ‘Wow, this space has so much value,’ ” Ani said.
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