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House Talk

No. 8 - March, 2003

Profile of a Montclair Mediterranean-style Fixer
A talk with Michael Wharton

When Michael Wharton first saw the house he now owns within walking distance of Montclair Village, he could see its potential, although he could also see its problems! And there were definitely plenty of challenges. Sheila Sabine of Glass-Sabine remembers it well, and she recently visited Michael and his wife Monica and she was amazed and impressed with all the changes since it was purchased back in 1999. 

As described by Michael, the house was “a complete disaster” in need of maximum TLC. The previous owner had started but never completed a partial remodel of the house so there was exposed sheet rock in the hallways, water-damaged ceilings, newly-installed sliding glass doors that opened to basically nothing – just a cavernous drop into empty space, and a large unfinished basement that was nothing short of creepy and reminded Michael of something out of “Silence of the Lambs.” 

Undaunted, Michael could see potential in the basic bones of the house. Nice original Mediterranean details were stand-outs - such as the arched doorways, a stone fireplace, cathedral-style windows, intriguing alcoves and a tile roof. Michael describes the back yard as his very own piece of the Amazon rain forest even including an ancient stone ruin in one corner! Actually, the “ruin” was a wonderful stone fireplace and barbecue pit which Michael didn’t even discover for two years until he started clearing away the overgrown brush and weeds. 

The big question was where to start and Michael decided to work from the inside out. He began by patching and painting and using a lot of elbow grease but this was the easy part. 

The first major project was dealing with the bare sheet rock in the upstairs hallway. He brought in a college friend, and the two of them added crown moulding and casings, then continued the crown moulding theme in the master bedroom and the dining room. Michael remembers that “it made a huge difference, and was actually very easy to install.” The tile bath was of the Art Deco era, so he found a sink and fixtures to match the period. The hardwood floors came to life through a stroke of luck. A cleaning service used a solution that left stains on the floors, so they re-finished all the floors for free revealing their hidden beauty. 

Next, Michael and his friends tackled the basement. Armed with crowbars and hammers they took the plunge and gutted the entire space down to the studs. They raised the level of the floor, added walls, painted and changed what had been a depressing 400 square foot empty space into a beautiful family room with an office nook, a laundry room and an updated full bath. The backyard “jungle” was cleared, covered with green grass and plants and now resembles something out of Home and Garden magazine. 

And somewhere in the middle of this massive remodeling, Michael went from bachelorhood to marriage, and now wife Monica has participated fully in the project. Using her good eye for design, she has selected warm and harmonious color schemes for each room of the house, and added tasteful furnishings. She and Michael agree that although he had made a great start, she is now taking the project a few steps further with the perfect finishing touches. 

When Sheila asked Michael what advice he would give to others interested in taking on such a project, here’s what he said: “Do as much as you can by yourself. However, know your limitations, and get professional expertise when it is needed.” “Watch and learn from the professionals. I carefully observed the contractors and then afterwards I did a lot of the work myself.” “Start from the inside out. I was proud and actually inspired by what I had accomplished on the interior and it gave me the impetus to tackle the exterior of the house and the necessary landscaping.” 

Among the many admirers of the fabulous changes that Michael and Monica have made are their neighbors! They are pleased and impressed with the dramatic and beautiful improvements that have occurred, and of course, Michael is also aware of the monetary factor! “I’m sitting on a mountain of equity which is great for any homeowner. Two factors have contributed to this: I bought the house in its ‘as is’ condition from an owner who was anxious to sell and move on and then I have taken a lot of time and put a lot of my own ‘sweat equity’ into the property, but it has definitely been worth it.”

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For further information or questions for our House Talk column, 
please contact Glass/Sabine by email:  Sheila@GlassSabine.com
or call us at 510-326-5055.

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