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Family enjoys renovating Highland Park home

Stephanie Lewand found herself pregnant each time she and her husband, Lee, renovated their 1912 Georgian farmhouse in Highland Park.

The first renovation took place when they moved into the home on Elgin Street five years ago, when Stephanie was pregnant with Ramsey. The couple has two daughters, Taylor, 10 and Julia, 7. Stephanie was pregnant with 1-month-old Christian during their latest renovations.

"We did the dirty renovation within three months of moving in," Stephanie says.

The couple hired someone to take out the avocado-green shag carpeting that filled the house and pull up the vinyl flooring in the kitchen. New floor coverings, including ceramic tile in the kitchen, were laid. They removed the yellow-plastic tiles on the kitchen walls and ceiling and repainted the entire house, from top to bottom. All utilities were upgraded.

"The annual gas bill had been $4,200 when we moved in," her husband Lee, a self-employed construction consultant, says. "The furnace looked like a Volkswagen Rabbit. It was huge. We've been able to cut that bill in half."

A gleaming black-granite floor in the foyer was installed; and the couple stripped and stained the staircase a magnificent walnut shade.

"The foyer is what sold us on the house," recalls Stephanie, 41, who works as a nurse. "We saw the staircase and the little curved window at the landing."

Ralph Karsh, a downtown attorney, grew up in the Lewand's home and remembers the graceful staircase well.

"My one sister, Harriet, was married in the house, and I got married in the house," he recalls. "That one curved window -- we'd stop for a photo op. We loved the house. It was a great house even before they renovated it. It's a beautiful house."

Lee Lewand, 42, says they saw the house on a Saturday and made an offer that night.

"We paid $186,000," he says. "We got a call from Ralph who wanted to push (the closing) back a couple of weeks because his sisters wanted to see the house one more time. They had good memories. They really enjoyed the house as much as we enjoy it."

In the kitchen, Lee sprayed the original metal cabinets electrostatically, so the new paint would adhere better. They knocked out a wall to open it up and installed Corian countertops and a Frigidaire gas stove with a convection oven and standard oven. The tan ceramic tile they found at Home Depot was a bargain.

"We wait until things are on sale or are discontinued -- and we like it," says Stephanie with a laugh. "This was discontinued at 60 cents a square foot."

The 30-by-15 living room, painted a muted celery shade, showcases original wooden beams on the ceiling. The ceilings throughout the house are 9 feet 6 inches high, even upstairs and on the third floor.

Carpeting was ripped out of the master bedroom to expose original oak hardwood floors. A playroom sits in between the master bedroom and the girls' room, with adjoining doors to each room from the playroom.

The carpeting in Ramsey's room was pulled up a few months ago.

The couple decided to renovate the master bathroom when Stephanie discovered she was pregnant again.

"This was a hideous pink-and-grey-tile bathroom," she recalls. "When we pulled off the pink-and-silver-foil wallpaper, we pulled off big chunks of plaster. So we did a stucco texture on the walls."

The bathroom now shines with black slate flooring, grey decoupage walls and a soundproof shower.

Lewand's au pair, Luciana Faria, 27, resides in a spacious bedroom on the third floor. There used to be a kitchen on the third floor, but the couple knocked the wall out and made it into a home office/dance room for the girls.

Laminate flooring -- the kind used on bowling alleys -- was installed in the office/dance room, Lee says.

The library on the third floor was the first room that was finished. Stephanie jokes that Lee had his library before she had her kitchen.

"All of our friends like this room the best," Lee says. "We started painting at the top (floor) and worked our way down. We covered the windows and a guy sprayed the ceilings. Sixty to 70 gallons of paint were used inside the house."

Outside, the house features a detached, one-and-a-half car garage, a free-standing, two-story playhouse for the kids, and a stone patio that Lee built himself.

"It was a concrete slab when we moved here -- and we're an outdoors kind of family," explains Stephanie.

Lee used eight tons of stone, two tons of sand and 1,000 pounds of mortar to build the patio, which is repaired every year. He also built the fish pond that sits in the back corner of the lot.

The Lewands say they'll be on the Highland Park House Tour next year, when everything is finally completed. They want to do more landscaping and repaint the inside of the house. The house tour didn't go on this year because too many homeowners are in the renovation process.

"We're getting there," Lee says. "We have a lot more work to do, but it's worth it. You're taking something and restoring it and adding value to it. We couldn't afford the same in Cranberry."

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