Many people who buy a home that hasn’t been updated since the 1950s would want to do a major renovation before moving in. However, Belmont residents Rita and Sarkis Chekijian did the reverse. They purchased a home and decided to live in it first with their three children before making any decisions about the renovation.
After selling their Watertown home, they moved in with Sarkis’s parents on Woodfall Road in Belmont while looking for a place to live. What was supposed to be a few months turned into 18 months before they learned about a home just a few doors down the street.
The owner had died and the Chekijians were able to purchase 56 Woodfall Road in 2014 for $850,000 through a private sale. It’s a ranch-style home built in 1956 with four bedrooms, a two-car garage, living room, dining room, kitchen and three full bathrooms.
Now, eight years later and a little longer than they originally planned, they have temporarily moved out of their home while it is partially gutted for updated electrical wiring, a major renovation of the kitchen and bathrooms and the addition of a new half bathroom, family room, four-season sun room, exercise room, storage closets and a farmer’s porch.
Why they waited
It was not their dream house, but the Chekijians said they loved the neighborhood and location down the street from Sarkis’s parents, who bought their home in 1989.
They knew they wanted to make changes to the house, but felt it was important to get a feel for the space first.
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While they would have liked to start their project sooner, COVID and the availability of the contractor, Dream Builders Construction and Design of Rhode Island, delayed the project. This gave them time to rework their ideas and work with an architect on a design they are happy with.
The Chekijians are the general contractors on their project and have hired all their own sub-contractors to do the work.
Challenges of holding off on renovations
When they first moved in, Rita said it was not easy going from the brand new kitchen they had in Watertown to the smaller, older kitchen in the Woodfall Road home. It didn’t have enough storage or counterspace for the appliances her daughters wanted for baking.
Sarkis said they like to entertain, but because both their families are large, when it came time for birthday parties, they had to wait for warmer weather to host outdoors, or have two parties, one for each side of the family.
History of the property
The original owners, the Ponn family, purchased the land in 1955 to build the home where they spent the rest of their lives.
When the Chekijians bought it, everything in the home was original, even the yellow appliances. There was wallpaper, shag carpet, yellow and brown tile in the bathrooms, and Formica countertops and cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms.
Rita said the bathrooms were in good condition, although they were small and dated. She was also impressed with the number of closets, including a very large linen closet.
Changes to improve their space
The Chekijians hired architect Diane Miller and came up with a plan they revised five times before finalizing it.
Miller said she has had many clients who live in their homes first before embarking on renovation projects.
“One advantage of living in a space for a while is that you really get to know how your family operates in the space on a daily basis and that an really help inform a design,” said Miller, quoting Winston Churchill: “We shape our buildings. Thereafter, they shape us.”
Rita didn’t know if she would like living in a ranch home as she had always lived in a colonial or cape-style home. One benefit of living in the home first was that they quickly realized they liked one-level living.
They originally thought they would want to add a larger addition to gain a primary suite. However, after seeing the initial design by Miller and thinking about their wants and needs in the immediate long term future, they decided they didn’t need to go as big.
“We don’t want a gigantic house, but we wanted a house with a family room, larger kitchen, more open space for the main living area and I think we accomplished that with what we decided to do,” said Rita.
Their plan will grow their house from 2,200 square feet to 3,200 square feet, not including the finished basement.
Miller’s plan adds a 24-foot-by-27-foot addition which will add eight additional feet to the kitchen and dining room and give them a new family room. They are also adding a 20-foot-by-14-foot four-season sunroom to the side of the house and wrap-around farmer’s porch in the front.
The addition also includes a full foundation which will give the Chekijians an additional room in the basement with a wall of closet space for storage and space for exercise equipment.
Changes to the existing space
In the foyer, which opens into the living room, ceilings have been removed and reframed using part of the attic space to create a 13-foot cathedral ceiling.
The front entrance is being relocated a few feet to make room for a new half bathroom and foyer closet.
They are also making the primary bathroom larger by taking over part of an existing linen closet. They are adding double sink vanities to both upstairs bathrooms and putting in new toilets, linen closets and tile.
Rita is excited about the new kitchen, but even more so about the farmer’s porch addition, which she says was her main motivation for entire project.
“The home I grew up in had a farmer’s porch,” said Rita. She still loves going to her parents’ house and having coffee on their front porch.
Home’s value before and after
Rita, who is a Realtor with Real Estate Advisors Group in Watertown, has learned from her experience how much value an additional bathroom or bedroom adds to a home.
Their home in its “before” state, 1950s original, would sell for about $1.8 million in the current market, she said.
After the renovation, the home in today’s market will be worth about $2.7 million, according to Rita.
However, she said they plan to stay long term which is another contributing factor to how they designed their plans.