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Renovation Stories
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Going From Dated
to Dramatic


We Can Help You Envision Your Vision


This Homeowner
Had a Vision


This Old House
is New Again

Creating the Master Bath of Your Dreams

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Going from Dated to Dramatic


We’re always pleased when a homeowner we’ve worked with calls us with another project. And that’s exactly what happened at this West Chester home. James C Schell, LLC had been brought in to do some work on the homeowners’ recently flooded basement. We had barely finished the basement when the homeowners asked us to quote a complete kitchen renovation. All parties involved are pleased with the outcome of the project, proving that collaboration can deliver really spectacular results.


Our clients knew that the kitchen would serve as the central hub for their family activities. Classic white shaker style cabinetry was central to the vision they communicated to us in their initial meetings and in the collection of images they provided via their Houzz portfolio. Other items on their “wish list”: stacked wall cabinets with upper glass display doors, taking the cabinetry all the way to the ceiling to eliminate the dust shelf, and moving the fridge to a more convenient location.


The kitchen turned out better than they envisioned. “It felt like a partnership,” the homeowners said about working with us. For example, they wanted a stunning range hood to be a focal point in the kitchen. They scoured the internet for just the right hood; we found a supplier that could deliver it. Once that was selected other details, like large cove crown molding to complement the curves of the range hood, were added. Our clients also found the microwave they wanted, working with specifications we provided based on the location chosen for it. The microwave is in the big 8-foot island that also has deep drawers for pots and pans and a nifty, foot-activated pop-out trash can – a “must have” for the family.


The homeowners worked with a designer to choose materials and finishes. Jim did 3-D renderings that illustrated the designer’s ideas. The counters are white Carrera quartz, a handsome and durable kitchen surface. We replaced the flooring with 5” strand woven bamboo planks with a dark java stain. They make the whole room pop. Another neat touch: the picture-framed tile accent over the sink.  It’s the same crackled gray as the subway tile and it was an essential design element to balance the dramatic stove hood.


“They really cared about how we had to live through this,” the homeowners said.  “You could see the progress being made…they were working on it every day.”  Sticking to a project until it’s done is a Schell trademark—we know how inconvenient a home renovation is and always try to make it as easy as possible for homeowners. Before work began, we even moved the microwave and gas stove to the finished basement giving them a working kitchen for meals and Christmas cookies.


We’re delighted that this family now has the kitchen of their dreams. Making that happen for homeowners is one of the joys of our job.


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Envision Your Vision—See it before we build it.


You may have seen something similar on HGTV—when the host/contractor pulls out his or her iPad and shows the homeowners how the renovated room will look when completed. It’s great technology and here at James C Schell, LLC we’re using it to work with our clients.


The family that uses this kitchen wanted to get rid of their peninsula and have us build an island. But they were afraid an island might take up too much space. We showed them it wouldn’t. We also showed them that by angling the end cabinet, it would open up the path from the breakfast area. It’s great technology. Let’s use it to plan your next project.

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Creating the Master Bath of Your Dreams 


It’s said that re-doing a kitchen or bath delivers the best return for your money. That may be so, but this client won’t be testing the theory anytime soon. Her recently renovated master bath is exactly what she wanted and she plans to enjoy it for years to come. We started by moving a wall and “stealing” 12 inches from the master bedroom. It’s amazing how far that 12 inches went. With the added space, we were able to relocate the toilet. And by doing so we could give the homeowner the longer vanity she craved. We were also able to add recessed shelving so toiletries could be neatly organized in baskets and bins. And to give the homeowner even more space in the bathroom, we used a sliding door between the bath and the master bedroom.


Most strikingly, we replaced the dated tub/shower combination with a beautiful new frameless glass walk-in shower. The client wanted the tile to run all the way to the ceiling in the shower and that gives the space a clean, spa look. She was also particular about the shelving in the shower and actually gave us one of her shampoo bottles to make sure we got the height right. The recessed shower shelving keeps everything in its place. One other favorite feature of her new shower is the fan. “It’s so quiet,” she says, yet it gets rid of steam quickly and effectively.


New lighting over the vanity, new flooring and paint, and—voila!—the master bath of her dreams. Start to finish, the project took about three weeks and as far as the homeowner is concerned it was well worth it. 

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This Homeowner Had A Vision


The homeowner had used James C Schell, LLC previously to work on another project—gutting and renovating the master bath. That job turned out very well and the homeowner told us she had other plans for “freshening up” her house. 


Next on her list was the family room, in particular the boring brick fireplace. “I showed Jim a couple of different pictures of designs that I liked,” said the homeowner. “We kept tweaking it and tweaking it—ultimately it was my idea and his design—and it came out very nicely.”  


In the inspiration photo on the board and batten surround was only part of the wall. But we decided that for our client’s home, the board and batten surrounding the fireplace would cover the whole wall and become a handsome focal point. 


We started by tearing out some of the brick surround, the cement mantle and the brick corbels that supported the heavy mantle.  Some of the brick surround was retained for the firebox. From there we built out the wall to create a solid, smooth and uniform base which became the “board” in our board and batten design. In a true board and batten panel or wall, the battens hide the seams between the boards. In this case we created the same effect but used just a few large pieces of board.  Sometimes this technique is called “picture-framing” because you’re framing the individual boards with battens.


The design required precision and symmetry and we used a computer program to help with the layout and measurements. Some of the moldings and trim came from specialty suppliers but some had to be custom-fabricated in our shop. All of the moldings were cut and fitted on-site to be sure the pieces came together snugly. We also wired the mantle and installed a low-profile white outlet so the homeowner can plug in a clock or a lamp or Christmas decorations.


One not-so-small hiccup in the job was when we discovered that a section of the ceiling was bowed. But that was remedied and the ceiling was given a new coat of paint. The finished board and batten wall, and the entire room, was then painted and the job was done. Our client is thrilled—it looks just like the fireplace design she found online. By changing one wall—albeit, a rather complicated change—this homeowner has given her suburban tract home a custom look.

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This Old House is New Again


Built in 1898, the Queen Anne Victorian had been rented to students in recent years, and the wear and tear had taken its toll—on the house, its twin, and the neighborhood. But the owner of the adjacent twin, knew it could be a nice home and an asset to the neighborhood. He also wanted to make the property look like one home as he had seen done with other twins in the area. He and his father, persuaded the owner to sell the twin and commenced its historic restoration.


But even before they bought the property they brought us in to talk about their vision, turning to James C Schell, LLC with a realistic budget and a 6-month timeframe for completing the work. Included on our to-do list: rebuild the front steps, make improvements to the exterior so that the façade mirrored its twin, and give the porch and trim a good paint job. We cleaned up the nest of old cable and phone lines and hid them inside the walls. And we repaired the southeast corner of the roof at the soffit which had been patched with duct tape and chicken wire.  


Inside the work was more dramatic. We gutted and renovated the kitchen. To make the space more usable we removed a crumbling chimney that originally served the wood-fired stove and ran from the basement all the way up through the second floor. In deciding what to keep and what to get rid of, we were extremely selective. We retained as much of the original millwork as possible, refinishing the wooden hutch in the pantry and the front door. Other original millwork like the casings, baseboards and newel post finials were repaired or reproduced and painted. The ornamental cast metal grates that are part of the heating system were stripped and refinished.


Less dramatic to the eye but important to neighbors, the main staircase which had been poorly rebuilt years earlier was in need of a “de-squeaking.” Now one can run up and down the solidly built stairs without disturbing a family member or neighbor.


We also did a lot to make the house more comfortable for today’s residents. We moved the washer and dryer from the front hallway to the basement. We then used that space for a powder room. We removed the former powder room which was located off the dining room and we turned the dining room into some much-needed closet space. We renovated the second floor bathroom with all new plumbing fixtures--tub, surround, sink, toilet--new vanity cabinets and countertop. And we installed new ductwork so the heating system works more efficiently and effectively.

Practical, behind-the-walls work included new electric and new plumbing. The old wooden double-hung windows, many with their original “antique” glass, were repaired and repainted, their counter weights were reattached with chains and they were put back into service. And because most of the paint on the interior trim and the exterior surfaces contained lead, containment, preparation, and cleanup of those areas had to be handled in accordance with rules from the EPA.


It was quite a complex and time consuming task, but it turned out wonderfully!

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