Linda Pace and David Callihan are nearing the end of a four-year project to transform a two-story concrete block eyesore into new home. Along the way they have discovered some of the pitfalls of do-it-yourself projects and learned some interesting stories about their property and neighborhood.
The Decatur couple’s Greenwood Avenue property in Oakhurst has two houses on it: the square concrete block building in the rear and a rectangular brick home in front. Built in 1947 or 1948, the concrete block building is the older of the two houses.
When Pace and Callihan bought the property in 1999, the rear house was used as a rental unit. It had a finished apartment on the second story and the first floor housed a workshop and a one-bay garage.
After Pace and Callihan’s daughter and her son moved in, they decided to turn the rear building they dubbed the “sugar cube” into their new home. “That’s why we did this,” Pace explained. “We have my grandson, who is a student at Oakhurst Elementary and we wanted to keep him in the Decatur school system.”
“Just a shoebox and a cube,” is how Callihan describes the property.
Pace and Callihan are only the property’s third owners since it was improved from a vacant lot that was first subdivided in 1911. Back then, Oakhurst was mostly undeveloped. In 1946, William D. Smith bought the lot and built the house in the rear.
Smith was an insurance salesman. He and his wife, Helen, started raising their family in the small house. By the late 1960s the family had outgrown the space and they built the house at the front of the lot. The Smiths moved into it and began renting out the rear building.
Pace is a DeKalb County public defender and Callihan is taking time off from his graphic design business to be a stay-at-home grandfather.
The duo hired Decatur architect Samantha Beaumont to come up with a design for the building rehabilitation. Beaumont’s original design included a cantilevered deck that wrapped around the second story and a flat roof.
Callihan began the work himself with help from a few friends. He ripped off the building’s hipped roof and began gutting the interior. “Our initial plan to get it done with David taking the lead on it just didn’t work out,” his wife recalled.”We couldn’t control the costs, quite frankly.”
They started the project in 2007 and by 2010 Pace and Callihan realized that they were in over their heads. They had to get a zoning variance from the City of Decatur because rear houses typically are accessory buildings, not primary residences. To get the variance, Pace and Callihan had to agree to a condition that requires one house to be owner-occupied at all times.
As Callihan kept sinking deeper and deeper in a do-it-yourself quagmire, they couple’s finances rapidly began evaporating. They were 30 percent into the project and all of their money was spent. The rear house dilemma created additional problems for them when they sought financing.
One bank told them the project didn’t fit within any lending guidelines so Pace and Callihan got a line of credit from Bond Community Federal Credit Union. The lender dispatched an appraiser and Pace and Callihan worked out an arrangement.
“We asked him to think of it as a carriage house,” Pace explained. “We asked him to look at comparables with carriage houses on the property and to come up with a comparable and he did. And he came up with a projected appraised value and they gave us a line of credit to finish it up to that appraised value.”
With their funding squared away and zoning issues resolved, Pace and Callihan hired Hammertime to pick up where Callihan left off and to complete the job.
Pace and Callihan expect the project to be completed by the end of spring. Among the changes to the original design are International-style details, including metal finishes, angular geometry and a curved roof.
The couple’s new roof is more than just a flat deck. “We decided to scrap all the decking that wrapped all around and build a deck up here instead,” said Callihan. His wife added, “This is actually a green roof with decking material on top of it. This is panels of decking material.”
The water collects beneath the synthetic deck material and is transported to gutters than will channel the runoff to cisterns. “We’re going to use it to irrigate the yard, the flowers, plants, and trees and things,” Pace said.
The project will allow Pace and Callihan to remain in Decatur, close to their family and in a house designed with their needs in mind. Pace summed it up best: “The quality of life in Decatur is fabulous. I’m a real get out and walk around — I feel safe. I feel comfortable. I get my exercise. I just love living here and it’s a great place to live.”