Labor of Love

Falling in love with a nearly 100-year-old bungalow in Ocala’s historic district was the easy part for Matt and Cindy Grow. Devoting every spare minute to more than a year of renovation proved challenging, but gave them the home of their dreams. 

Location, location, location. It’s the first rule of real estate, and what initially drew Matt and Cindy Grow to the 1925 Sears “Wellington” kit home in Ocala’s historic district.

Though not the first or only company to offer mail-order home kits, Sears, Roebuck and Co. sold more than 70,000 homes through their Modern Homes catalog from 1908 through 1940. Over that time, they offered hundreds of distinct housing styles. Sears provided all the materials and instructions, from precut timber and custom fitted materials, right down to the light fixtures, nails and varnish. The kit was then delivered via the railroad. Construction generally only required one carpenter, though many homeowners opted to construct their own homes. Many Sears Modern Homes stand today as living monuments to the quality of their craftsmanship. The Wellington model sold for around $1,800 in 1925.

The Grows spotted a for sale sign on the historic bungalow while walking from their rented house to the downtown square in the fall of 2018.

“Why not?” Cindy asked her husband. “We’re going to pay less for a mortgage than we are in rent. It’s so small we could totally renovate it. We watch enough HGTV,” she remembers with a laugh.

When they toured the 1,100-square-foot home, with its original wood floors and windows, they instantly felt a strong connection.

“It has great bones and we felt so good in here,” Cindy recalls. “We just kind of fell in love with it.”

Cindy, a nurse practitioner, and Matt, director of the Ocala International Airport, expected to do some painting and redo the bathroom and kitchen. What they didn’t expect was to find—after the house passed their buyer’s inspections—were seven leaks in the brand-new roof, termite damage in the walls and rotted floors.

Their new home revealed one unseen obstacle after another as they peeled off layers of old paint and wallpaper from the walls and four different ceilings in the living room. They found improper plumbing and electrical connections. Finally, Cindy came to the conclusion that they would need to totally gut the interior and do a complete renovation.

“When we started, I was like, ‘We’ve got to take out this, we’ve got to take out that,’ and then I said, ‘We have to demo everything,’” she recalls. “And he did not want to do it, but I convinced him,” she says, smiling at her husband. 

They can laugh about it now. Looking back, they see the long, backbreaking three-month interior demolition process as a good exercise in teamwork.

“It was crazy,” they both admit.

“We just kept saying we can do it, we can do it,” Cindy remembers. “So we just kept forging forward, watching a ton of HGTV, Googling how to build things, buying a bunch of equipment.”

To save money, they decided to tear out the old plaster walls themselves, along with the windows, rotted floors in the kitchen and bathroom, and multiple layers of water-damaged ceiling surfaces.

“We took over 14,000 pounds to the dump ourselves,” Cindy announces proudly. “We did it, just the two of us.”

From that point, Matt says, he relied on and trusted Cindy’s vision.

“I could see what it was going to look like and that it would be perfect,” she notes.

“We identified roles,” Matt remembers. “She was in charge of design and I was in charge of build.” 

Matt had never framed walls, doors or windows, or hung Sheetrock, but he never doubted he could do whatever needed to be done.

“My dad was pretty good with woodworking and building stuff,” he says. But, he admits, “there was a lot of redoing.”

Next came the important decisions of where to spend money on experts. Finding woodworker Hoss Gulick to build and install custom cabinets, Alex Manns of Golden Boy Tile to meticulously install shower and kitchen tiles according to Cindy’s vision, and Matt Marwick, the owner of Precision Floorcrafters, Inc., to restore the original wood floors and create an intricate new kitchen floor, they say, was what brought joy back to their labor of love.

“We’re so blessed with our tile guy,” Matt says. “Alex did great tile work.”

“We had dinner with him every night,” Cindy adds. “We were working on things while he was doing the tile.”

Marwick, they say, is “world famous” and “goes all over the world to do floors.” They found him to be “such a nice guy, so down to earth” as he painstakingly created a custom quilt-patterned floor around their kitchen island and repaired the damaged wood floors to tie in seamlessly with the old flooring he restored to its original beauty.

Cabinetmaker Gulick worked closely with Cindy to create her ideal kitchen.

“I love to cook,” she notes. “I want my cutting boards here, my pots and pans here. He measured everything and made everything the way we wanted it.”

That included higher-than-standard countertops at Cindy’s request as well as features like his-and-hers beer and wine refrigerators and a pull-out microwave. The kitchen island is designed not only for cooking but with three stools that give their grandchildren the perfect perch to make craft projects when they visit.

Being completely hands-on allowed Matt and Cindy to preserve their favorite original elements, including a few of the windows, which Matt cleverly installed as transoms above the doorways, and interior doors, which he reconfigured to slide barn-style to save space.

In the kitchen, they discovered a long-forgotten brick chimney beneath layers of plaster and gave it a new coat of blue paint to become a design feature in both the kitchen and bedroom. Cindy soaked and scrubbed the pantry handles to restore them to their original finish.

The way they installed a few modern conveniences, such as electric fireplaces and a hidden, drop-down TV, enhance the home’s natural beauty. The cool color palette Cindy chose, including various shades of blue accented with green, contrasts beautifully with the warmth of the wood floors.

“I like the calmness of blues. I just wanted a very calming, relaxing atmosphere,” she explains.   

And, after devoting all their free time for 13 long months to the renovation, they deserve some relaxation.

“We canceled vacations, we missed seeing grandkids,” Matt adds. “Our family thought we were crazy.”

Then, in November, they hosted their first family gathering in their new home.

“We had 16 people for Thanksgiving,” Cindy says. “We had all our family here and it worked great. They were like, ‘We cannot believe you guys did this.’”

Now, standing hand in hand in what they call their forever home, the couple is proud of what they accomplished together.

“I still love you,” he says.

“I still love you,” she replies.

“It was a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” Matt admits. “But the biggest thing that we can take out of it is we did it together.”

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