“Behind the Curtin” provides an inside look at local homeowners’ beautifully-crafted houses, giving insight into what it takes to renovate, upgrade, and style the most coveted parts of their dream homes. In this video series, industry expert and business owner Joanne Curtin explores local homes while interviewing their owners who live well in their homes to better understand their thought processes when making important decisions. Join Joanne to get a look into the world of luxurious real estate one wonderful home at a time.
“Behind the Curtin” Episode 5 – A Fixer Upper in A Golf Community in Milton, Georgia
Aleisha and Chris Porto live in Milton, Georgia with their two children. Recently, Aleisha and Chris renovated a home in the golf community of White Columns.
Joanne: So, where did you and Chris live before you moved to this house?
Aleisha: We lived a mile from downtown Roswell in a smaller home. It was a good first home.
Joanne: What made you want to move?
Aleisha: We had updated almost every single square foot of our old home. And we had people knocking at the door asking to buy our house. A young couple made an amazing offer on our house. And I really connected with her.
We needed a bigger house. We have two very active boys and we had no backyard. And so that was really what started it and then it slowly progressed from looking in Roswell to Milton. Our design studio is in Milton and a lot of our clients are in Milton, so I know the area well. And the more we looked, the more we loved these homes with larger lots.
Joanne: And what made you pick this house specifically?
Aleisha: Our realtor appeared genuinely taken aback when she discovered that we had different plans in mind. Initially, she was eager to showcase the stunning homes, particularly the new builds, such as those in Toll Brothers and Milton Overlook. But then we started contemplating the value we would receive for our investment. And we both have professional expertise in home design. My husband possesses excellent handyman skills, while I have a clear vision for what I want to achieve with our future home.
I expressed my desire to explore homes that required some fixing up but had already undergone updates. Our realtor proceeded to show us a few options, and one in particular caught our interest. However, after conducting an inspection, we realized that the required repairs would far outweigh any aesthetic improvements. The house’s structural elements needed attention, leading us to ultimately walk away from that opportunity.
During my search, I stumbled upon another house that piqued my curiosity. Since my husband, Chris, was out of town, I enlisted the help of my dad, who, like my husband, is quite skilled in handy work. Chris even asked my dad to assess certain aspects like plumbing, HVAC, and so on while he was there.
Upon entering the house, it was immediately apparent that it was in a state of disarray. Nevertheless, I made a conscious effort to overlook the mess and focus on the layout and potential. In fact, I walked straight through the house to the back deck, where I laid eyes on the backyard. It was exactly what we had envisioned when considering a location like Milton—a spacious yard perfect for entertaining, with ample grass space and even a pool. It checked all the boxes: a desirable neighborhood, a backyard that met our criteria, and a reputable school district, not to mention the ideal number of rooms.
Joanne: How did you improve the value of the house?
Aleisha: Firstly, we prioritized the essential tasks and checked them off the list. The HVAC system required replacement, and the pool pump needed fixing. We hired someone to repair the large fridge instead of replacing it, considering the cost. Additionally, we had to re-service and level the septic system. We removed some dangerous trees, including a beautiful one that was planted in the wrong spot and too close to the roof in front of the house.
We also had to inspect and replace some missing boards on the back deck, and fix the completely dilapidated under decking to ensure proper drainage during rainfall. This was crucial because the previous work was not done correctly, causing water damage.
To increase the property value, we added hardwood floors in the upstairs catwalk, the downstairs sitting room, and the main staircase. We also refinished all the floors and redid the entire stair system, including the spindles, bolsters, and handrails.
We made significant changes to the house, including replacing every light fixture and fan and updating all the lighting. We also repainted every surface inside and outside the house. In addition, we removed several outdated archways that didn’t make much sense in their placement. To create a more modern look, we opened up our columns and updated all of them. We also removed some of the dated wall niches and completed a lot of drywall work, as there were numerous holes in the walls. We also added new carpet.
When we first inspected the house, we were impressed with the state-of-the-art appliances. We were delighted to find that the original owners had installed high-quality Viking and Sub-Zero appliances, as well as a top-of-the-line whole-home humidifier system. The pool was also well-maintained, heated, and equipped with a saltwater system. However, the upkeep of the property had been neglected, so we had to restore and update it to bring it back to its former glory.
The kitchen had a fantastic layout, and the previous owners had expanded it, which was well-done. Overall, the floorplan of the house was great, but it required some much-needed TLC and updating to bring it up to standard. So, we gave it the love and care it deserved.
Joanne: What is your favorite room in the house?
Aleisha: The home has a slightly more open concept, typical of homes built in the early 2000s. As you enter, there is a formal sitting room or office and a dining room, but I appreciate that the living room is not immediately visible. The space is a little narrow, but the living room and kitchen merge into a large, open area, which is the main part of the house. I focused most of my design efforts on the kitchen, which I believe is the heart of the home. While the other rooms still needed attention, I knew that we had to renovate the kitchen while redoing the floors and painting everything. I’m thrilled with the outcome.
Joanne: What does your home offer that you feel you absolutely needed? You hinted at it earlier when you walked in and saw the mess and went straight to the backyard. What aspects of your home do you think other people might need that you have incorporated?
Aleisha: To be honest, what we have is a space that is both kid-friendly and perfect for entertaining, whether it’s adults or children. We can now host families with young kids and they have plenty to do while the adults enjoy the space as well. This was a big concern for us when we had young kids, wanting to have friends over with kids and not being able to keep an eye on them while still enjoying adult time. We wanted a space where we could all hang out and have fun while knowing the kids are safe, and that’s exactly what we have now.
Joanne: As a designer, you have a great advantage in terms of knowledge and expertise. Can you share some of your elements that you incorporated into your home?
Aleisha: To be honest, lighting played a crucial role in transforming our home. Whenever someone buys a new house or plans to update it, they often prioritize the furnishings and decor. However, creating a cohesive lighting plan that complements the overall design and style of the home is equally important. That’s why I spent a lot of time planning and selecting the right lighting fixtures for both the interior and exterior of our home. From the porch lanterns to the lighting in every room, I wanted to ensure that it all flowed together seamlessly.
Joanne: What is a splurge that you feel like you couldn’t live without in your house?
Aleisha: The splurge that I believe was totally worth it was the addition of the floor-to-ceiling limestone fireplace. While there were other options such as installing a mantel or creating a wall to add height, we decided to bring in a team of stonemasons to hand-cut each piece of limestone specifically for our fireplace. As a designer, I was able to guide the process and determine the placement of each piece. The result is a stunning 20-foot limestone fireplace that adds a touch of elegance to the space. Although we could have chosen a different route, I believe the investment was worth it in the end.
Joanne: Throughout this entire process, what have you learned as both the client and the designer?
Aleisha: Living outside of the house during the renovation process was a nice break, but as a designer and client, I always emphasize to my clients the importance of being present and checking in regularly. Even though we weren’t physically living in the home, I was here every day, working and overseeing the progress of the contractors. Contractors may not always understand your vision, so it’s important to communicate clearly and often. I found that constant communication with the contractors, general manager, and tradespeople was like holding hands and made a huge difference. I learned that things will inevitably change during the process, so it’s important to be adaptable and open to pivoting as needed.
Joanne: What would you do different?
Aleisha: I would have devoted more time to carefully selecting and vetting my contractors. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we were unable to meet with potential contractors and had to start work immediately after closing on the house. Since it was a foreclosure, there was uncertainty as to whether we would even be able to secure the property. This put us under a lot of stress and we ended up hiring some contractors who did subpar work. At the time, we just wanted to move in and put these issues behind us, but in hindsight, I wish we had taken the time to properly vet our contractors before signing any contracts with them. We now have to go back and fix some of the shoddy paintwork and other problems that could have been avoided if we had more time to plan and select our contractors carefully.
Joanne: What would you like to do next?
Aleisha: I am considering investing a bit more into our backyard, which happens to be my favorite place. Although we have primarily focused on furnishing the interior with any extra funds we had, our outdoor furniture is currently outdated and mostly comprised of hand-me-downs. As we spend most of our time in the warmer months entertaining in the backyard with friends and neighbors, it would be lovely to spruce it up with beautiful outdoor furniture and custom grill for an outdoor kitchen. Making it a more inviting and enjoyable space to spend time in.
Joanne: What do you think are some things that you should not skimp on? If people are considering home renovation or buying a fixer upper? What should they not skimp on?
Aleisha: One valuable lesson I learned is to never skimp on the expertise of tradespeople involved in renovations or moving. It’s crucial to hire professionals you trust and who are knowledgeable in their field. Even when receiving quotes from painters, I inquire about the paint they plan to use because opting for cheap, generic options may end up costing more in the long run. I always recommend high-quality paint brands like Benjamin Moore or Farrow & Ball to my clients, as store-matched colors are not the same as the original quality. Cheaper quotes from contractors may be due to the use of low-quality paint, which can lead to poor results and may not last as long. This is especially important for families with children who require durable and easy-to-clean paint that won’t yellow over time.
Joanne: Speaking of materials, you mentioned using limestone for the fireplace, and I’m curious about the materials you used for your staircase and flooring. Did you replace any materials, and if so, what did you choose as replacements?
Aleisha: We removed the leopard carpet in the basement staircase and added real hardwood floors that match the existing red oak floors. We also added iron spindles to the staircase and continued the red oak upstairs in the two rooms where we removed the carpet. Initially, I wanted to bleach the floors for a more modern look, but I decided against it and went with a 50/50 blend of a darker stain with a matte finish, which is better for kids and dogs. We also used marble in the kitchen but opted for a granite that looks like soapstone on the island for durability. For the fireplace, we used limestone and had a cabinet maker custom create new doors, a vent hood, a kitchen table, and a mantel to match my desired style.