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By Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub

RISMEDIA, May 19, 2008-(MCT)-Ronald Episcopo and Glenn Jones knew exactly where they wanted to live. For months, they drove the streets of Harbor Isles in Pompano Beach, Fla., looking for their dream house. The stable neighborhood had few houses for sale. And those that were for sale didn’t seem right. Until the day Jones found “the house.”

He slammed on the brakes when he saw the For Sale sign in front of the yellow ranch house and called the phone number on the sign. The owner told him the back door was unlocked and he could go in. Immediately he knew he was home.

“I do think houses talk to you,” he said. “I get a feeling when I walk into a house, and this seemed like a happy house.”

When he brought his partner to see the place, Episcopo agreed.

“I thought this was going to be a lot of work, but I also thought it had good bones,” he said.

They came back four or five times, looking at the home that was built in 1961, and discussed what needed to be done. No one had lived in the house for five years. The yard was a mess. The pool was empty. The house needed to be gutted, and the rooms needed to be opened up to accommodate their lifestyle. They knew they were facing a large renovation bill, but they also saw great potential.

“We felt like the Clampetts,” Episcopo said, referring to the 1960s TV comedy “The Beverly Hillbillies.” From December 2004 to April 2005, they lived in one room while the contractors gutted and rehabbed. Their appliances were an old refrigerator, an ice chest and a barbecue grill. They either cooked on the grill or went out to eat.

Here are some details of their four-month odyssey:

The surprise: One day they came home and discovered the contractor had knocked down all the inside walls. The only thing left was a blue toilet sitting in the middle of the space. They also discovered termites had eaten through the studs hidden behind the walls in the kitchen. Luckily, the trusses supported the house.

The terrazzo: They loved the original terrazzo hidden under carpeting, but between the damage from the carpet glue and the large brick planters they removed, it couldn’t be saved. They toyed with wood floors until Jones realized one of the things that made the house so appealing was the light floors. So they splurged-$18,000-and installed 24-by-24 marble tiles throughout the 1,700-square-foot house.

The French door dilemma: They planned to install French doors until they realized how expensive they were and how much they loved that the sliding glass doors disappeared into the walls, making the house perfect for large parties.

The obstacle: They agreed on everything except the color of the granite counter tops. Episcopo wanted white; Jones wanted black. They compromised on a reddish brown with a large pattern that reminds Jones of balloons.

The kitchen: The design was out-of-date and didn’t have a single electrical outlet for small appliances. They wanted something sleek and Euro. Their goal: To make it look more like a work of art than a kitchen. They removed a window so they could get a linear look, imported red enamel and cherry cabinets from Italy and installed stainless steel appliances. The damage? $20,000.

The master bedroom: A wall was knocked down to merge two small bedrooms into a larger master bedroom. It had only one small closet so the far wall was made into a large closet with frosted glass doors from Ikea that were meant for wardrobes.

The bathroom: The small bathroom, off the new master bedroom, had old fixtures and an exterior door that was falling off the hinges. Because both men are tall, the cabinets are kitchen-counter height to make them more comfortable. They added sculptural fixtures from Villeroy & Boch.

The doors: To continue the modern feel, all of the inside doors have a large panel of frosted glass in the center.

The furnishings: Jones, a hair stylist, was minimalist. (He lived in his condo for 18 years and friends would still ask when he moved in because they thought it wasn’t finished.) Episcopo, regional sales manager for LexisNexis, was more traditional. The result was a mixture of styles. “I had to learn to live with a little more and he had to learn to live with a little less,” Jones said.

The garden: The pool was a mess and the landscaping consisted of a few palm trees and a fence. Jones taught himself about gardening and asked questions at Nu-Turf and Sunkist in Pompano Beach. His favorite area is a pond in the back of the garden that he created as a tribute to his best friend and his former partner. Both were cremated and their ashes are inside a pair of obelisks with gas torches in the top.

The total cost of the redo? About $75,000.

Although renovations have been known to strain or even break up many relationships, they got through it without problems.

Their advice on how to get through renovations?

“Compromise,” Episcopo said. “Don’t dig in.”

“You have to have a sense of humor,” Jones added.

How They Shop

Ronald Episcopo and Glenn Jones are the masters of what design magazines call “high and low” design.

They shop everywhere-from Rooms to Go, to consignment shops to high-end stores. Episcopo’s favorite auction site is eBay, where he bought the gondola sofa and its new upholstery, a $70 signed figure lamp from the 1950s, two chairs and a rug. Their china closet is from Rooms to Go and they found authentic Harry Bertoia diamond chairs in northern Florida.

Episcopo’s eBay tips:

Research what you want on other Internet sites to see if the price and the quality are in line. Also, check to see what people have to say about the style. Reviewers said the style of the gondola sofa looked great but was uncomfortable. He found they were right.

Check out the seller. Look for someone with a large volume of sales and who has as close to 100% positive ratings.

© 2008, South Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.