One Step at a Time

Some people may consider Ronnie and Tina Schwartz determined. Others might refer to them as visionaries. Anyone who was involved with the purchase and design of their home, however, would probably just call them stubborn.

The Schwartzes bought their first home in Ponte Vedra Beach, a 1,500-square-foot traditional one-story on Solana Road, in the early 1990s. By 2001, the couple had three kids and had outgrown the house. Originally, Ronnie and Tina, who wanted to stay in their neighborhood, thought it would be more cost-effective to add a second story to their existing house than purchase a new model double its size in Ponte Vedra Beach. But after working with an architect to draw up plans for the addition, they soon realized remodeling wasn't the cost-effective solution they previously believed.

At the time, there weren't many homes for sale in the area, let alone any they could afford, so Ronnie would drive the neighborhood looking for newly listed properties. Pablo Road was of particular interest to them since there was considerably less traffic than Solana Road, making it safer for their kids to ride their bikes and play outside. Plus, Tina's mother lived down the street.

Determined to find a house in their price range (OK, maybe even a little obsessed), Ronnie drove up and down Pablo Road on a daily basis, sometimes more than once a day, looking for houses for sale. One Saturday, he finally got a sign (a "for sale" sign, that is) in a front yard just 10 houses away from Tina's mom's. That same day, the Schwartzes and a realtor were taking a tour of the place and by the following day, they had a contract on it.

At 3,300 square feet, the house was certainly big enough for the family of five, but the '70s ranch style architecture and equally dated interior weren't exactly what Tina had in mind for their new contemporary home. The exterior was covered in bluish-gray plywood siding, the front porch in red tile and the backyard in pavers. Inside, the home was a potpourri of knickknacks, lacy curtains and (1970s flashback warning…) director's chairs.
The bigger problem, however, went far beyond design choices like window treatments, furniture or paint colors. The biggest obstacle was the walls themselves.

Ronnie and Tina desired an open floor plan for their new home, but the house they bought was very segmented. The foyer, which opens onto the formal living room, was small and confined. Walls and rows of cabinets surrounded the kitchen on every side, making it feel boxed in. The family room was shut off from the Florida room. Strangest of all was a spare bedroom and full bathroom located behind the kitchen that could only be accessed through a door in the garage.
Fortunately, the Schwartzes were able to visualize the space without barriers and knew they could eventually get to the open space they envisioned. And it didn't hurt that Ronnie is a mechanical engineer and had an understanding of what walls could be demolished and where doors could be added.

Because of the extensive remodeling that would be necessary to create the sense of flow they wanted in their home, the couple briefly considered tearing down the house and starting from scratch but decided against it since the house had good bones, and Tina actually liked the layout of the house. "From the first time I walked in the house, it made me feel good," she recalls. "I grew up in a house similar to this one. I liked all of the bedrooms being together, so it just felt comfortable to me. And I could see the potential."

Instead, they opted for a room-by-room remodel, which enabled them to pay for each project as they went, and they would still be able to live in the house during construction, a big plus when you have three small children.
While the Schwartzes agree that the house was far from contemporary in design, Ronnie says they eventually realized that wasn't necessarily a bad thing. Aside from being outdated, the house was "spotless" and didn't require any repair work. And the fact that it hadn't been updated since the 1980s actually made it easier to remodel.

According to Ronnie, the goal for the entire house was to make it "as open as possible, modernize and make it more eco-friendly." And where better to start than the heart of the home? After gutting the kitchen, they reconfigured the entire space. They took out the wall separating the kitchen from the family room and added an island. They sealed up the door leading from the kitchen to the garage and created a new entrance from the main house to the guest suite. They replaced the appliances, retiled the walls and completely redesigned the cabinetry, much to their kitchen designer's dismay.

"I don't like clutter, and I didn't want to see a lot of stuff. I wanted a clean look," Tina says. "They'd try to tell me, 'Don't do it in white. Ick.' But I already knew what I wanted, and I didn't care what anyone else thought." Judging from the sleek Luxor custom cabinetry Tina chose, accented with stainless drawer pulls and handles, granite counter top and glass wall tiles, she was obviously wise to stick to her guns. In all, the project took about three months, during which time the Schwartzes had to make do without a sink or oven and keeping their perishables in a refrigerator in the garage. "It wasn't easy," Tina recalls, "but it was all worth it in the end."

The remaining projects were slightly less involved than the kitchen but no less important to the overall look of the house. They made the sunken Florida room level with the main house, raised the ceiling and merged it with the existing screened-in patio which they had enclosed (after they removed the hot tub) and converted the disjointed rooms into a spectacular open space that serves as a sophisticated yet comfortable dining area, TV room and lounge. The guest suite off the kitchen was reconfigured and now includes a mud room with storage and laundry room, and doubles as Ronnie's office. All of the bathrooms were gutted, repainted, retiled and refitted with more modern fixtures. The entryway was opened up and now looks through the house into the backyard across the lagoon and Ponte Vedra Golf and Country Club.

It's taken nearly 10 years, but the house is finally where Ronnie and Tina want it; though, the fact that Tina is already getting sick of some of the furniture and art work may mean it's time for another update.  ]