Expanding your living area
New room in Waukesha home offers more elbow space



Bob and Lois Neis’s addition to their Waukesha home blended in well
with the existing wall.

Remodeling often is done when an older home needs updating or enlarging as a family grows and changes over the years. You may live in a home that you’ve loved for a long time and you don’t want to move, or you might be happy with the location of your home because of work or school considerations. This often is the case when homeowners hire a remodeling firm to make structural changes. On the other hand, there are times when a family purchases a new home and discovers that it can be made even better with some modifications. That’s what happened when Bob and Lois Neis bought their new home in the Tallgrass Subdivision in Waukesha a few years ago.

“Sometimes you can look at a house and think it suits your needs perfectly. But it isn’t until you live there that you begin to notice things that could be changed,” according to Tom Callen, owner of Callen Construction in Hales Corners.

“This was a brand new neoclassic-style house built by Woodhaven Homes. It was one of the Parade of Homes houses in 1996,” said Bob Neis, vice president of manufacturing at Hal Leonard Publishing in Wauwatosa. “We followed the old routine of buying the house in the right area, to fit our lifestyle. And our furniture fit very nicely because of the style,” he said. The three-bedroom home covers 2,300-square-feet of space. The house seemed to be large enough for the couple and their Lhasa Apso named Alex. After a couple of years, however, the Neises recognized some changes were necessary.

Lois Neis of Waukesha relaxes in her new addition with her dog Alex. The new room was built by Callen Construction of Hales Corners.

The first problem surfaced after the couple lived in their house for a few years. It centered around a triangular-shaped area adjacent to the kitchen designated as the dinette or breakfast nook. “When you look at the house, the little triangle is kind of neat,” Neis said. “But we found out it’s just not practical. You can fit a small table that seats four people into the space,

but if you put four people around it, you’re crowded,” he explained. When guests would come to visit, people would be forced to eat in the formal dining room. “Who eats in the dining room if they don’t have to?” he asked.

The Neises had a large kitchen/family room space in their former house and liked it very much. So, they began thinking about adding some space to their kitchen. “We started out by going to some remodeling shows and tours. We saw some high-end work that had been done and some average-looking work, so we got a well-rounded idea,” Neis said. “We spoke to three remodeling companies and got three quotes on the project.”

This is a good approach to take when you are considering remodeling, according to Callen. “When you build an addition, you want to be sure you do some research. Luckily, Milwaukee is blessed with some very good home improvement shows so you have a good opportunity to check out the work of local remodeling companies,” he said.

As a result of their research, the couple hired Callen Construction to take on the task of remodeling the breakfast area. “We had heard that Callen did good work and they started on time. That was very important to us so we signed on the deal,” Neis said. The work was begun in January of 1999. “Our objective was to make it a light and airy space, but more importantly to make it look like it had always been there,” he said.

Callen’s workers dismantled the eating area, added a crawlspace under the addition, added heating and cooling, put in large glass patio doors for a northern and southern exposure, and ended up with a 13- by 18-foot room, which more than suited the owners’ needs. To top it off, the project was done two weeks ahead of schedule, much to the Neis’ delight. “They added a box bay window with a window seat, which makes it very homey,” Neis said. Oak hardwood floors were installed and wallpaper was added to match existing floors and walls. “They did an excellent job of matching woodwork and floors,” he added. “Unless we tell you that it’s an addition, no one will know.”

The Neises were so well pleased with Callen’s work that early this year they asked him to return to convert a portion of their basement to an exercise room and casual living space. The couple was not using the basement much and wanted to make it more livable. “We were hoping to spruce up an area which covered about half of the basement for an exercise room and an art room for my wife, who dabbles in painting. It’s about 900 square feet,” Neis explained.

Without thinking twice, Neis called Callen Construction and had them come out to quote on the job. “They wanted a quiet area for exercise and some other activities. We added a dropped Armstrong ceiling, put in some oak flooring and some closets for storage,” Callen said.

Once again, the Neises were pleased with the results. “They really opened it up and made it look like the changes have always been there,” Neis said. That’s the real key to a good remodeling job, Callen noted. “When you build an addition, you want to make it look like it was an original part of the house, not tacked on. The house has cedar siding so we used cedar siding on this addition, we used the same type of windows and wherever possible we followed the architectural details,” Callen said. Now the Neises are making good use of their newly remodeled basement space.


Remodeling dos and don’ts

For the Neises and his wife, the fact that Callen Construction was reliable and worked on schedule was paramount. “When they said they would start, they started — on schedule. And they stuck to their schedule,” he said. And it can be difficult to live in your home while it’s being taken apart and workers are coming and going. “They tried to keep the area where they were working as clean as they could. And that’s very important when you’re living with a remodeling project,” Neis said.

Callen offers some counsel to the homeowner considering remodeling. “Do your homework. Don’t rush the project; wait until you have all the information you need regarding designs, products and construction companies. Make sure you make the right product selections. And get some advice if you need it,” Callen advised. But, once you have hired a company to do the work, make sure they don’t take over and ignore your ideas, he added. “They can provide ideas, but you want to make sure your ideas are the ones that are used. We like the homeowner to give the directions,” he said. You should have what you want.