Home & Garden

Tear it down? No. Build it up.

Becky and John Oesterle revere the past, and their loving renovation of a mid-century home in Dilworth shows it.

When the Oesterles bought the 1951 house in 2003, they resisted advice from professionals to tear it down. It was dilapidated inside and out, with dangerous wiring, leaky windows and a half-brick, half-wood facade topped with a clunky flat roof.

Instead, they made cosmetic changes to the exterior and kept the unusual footprint of the interior, adding only a sunroom in the back and an upstairs bonus room above the old garage.

The result: a house as warm and unpretentious as the couple and a showcase for family memorabilia and an eclectic collection of antiques.

The house, at 1660 Dilworth Road West, is one of nine residences and three businesses open Friday and next Saturday on the 36th annual Dilworth Home Tour.

The Oesterles were drawn to the house primarily because of its large back yard and convenient location. It was close to work for John, an anesthesiologist, and close to school, shops and activities for Becky and the couple's two young children.

But they knew it would need a lot of work. They moved in five years ago and concentrated on cleaning the house, getting rid of its green shag carpeting and making basic repairs. They saved money for the next step: planning and renovating.

Two years later, they had decided to keep the 1950s-style layout, which has the feel of a ranch home. The rooms are mostly compact and the unusual foyer opens to a staircase that extends across the front hall. The square kitchen is stylish, workable and small by today's standards.

The Oesterles used an architect and a builder for their 14-month renovation, but they came up with their own tweaks to keep the house as close to its period style as possible.

They changed the function of some rooms, such as turning the living room into a master suite. They refurbished the floors, painted the interior warm colors and kept the cozy size of the children's bedrooms upstairs.

They melded the disparate elements of the ragged exterior into a Georgian style, replacing wood with brick and adding columns and a sloping roofline. From the street, the home looks graceful, understated and the right size for its lot.

Inside, the heart of the house is the cheery sunroom, which extends across the back and showcases the open yard. The sunroom also features some of the Oesterles' favorite antiques, two English walnut campaign chests flanking the stone fireplace and an antique brass fireplace set.

“We are antique-aholics,” John says.

Some of his favorite items come from his family's Michigan dairy farm. Several rooms feature painted metal cans originally used as fuel or milk containers. Antique photos of the farm and his great-grandfather's framed immigration papers adorn walls.

The couple restored a basement room as a cozy wine cellar with brick walls, tile floors and wine racks.

The renovation, which took the house from about 2,600 square feet to 4,000, was completed in 2006.

But sometimes John looks longingly when he sees a fixer-upper for sale in Dilworth. He would eventually like to buy other homes and restore and sell them, making sure it's done respectfully.

Says John, “It drives me nuts to see a builder come in and completely destroy the character of a house.”