The House of (Good) Spirits

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Ghouls and goblins settle in during the witching season at a bright and whimsical Ardsley Park bungalow that’s anything but spooky.  Written By Judy Bean. Photos by Richard Leo Johnson.

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Feeling blue or blah?  Have a chat with Sarah Roelle.  She’s not just a ray of sunshine; she’s the spring equinox, summer solstice and aurora borealis, all rolled into one.  But as Halloween approaches, sunny Sarah starts showing her dark side … sort of.

Sarah throws herself into celebrating and decorating for holidays.  And Halloween happens to be her favorite.  That’s when she transforms, inevitably as a full-moon werewolf, into a decorating fiend.  She populates her Ardsley Park home—which she shares with fiancé Chris Zinaich and their dog, Henry—with witches, imps and hobgoblins.  Skulls and jack-o-lanterns glower from all directions; ravens follow visitors with ghoulish, glittering gazes.

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The Haunting

Sarah’s version of spooky is witty more than worrisome, intriguing more than intimidating.  Her indoor décor is gore-free, and she saves “the really scary stuff for outside.”

That scary exterior stuff has included fog machines, sound effects and Sarah herself in a werewolf costume, standing stock-still until trick-or-treaters got close enough to terrify with a roaring lunge.  “We were the werewolf house!” she recalls, eyes twinkling.

Sarah, a full-time volunteer, and Chris, a former chef who now works for Sysco, purchased the “werewolf house” as a three-bedroom, one-story dwelling.  Seasoned renovators with two home transformations behind them, they were attracted by the 1928 cottage-style structure’s curb appeal, steeply pitched roof, “great bones and huge attic.”

Sarah, a Connecticut native, and Chris, a friend of her brother Will, met in Charleston (where Will then lived) in 2002.  Chris then lived in Pittsburgh, but moved to Savannah in 2007.

Sarah moved to Savannah, where her parents and brother settled in 2010.  “My mom’s dream was to have all her kids in one city,” Sarah recalls.  Her romance with Chris, sparked at their 2002 meeting, deepened.

Within short order, they renovated and sold two Savannah homes, working with her father, Bill Roelle, an experienced property investor/remodeler.

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The Others

Among the Roelle clan, renovation and decoration have always been family affairs.  After Sarah and Bill purchased the Ardsley Park home, Bill and Will came on board as a design-and-construction team.  Sarah’s mom, Lynda was, as ever, her décor partner.

“I call them ‘Team Awesome,’” Sarah says of her helpful family.

It was Bill who first noted the potential of the attic space, originally accessible only via pulldown stairs in the center hall ceiling.  Sarah recalls him saying, “If you added a staircase, you could practically double your living space.”

And so began an inspired remodel.  The wide staircase, central to the first floor and open on either side, sits nearly opposite from the front door.  Its upstairs opening offers an immediate view of a large second-floor window, which helps brighten the downstairs interior.

Dark Halloween humor aside, “I’m all about light and bright,” Sarah says.  “The first thing I do when I walk into a room is turn all the lights on.”

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The Shining

Lights are barely necessary on the remodeled first floor, which now has windows on all sides.  The new, staircase-centered design involved removing a wall, adding a former bedroom and two large, east-facing windows to the enlarged living space.   To make things even brighter, Sarah and her family painted most of the first floor in Sarah’s “happy shade,” Lightning White by Benjamin Moore.

The original sunroom includes more east-facing windows and a French door, which now opens to a new side deck.

In the kitchen, the construction team, headed by contractor Bruce Greene, removed a wall to the original butler’s pantry, which had also served as a laundry room.   They preserved the original built-in pantry cabinets and moved the washer and dryer to a new space under the staircase.  The master bath was remodeled and reconfigured within its original footprint.

Upstairs, the newly accessible attic space—measuring at nearly 900 square feet—was transformed into a media/family room, a reading nook, two guest bedrooms with office space for Chris, and a third full bath.

Throughout the renovation, “Team Awesome” was careful to preserve the home’s character, even as it dramatically increased its function, flow and brightness.   The new staircase, wider than would have been likely in similar homes of its era, honors the original architecture with simple newel posts, railing and banisters.   The new kitchen cabinetry and trim harmonize with the original pantry built-ins.   New black-and-white tile in the master bath could have been laid in the ’20s, even though it, like the new kitchen floor, replaced ancient linoleum.

Two years in, Sarah and Chris seem to have settled for good.  The home reflects their joie de vivre; supports her busy volunteer career; provides a quiet, orderly home office for him; and welcomes family and many friends for frequent celebrations—both the holiday and everyday kind.

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The Roelle/Zinaich Stats

Owners:  Sarah Roelle and Chris Zinaich

Year built:  1928

Year purchased:  2012

Square footage:  2,500

Accommodations:  3 bedrooms, 3 baths

Time to complete remodel:  4 months

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Architect/planner:  Pete Callejas, Homestead Architecture

Interior designers:  Sarah and Lynda Roelle

Contractor/builder:  Bruce Greene Construction Co.

Kitchen design:  Will and Bill Roelle

Bath design:  Will and Bill Roelle

Landscape design:  Will Roelle and Chris Zinaich

Hardscape design:  Bill Roelle

Electrician:  Gary Kippert, Current Phases Inc.

Carpenter:  Will Roelle

Plumber:  Anthony Plumbing

HVAC:  Dyess Heating and Air

Furniture:  Family heirlooms, vintage and antique pieces, Villa Savannah, Georgia Furniture and Interiors

Art:  Owners’ collection