NEWTOWN, Ohio -- Beemer and Cooper give Walmart greeters a run for their money when visitors arrive at the front door of Bill and Nancy DeVore's yellow Victorian in Newtown. Theirs is a friendly howdy and a harbinger of the warmth waiting within.
The family dogs, a German shepherd and a Bluetick Coonhound greet hundreds of guests a year at what Bill and Nancy have remodeled into a frequent party house, a place called home to five related generations of Lemons, Hewitts and DeVores that date back to 16 years before Newtown was incorporated in 1901.
The 3,000-square-foot home and its spacious backyard reflect what Bill and Nancy value: daily comfort for them and the ability to entertain their family and friends, as many as a couple hundred at a time.
Key to their achievement was a major remodel they orchestrated following a near-tragic fire in their absent son Billy's third-floor bedroom on Oct. 15, 2009.
Bill, who is an Anderson High School graduate and a firefighter/EMT with the Liberty Township Fire Department, and Nancy, a Turpin High School graduate and a paralegal who has served on the Newtown village council, were asleep when a faulty electrical outlet sparked a smoky fire that drew more than a handful of fire trucks and engines to the rescue.
Bill's fellow firefighters' response was quick and effective, but the house -- built in balloon timber style with two-story oak studs and few fire blocks between floors -- was doused with water from roof to basement. The experience briefly doused Bill's ego as well.
"When you have a fire in a fireman's house," he said, "you get a pretty good ribbing at the firehouse."
The small fire charred some of the 131-year-old studs at the front of the house, and water ruined a lot of plaster, requiring the demolition of most of the house's interior walls. The situation, however, allowed the DeVores to rethink the layout of the house and make it their ultimate lounging space and entertainment center.
They did a majority of the remodeling themselves: demolishing, stripping, drywalling, painting, tiling, etc. Because the work was done before the proliferation of how-to videos on the internet, the novice remodelers worked the old-fashioned way.
Bill said he was prepared to do a lot of painting, having learned from his father and his grandfather, who was head painter of concessions at Coney Island amusement park back in the day. But other jobs they tackled proved more challenging.
"It was 'Get a book and read it: This is how you finish drywall.' Then get friends and do it," Nancy said. Replacing the first-floor's original poplar baseboards and trim around windows and doors, however, required professional replication.
In the process, the DeVores turned one big attic room into two with a full bathroom and extra closet space. They converted the second-floor family room into a comfortable office for Bill that features Brazilian hardwood floors and the original 1885 fireplace hearth by Kensington Tile Co. of Newport.
The rear room they had used as a kitchen back when the house was a two-family became what could be the largest bathroom in Newtown. It houses a 6-foot-long jetted tub, a large walk-in shower with pebble floor, a double-sink vanity they crafted from an old dresser, and a laundry/storage room -- with more than enough floor space left over for a game of Twister.
The first floor, however, was where the DeVores made signature moves that gave them the open space their big gigs require.
They cut out a door into the kitchen from the entry hall and converted its two closets into what Nancy calls the Bordello Bathroom because it is painted dark cherry and features a replica of a Victorian crystal chandelier. The alterations meant guests could find a bathroom easily and walk straight from the hall into the kitchen instead of having to cut through the dining room first.
They made the dining room feel bigger by tripling the width of the opening between it and the back room (formerly a jury-rigged solarium). They swapped out the old dining-room-to-kitchen door for a 4-foot-wide pass-through in the corner.
Their biggest construction job was to take down and replace the out-of-code back room. Today, it features new hickory floors, a pet and storage room and a wood-burning stove with a slate hearth and fire wall that Bill built. The Vermont-made, cherry red porcelain stove can heat the whole house, Bill said.
The couple -- who have been married for 28 years, 27 of which they've spent in their beloved Victorian -- completed many other projects in 2010, among them refinishing the first floor's original pine floors to expose all of their nail holes and blemishes.
"We've heard this called hard pine or pumpkin pine," Nancy said. "It's all first-growth pine. See the length. You can't buy pine like this anymore."
Nancy redesigned and coordinated a total remodel of their kitchen, furnishing it with white-washed maple cabinets; high-end, brown and beige veined granite countertops; 1-inch copper-colored glass tile backsplash; and all-white appliances.
The whole remodel -- which the DeVores said was their third since buying the house in 1989 when it was a two-family -- was based on plans drafted by Nancy and has been wildly successful.
"I always felt it kept the feel of our old home but opened it up so we can entertain the way we like to entertain," she said.
And entertain they did last summer, when about 300 people attended the backyard wedding reception of their other child, daughter Sarah.
The couple said they hope their remodeling days are over, but are pleased with how far their Victorian has come since they bought it from Bill's grandmother.
"It was a mess," Nancy said. "We filled the 90-foot curb in front of the house with decades of stuff that had accumulated," Bill added, and the electrical system was so archaic they had to unplug their dryer in order to plug in their electric stove.
The DeVores lived on the top two floors for the first four years before converting the house back to a single-family in 1993. That early remodel revealed some fun surprises, Bill said, including pages from a 1945 edition of the Cincinnati Times-Star that included the story of Nazi Germany leader Heinrich Himmler's suicide. Bill found the papers beneath an old linoleum floor he removed.
Treasures they discovered in the house and kept include pieces of vintage furniture that today blend with others they found on the Internet. Among the latter is a dining room set of art deco made in the "giant waterfall" style. They bought the veneered set, which features a rounded horizontal edge that flows down like a waterfall, from a family in Philadelphia.
The DeVores' decorative artwork includes personally inscribed prints given to Nancy's family by Cincinnati artist Robert Fabe (1917-2004), photographs -- including a large one by one-time professional photographer Bill of Colorado aspen trees that hangs over the living room fireplace, and art pottery pieces thrown by their daughter when she was at Turpin High.
A prized heirloom is a piece of back-lighted stained glass that hangs on the wall in the kitchen-to-dining room pass through. It came out of the Clough Brethren Church, which Nancy's Wolfangel family ancestors attended for generations.
Also prized is a master-bedroom suite of cherry furniture that had been Nancy's grandparents' and Bill's great-grandparents' oak furniture in the third-floor bedroom.
The folks the DeVores entertain might never make it upstairs, however, because of the convenient and saucy powder room and the open spaces they created downstairs after the fire.
"We have four big parties here every year," Nancy said. "I mean, we entertain 125 to 150 people, and we have no traffic problems. It's perfect."
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