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When John and Denise Bender decided to enlarge their home, they literally thought "out of the box" -- or, more accurately, the rectangle.

That was the shape of the original three-bedroom ranch they bought in the mid-1980s in the City of Tonawanda. Built in 1958, the house measured just over 900 square feet and featured -- among other hallmarks of decades past -- orange counter tops.

Today, the Benders live with their two sons and various pets in a 1,950-square-foot, two-story home. It has a roof with gables, a front porch and new features such as a second-floor laundry, mud room, bathroom with cathedral ceiling and a fully renovated kitchen.

No more orange counter tops.

John Bender, who owns Bender's Technical Detailing - a steel drafting business not far from his home - was the architect for the renovation (the plan had to be stamped for the City of Tonawanda by a licensed architect before the Benders could get a building permit.)

The Benders hired a builder, sider and other pros for the majority of the construction work, although John Bender tackled such tasks as installing the ceramic tile in the new upstairs bath.

The renovation took about a year, beginning in the summer of 2001. During the initial phase - when the roof came off and the second floor was added - the family sought shelter at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., for 10 days. When they returned, the new house was boxed in - its roof and windows in place - and ready for installation of drywall, plumbing and heating.

And what a transformation it has been.

What was originally a boxy ranch with brown asbestos siding (painted light green early on by John Bender) is now sided in a cream-colored vinyl with scalloped detailing. The vinyl shutters are wine berry. The roof is gabled.

"I tried to add different lines and shapes so that it doesn't just look like a ranch that has had a second floor added. I spent a couple months driving around looking at different houses and designs for ideas," John Bender said.

As part of the redesign, the original living room now functions as the dining room and two bedrooms were turned into the new living room. The original third bedroom is now a home office, and a full bathroom remains on the first floor. The kitchen was completely renovated with light oak cabinets, and an adjoining mud room was added - a priority, Denise Bender said. This is where coats, the dog bed, a storage bench and, of course, muddy shoes are kept.

The new second floor has three bedrooms and a bathroom with cathedral ceilings. Bradley, 10, and Shawn, 14, each have their bedroom. The master bedroom is accented with a tray ceiling, and the Benders opted for a walk-in closet and second-floor laundry.

Outdoors, a front porch, back deck and pool were added. In 2002, they dug up all the old landscaping and John Bender and a friend put in new.

The Benders decided to renovate rather than move to new digs because they like their neighborhood. It's quiet - not a lot of traffic - and the boys' friends are there.

"We have been here 17 years and really know our neighbors - and not just as acquaintances to wave to and say "hi.' The neighbors get together and do things," Denise Bender said.

Nor do they concern themselves at this point with pricing themselves out of the neighborhood. The Benders bought the ranch for $54,000 in 1986 and estimate the renovation cost them about $70,000. Other houses in the area have added second floors, it's a popular neighborhood and the Benders have no plans for moving anytime soon.

Their advice to others thinking of renovating:

Remember it takes time to renovate - and lots of it. Anticipate problems. Even something likes cracks in the ceiling can set back the timetable.

If you decide to do it, do it right the first time. Don't skimp. "Spend the extra money to get it the way you want it. If you want ceramic tile, get ceramic," John Bender said.

Never underestimate the amount of time it takes to redecorate.

"The hardest part was picking out all the paint colors and curtains," Denise Bender said.


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