Tomi Ross and Angela Forsee act like the oldest of old friends, complete with gentle ribbing and inside jokes. But the two women came together just last year as Ross, reeling from a house fire that destroyed nearly everything she owned, hired Forsee to help her rebuild her life.
The result of their collaboration is a modern home with a Victorian feel that will be open as part of the Kenwick Neighborhood Bungalow Tour on Sunday.
Ross was out of town July 27, when she heard the news that the house where she had lived for nearly 30 years had caught fire. While driving home she couldn't help but worry that the worst had happened.
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The house was a total loss.
She held it together for the most part, she said, until she found family photos charred and melted together by the heat.
"I cried when I saw my pictures," she said.
Ross, a senior facilities manager at UK Healthcare, did what she knows how to do best: tackle the problem.
The first order of business was finding the right person to lead the job.
Although Forsee's company, Greystone Restoration, doesn't specialize in new builds, Ross could tell that Forsee understood the historic but modern note she wanted to strike.
Used to being in charge on construction projects, Ross also told her builder they were likely to butt heads.
Forsee likes to say, smiling, that they often disagreed — until Ross realized she was wrong. Forsee likes to say, also smiling, that they often disagreed — until Ross realized she was wrong.
For instance, Ross wanted a small second-floor space but Forsee prevailed because without the additional square footage the house would be out of balance.
Ross said she can focus on construction "all day at work," but her own restoration "seemed endless" with all the choices about fixtures and tile and colors.
But the result is something both women praised lavishly on a recent tour.
Ross loved the Victorian-style house she called home for more than half her life. But, she said, it was true to the era and the rooms could feel small and dark.
The renovation, which used as many historic materials as possible, opened up the floor plan and uses large windows to bathe the house in light. A first-floor master suite continues that light theme with a white, free-standing tub that has an antique feel.
The outside renovation includes a wide porch and a fishtale scallop on the pale yellow dormer facing the street.
One of the things Ross loves most about her new home is the plaque on the front porch that lists the names of neighbors and friends. Children from the neighborhood colored pictures of her old house and gave them to her as gifts after the fire. They even had a fundraising lemonade stand.
Ross still spends time trying to gently peel apart the family photos destroyed in the flames. But, she said, she feels like that tragedy brought her an extended family through the neighbors who rallied around her.
IF YOU GOKenwick Bungalow Tour
When: 1-5 p.m. June 2
What: Eight homes and gardens, plus the new Kenwick Community Garden and Victory Christian Church, will be stops on the tour
Tickets: $5. Available at Victory Christian Church, 148 Victory Ave.
Learn more: Kenwick.org/bungalow.html
SOLVING A DILEMMA
"Where is a good place to put a litter box?"
Tomi Ross solved that cat owner's eternal dilemma when she built her new house by creating a "kitty powder room."
"Tomi gets full credit for that," said Greystone Restoration's Angela Forsee, who created an extraordinary cat-centric space in what would have otherwise been an ordinary first-floor storage area.
"There is never a good place for a litter box," said Ross, who has four cats — Thomas Lott, Hallie Blue, Evinrude and Roman.
Forsee first cut a cat-size hole in the door for easy access and then put in a motion detector to turn on the lights. Finally, she added a timer to a fan, which is a hard-pipe vent directly to the outside, so it would stop running shortly after the cat was finished. Because, Forsee said teasingly, "Tomi would never get up and do that."
"The long and short of it," Forsee said, "is that for under $100 we have created quite a phenomenon in that cat bathroom."