Marie Turner was in Florida on a family vacation when she got the call that her home was on fire.
Her condo, along with seven other units at Belvoir Hills Estates, was destroyed in the November 2011 blaze that spread through the East Ridge townhomes. During the 16-hour ride home with friends, Turner says she sat in the car's back seat and began taking inventory.
"I have a good memory, so I just started at the front door and listed everything as I would see them when I walked through each room," she says.
The resulting 52-page list included items from clothes and furniture to individual books and trinkets. That was the first step in what turned out to be a year-long rebuilding process, she says.
But the trauma of losing her life's possessions evolved into the anticipation of remodeling and updating her home as the rebuilding process got under way. Like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes, the eight units were rebuilt with owners having the option to customize their decor choices in the process.
Turner lived in the Marriott hotel during the year she was displaced.
"At first it was wonderful because they served breakfast every morning, made the bed, cleaned everything. I thought, 'This is all right!'" she says, laughing. "That lasted for about three months, then 'wonderful' began to wear off. You couldn't even open your door unless you were dressed. I was awfully glad to get home."
Turner says she was able to recover about one-fourth of her possessions after residents were allowed inside their burned units. The items varied from four brass candlesticks and a pair of brass sconces to a corner cupboard. Clothes and linens that had been stored in a front closet were also salvageable.
Her son and daughter-in-law put on gloves and spent two days digging through 3 feet of ash in search of items. They found her silverware, discovered all the pieces of a Herend tea set - with none of the dainty porcelain pieces broken - and uncovered two dozen vintage enameled silver pillboxes, now displayed in her new living area.
When construction began, the apartment complex's insurance paid to rebuild the units, Turner says, and residents had to depend on their personal insurance companies to replace belongings and cover any updates they had made to their units before the fire.
"'Build it back like it was' was their assignment. There was a standard replacement offered from the complex's insurance, but if you wanted something different, you paid the difference in cost," she explains. For example, the rebuild included carpeting, but she opted for walnut flooring in the first floor and only carpeted the second
It might seem that Turner, retired after a 24-year career at Sears as an interior designer, would be giddy to have a check in hand and a free rein to shop, but she describes it as "10 percent great fun, 90 percent hard work."
"I went all over the place getting things," she says. "I worked on redecorating almost every day."
She picked out fabrics. She began haunting antique auctions and estate sales in search of good deals on furnishings, but before she could buy a piece she had to measure to make sure it would fit specific measurements of rooms within the 1,200-square-foot condo.
"I saw a big, footed tub I liked at Lowe's," she says. "I got in and sat in it to make sure it fit. A lady went by and said, 'Well, I never!'" she laughs.
Her first purchase was a Kashan rug for the living room. The design in the navy Persian rug set the blue and taupe color scheme for the first floor. Taupe walls connect the adjoining living and dining rooms, but in her entry foyer, Turner added a twist on taupe, pairing the wall color with a lighter shade of taupe for alternating stripes painted from ceiling to the tile floor. Then she mirrored the doors of the entry closet between the striped walls to give the impression of a bigger space.
She also incorporated the mirror illusion in her living area. Four floor-to-ceiling mirrored panels on the wall make the 20-foot-wide room seem nearly twice its size.
By March 2012, residents had to declare what staircase they wanted. Instead of the traditional wooden flight of steps, she chose an elegant, white, iron staircase with white-carpeted steps that gracefully curve from first to second floors.
Residents were given construction schedules, she says, and asked to make lists for the crews stating what kinds of fixtures, faucets and other items they were using or whether they would update with their own choices.
When she was ready to plan her kitchen, she enlisted the help of Jackie Howard at Scarlett's Cabinetry.
"She wanted a fresh, bright feel," says Howard. "Originally all those kitchens were L-shaped, which would hold a little table for an eat-in kitchen. Marie chose to use a dining room table for meals in order to free all the space in the 10-by-8-foot kitchen. We made a U-shaped kitchen plan."
One large single sink was placed between the room's two windows, so the wall space on either side could be used more efficiently.
"We took cabinets to the ceiling; we used every inch of space available," Howard describes.
Cabinets with raised-panel doors were painted Origami white, a soft Sherwin Williams color, to make the room appear brighter. Incorporating one glass-front cabinet door with a dish rack built-in beneath made it a focal point of the room. Walls were painted sky blue to keep the light, airy feeling.
For the counters, the two women decided on Caesarstone, a manmade material that Howard says looks like natural stone but is many times harder.
"It looks a lot like white carrera marble, but is not porous so it is easier to maintain," says Howard.
Updated lighting fixtures included task lighting beneath cabinets and recessed cans in the ceiling, enhanced by natural lighting when the kitchen's shutters are open.
When her furnishings were in place, Turner placed decorative accents - some salvaged from the fire, others bought with the new blue and taupe decor in mind. One is a Delft porcelain tulipiere, an ornate vessel with spouts projecting from each of its stacked five sections in which tulips may be displayed or grown. The tulipiere stands beneath an unusual conversation piece: a large, brass, multi-tier chandelier suspended in the corner of the room.
"I liked the way it looked," she says. "It's too big to hang in the center of the room, and it's not electric, it holds candles. But I'm afraid if I lit them all, the fire alarms would go off."
Contact staff writer Susan Pierce at email@example.com or 423-757-6284.