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Nailing Down Priorities : When Renovations on Their Historic Home Went Awry, the Biscottis Built a Stronger Family Instead


SANTA ANA — There comes a time in the life of every major remodeling project when one thing becomes abundantly clear: It is not going to get done on time.


For Jeff and Rolinda Biscotti, the moment of truth arrived during the summer--when Jeff lost his job as a printed circuit board designer and then broke his ankle and Rolinda's doctor announced that the couple would be having a second child sooner than they had planned.

With their home a featured stop on the Historic French Park Assn.'s neighborhood home tour next weekend, the Biscottis had planned to have the exterior painted, some landscaping in and the major downstairs rooms finished--a task that would have involved refinishing and installing all the window, door, baseboard and picture molding for three large rooms.

And while the deadlines have long passed for those and other chores on the couple's list of things to do in the ongoing restoration, they did bring one project in on time--a week early, in fact.

Elizabeth Rose Biscotti was born March 17 at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange.

It was a little more than a year ago that the Biscottis agreed to let The Times document their efforts to renovate the 87-year-old Colonial Revival house they'd purchased in Santa Ana's French Park neighborhood.

The story of their restoration project and of the personal changes and challenges the Biscottis have handled with a remarkable equanimity has been laid out in three previous articles. This is the final installment in the yearlong tale of the Biscottis and their work in progress.

Just three days after her birth, little Elizabeth was sleeping quietly in her mother's arms in the Biscottis' formal parlor, lulled by the gentle tap-tap-tapping of a hammer pounding nails in what soon will be the upstairs family room. Her big sister, Victoria, who will be 4 in June, sat nearby, wrapping her baby--a rag doll named Ashley--in a small flannel blanket.

Baby, broken ankle and joblessness aside, the Biscottis say their home will be ready--although in a bit different state of repair than originally planned--for the Historic French Park Assn.'s biennial home tour. "Our projects changed when Ro got pregnant," Jeff said. "We decided that we were going to focus on our needs, not on the goals we'd set for the tour."

That means that instead of finishing the downstairs rooms, the Biscottis put their efforts into turning the back bedroom into a nursery.

They completed the new upstairs bathroom and the cabinets in the kitchen that they'd added when they bought the house, and they have all but completed transformation of what was to have been Jeff and Rolinda's bedroom into an upstairs family room.

There are times, and they have been coming more frequently, Rolinda said, "that I look at this house and I resent it."

The lack of progress is frustrating, Jeff acknowledges.

"The house is a huge burden, and with so many unexpected things interrupting (the renovation), we get this sense of unaccomplishment. When we started this," he said, "we had no kids and two very good incomes. Then 'Torie was born and Ro had to cut back on her work and we had one kid and a lesser income. And now we have two kids and even less income, so sometimes there is resentment.

"But you learn to live with it. There's a satisfaction in knowing that not everyone could do what we are doing."

Discussing his hopes a year ago, Biscotti described the task he and Rolinda had set out to accomplish as "something incredibly special. . . . The craftsmanship, the special touches you find--like the 8-foot, 4-inch doors that you can't replace unless you have them custom-made--just the fact that we basically were starting from scratch, which is something most home-buyers don't get into. It makes the project ours."

From the start, the task the couple took on was a daunting one.

Most people would have second thoughts about buying something as comparatively simple as a 15-year-old tract home that needed a moderate amount of the cash and the elbow grease real estate agents euphemistically call TLC.

The Biscottis, with no training in any of the home-building crafts, bought a 1905 structure that had been vacant for several years and had been an ill-treated boarding house for a decade or so before that.

But the Biscottis didn't see a barren hulk that would take every ounce of their energy and every bit of their cash: They saw a home and a neighborhood and they determined that it was going to be theirs.

To win approval to acquire the house, which had been built by an early Santa Ana insurance executive, William Lee Duggan, the Biscottis had to submit an essay detailing why they wanted it and what they planned to do with it. Their proposal was read by a panel of city officials and representatives of the Historic French Park Assn. and judged against a dozen others.

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