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Kay Volmar and her husband were vacationing at Disneyland when a commercial popped up on their hotel TV about a lovely town called Mount Dora. “It was named the New England of the South—that’s what drew me to it,” recalls Volmar. The only homes the Northeast native had really seen in Florida were cookie-cutter builds, but in Mount Dora, there were architectural gems galore. The couple was so sold on moving there that, in 2013, they decided to buy a circa-1912 home sight unseen. The contractor who came to inspect the property after they made an offer gave her one piece of advice: “Run.” 

“It had dilapidated vinyl siding, the porch was cramped, and there were wires hanging off it,” recalls Volmar. Many of these frightening details were the result of the house sitting vacant for five years, while its “Frankenstein” layout stemmed from many years of previous owners haphazardly adding onto the once-single-story space. “It was reflected when you looked at it,” she adds. Volmar was determined to send her new neighbors a message from the get-go: They were going to take care of this place.

Swing Into Action

The porch, before.

Right away, she centered the new door and painted it a happy, tropical hue called Warm Springs by Benjamin Moore in a satin finish. “I needed something that said to other people, this is going to be nice,” she explains. To give the porch a more substantial, uniform look, Volmar had the barely there posts removed and put up large columns in their place. For the floor, she bought large 20-by-20-inch stone tiles at a local clearance center and some pool coping, which she used to create a curved front ledge to soften things up.

On the Winning Side

The exterior, before.

For a few years, Volmar lived with the siding as it was by simply power washing it with a mixture of chlorine and water (it turned it from dirty brown-gray to just gray). “I was able to get a semi-fresh look without having to paint it just yet,” she says. But when it finally came time for a glow-up, she had the siding primed and professionally painted in White Dove by Benjamin Moore (a designer favorite for interior walls and kitchen cabinets) in a low-luster finish. “I originally thought I needed a special paint for vinyl siding, but it turns out if you use something high-grade it will adhere well,” she notes. The trim is swathed in Super White in a soft-gloss finish to give it a crisp definition.

Window Shopping

Even though the house had been added onto over time, it still lacked dimension. Volmar “beefed” things up a bit by attaching thick trim wood around the windows (she used a grinder to take out the previous J-channel strips). Then she put up window boxes and filled them with begonias, petunias, and verbena she sourced from the clearance section of a garden center. “It’s better to overfill a window box than to underfill it,” she points out. She even tackled the transformation from the inside out. The grids you see on the second level are just strips of white electrical tape she stuck on to give it an old-school cottage look. 

Walk This Way

The walkway, in process.

When it came to sprucing up the yard, the first step was to shift the driveway over, further from the house. After ripping out the old cracked concrete, Volmar drew on her Northeastern roots and put down a combination of cobblestone and gravel—something that you don’t often see in Florida. This made space for a curved path that leads to the front entrance. “The house was so square, so I wanted all of the landscaping to be very round,” she says.

When the inside of Volmar’s home was a construction zone, she could at least retreat outside and plop down on her new swing bench. “I live on a busy street, so there’s a ton of people watching,” she says. You can be sure they’re staring back.