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Turning Tragedy Into Remodeling Triumph

After a fire partially destroyed their New Jersey home, John and Millie Porpora paused while picking up the pieces, and asked themselves how their home could be rebuilt and improved at the same time. The end result of their story, reported by Better Homes and Gardens magazine, was a redesigned home that better reflects their lifestyle. In the process, they learned lessons in surviving not only the house fire but the intransigence of their insurance company.

Starting from scratch, the Porporas realized things had changed in the 20 years since they bought their home. With one daughter in college and the other in high school, four bedrooms were no longer necessary. They converted the second-floor guest bedroom into a casual sitting area. Warm, yellow walls complement the colorful, striped upholstery. The sleeper sofa can be pressed into service if an extra bed is needed.

Their next goal was a lighter, more spacious master bedroom. Doing away with the second-floor Dutch roof, they installed cantilevered dormers and a vaulted ceiling that delivers sunshine in the day and views of the stars at night. Also gone is the dark, Oak canopy bed. The new, wrought iron version better suits the atmosphere.

Today, the formal living room downstairs lives only in memory, replaced by more casual furniture grouped around the fireplace (instead of backed against the walls in the old version). The fireplace itself received a new, white-painted mantle and slate colored tiles.

Although pleased with the end product of their adventure, the Porporas had to endure 14 months of haggling with insurance adjusters before finally settling their claim. Here are tips they suggest for avoiding some of the problems they encountered:

    1 - Make a thorough inventory of the entire contents of your home. Walk through the house with a video camera and make an audio-visual record of everything, from attic to basement.

    2 - Keep receipts of all major purchases, or charge them to a credit card. (Credit card companies keep records of expenditures as far back as 10 years.

    3 - Go over your insurance policy. Make sure that expensive items such as computers, jewelry, electronics, etc., are covered to full replacement cost.

    4 - Make sure older homes are up-to-date with building codes.

    5 - Finally, don't be afraid to challenge the adjuster's estimate. Hire your own expert, if necessary.