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Rebuild, restore & recover

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Lebanon family prepares to move back into their home after it was heavily damaged by an electrical fire

By Stevie Lowery

Aug. 9, 2013 is a day that changed Jesse and Coury Osbourne’s lives forever.
It’s the day their home on North Spalding Avenue in Lebanon was nearly destroyed by an electrical fire.
No one was home when the fire started except their beloved cat Moe, who sadly didn’t survive.
Every detail of that day is still very vivid in Coury’s mind. She was at work at Marion County High School when she got the terrifying news.
“The moment that Mr. Livers tapped me on my shoulder and said, ‘We just got a call that your house is on fire,’ is the moment that sticks out the most to me,” she said. “His voice echoes in my head daily.”
While their home wasn’t a complete loss, it received extensive heat and smoke damage.
“I remember walking through parts of the house and thinking, ‘It isn’t bad. It’s just smoke damage,’” Jesse said. “Then I turned a corner and my house was burned out and dripping wet. I had to turn around and walk out because it was too much.”
Both Coury and Jesse have a vivid mental play-by-play of that day. The memories are painful, to say the least.
“I remember walking into Wal-Mart that evening and thinking... ‘We literally have nothing,’” Coury said. “And later, passing the kitty litter aisle and realizing I had no reason to stop there. But to be honest, I could keep going because I still remember every single detail of that day from the moment Mr. Livers told me until we finally crashed on my mom's couch that night. I'm sure I always will.”
Since then, Coury, Jesse, and their two young children, have been living at her aunt Ackie George’s house in Lebanon while their home is being restored and rebuilt. The experience has been long, frustrating, sometimes maddening, and also exhilarating as they slowly have watched their home come back to life. Jesse, a former photographer and writer for the Enterprise, has documented the entire process with photographs. The Enterprise asked Jesse and Coury if they would mind opening up about the fire and about the grueling process of restoring their damaged home. They graciously obliged. 

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The Enterprise: A house fire is a nightmare for anyone... What have been the most difficult parts of this entire experience?

Jesse: For me, the first most difficult thing was driving as safely as I could to my burning house and knowing that nothing I could do would make a difference. Thank God for the amazing firefighters that made two trips to our house that day. They were incredible and I’m so thankful for them.
A few other things stand out: losing material things, having to replace those things and the sometimes maddening process of rebuilding a house.
The most difficult thing has been the feeling of displacement and the yearning to return home. We have been blessed by Ackie George, Coury’s aunt, because she literally fled her own home and insisted that we stay there. I mean, smoke was coming out of our house and with tears coming down her cheeks, she insisted that we stay in her home. I remember saying something like, ’Ackie, we’ve got a few options already. Let’s just let things settle down and we’ll see.’ She wouldn’t have it. So, as a result, we’ve been living in her house since Aug. 9 while she’s lived somewhere else.
While it is a blessing, we’re also mindful that multiple people are displaced or out of their normal living arrangements because of our misfortune. We count our blessings, but that kind of situation weighs on you. Our living arrangements are amazing – fantastic for a family with two young children – but we aren’t home. We knew it would be a while before we got home, but it still seems like time slows down. Our son has lived over half his life in his Auntie Ackie’s home, so we’re beyond ready to get back.

Coury: Being displaced - not being home, in our space - is definitely the most difficult part. Losing my cat, Moe, was really hard, especially because my daughter still mentions him and is convinced he will return when we move home, regardless how often we have tried to explain otherwise. Going through boxes and boxes of our damaged goods, or suddenly remembering something we lost, has been heart wrenching. We lost quite a bit to water and smoke damage, and we have had to inventory all of that. It has been a long process and it is emotional every time. Even now, some of the most difficult times are the times when we suddenly remember something we no longer have.

The Enterprise: What are some of the key things you learned from this experience that you think everyone should know?

Jesse: Most importantly, make sure you have smoke detectors and make sure they work. We had them in our home, but we’ve been told they weren’t working during the fire. We’ve also been told they could be heard from outside the house. Either way, there won’t be any question that our smoke detectors are working from now on.
I would also encourage anyone and everyone to take an honest look at your home insurance. If we hadn’t changed ours a year after buying our house, we wouldn’t have been able to afford the materials, let alone the labor, to fix our home. We originally insured our house up to the amount we paid for it. When we were able to finally sell the home we owned before buying our current house, we switched to coverage that would cover the cost to replace our house as it was built. Our house is probably nearing 100 years old, so what we paid for it and what it would cost to replace it didn’t quite match up. Our insurance company (Kentucky National) and our contractors (CDE Restoration) have been amazing at making sure things are going back as they were.
Finally, make a plan in case there’s ever a fire at your home. What would you do? How would you get out? We’ve made changes at our house to ensure that we’re better prepared if something like this ever happened again. We’ve both had nightmares thinking about what could have been if anyone had been home. It’s chilling.

Coury: Soon after the fire, I wrote a column in which I shared my practical advice. Besides that, I think everyone should know that we have such a supportive community. The kindness and generosity of people - some of whom I barely even know - still amazes me.
I also learned how awesome our American Red Cross is! Most people probably don't realize that. The day of the fire, the representative stood there and waited patiently until we were ready to talk to her. Then, that night, she met us at the hotel at a last minute notice. They paid for us to stay in the hotel for a few nights and helped us get back on our feet, financially. She even stopped by a few days later when she saw us at the house, just to check on us. They were so kind and supportive!
  
The Enterprise: With the new, exciting renovations underway at your house, some people might say it’s been “worth it” in the long run. How would you respond to that?

Jesse: I think people have the best of intentions and maybe sometimes they don’t know what to say. They want us to know they’ve been thinking of us and that they care, or they’re looking at the silver lining and maybe want us to see the silver lining, too.
While the renovations are looking amazing and we’re lucky to have a great team working on our house, it will never be worth it to me. That’s not to say that we take these renovations for granted. We’re blessed to have such talented people put our house back together again.
On the surface, we bought our house because we loved it. It had so many things that we loved about it. For a while, there was a really intense mourning period, at least for me, because I knew our house would never be the same. You can’t replace the look that time created in our floors, our trim, of so many things that made our house special. Of course, I’ve come to terms with that now and I’m excited to walk in the house each time I stop by.
Deeper than that, though, are the residual effects of a house fire. Emergency personnel sirens send chills through me every time I hear them. I used to be a journalist, so those sirens didn’t faze me all that much before because it’s part of the job.
Also, when I’m separated from my family, like if my wife and daughter go to Wal-Mart for an hour to get groceries, I get anxious. I’m quicker to call and check in if it seems like it’s taking too long. For me, it’s really caused a lot of thoughts about mortality.
The worst part, I think, has been the horrible scenarios that run through your head about the day of the fire. It took a while for those intense images to subdue. You think about what you would have done if this had happened in the middle of the night or if it had happened a week earlier when your wife and kids were home. It’s not something you want to think about, but it’s not a thing you can avoid if you’ve been through it. It’s a horror movie about your life that you can’t un-watch.

Coury: It isn't.
My cousin, Kevin George, said it beautifully one day when he said, "No one would want to go through what you had to go through to get to the other side. Everyone would love to be on that side though." I think he's right. It is easy for people to forget what had to happen for us to get these beautiful renovations. The "behind the scenes" moments of sadness and stress are definitely not worth it, regardless how beautiful they are.
  
The Enterprise: The company that is doing the remodeling are fire and water renovation “experts”... have they lived up to that title?

Jesse: They have lived up to that title. There’s no sign of water or fire damage in our home and they’ve gone above and beyond to make sure everything is going back the way it was or better. One of the defining characteristics of our house is the woodwork. When we were looking for a restoration company, not everyone recognized that. One company suggested that it would be impossible to put the woodwork back as it was and suggested we try something more modern. From the word go, the guys at CDE Restoration acknowledged the character of the woodwork and immediately knew a trim carpenter (Warren Keeling from Willisburg) that could restore it. They were right. Warren has been incredible and is extremely talented at his craft.

Coury: We have encountered common issues that come with any construction process, but overall, we are very happy with CDE. One of the main reasons we chose them was because they seemed to value the character of our home and they promised to try to keep that character, and they have kept that promise.

The Enterprise: If you can, give me an idea of the renovation process... What happened first? And then after that? And so on and so forth...

Jesse: Once everything that was salvageable was removed from our house, a crew came in and demolished everything except for the shell of our house. After that was cleared out, our contractors came in to remove the burned portions of our home and then replaced it with new lumber. Around the same time, windows were going in. Following that, we plotted out where our walls would be (they remained mostly unchanged). Once the structure was secure and studs were up, the plumbing, electrical and HVAC crew came in to redo those things from scratch. When they were finished, foam insulation was blown all throughout the house. After the insulation went in, the drywall crew came and put up our walls. That’s when things started getting exciting. After drywall went in, our trim carpenter and painter showed up and started putting in finishing touches, which are still ongoing. Around the same time, our wood floors and tile were installed. Within the last week our kitchen cabinets and vanities went in. During all of those last few steps, electrical, plumbing and HVAC work has been ongoing.

The Enterprise: You started from scratch... How did you all go about making design decisions? What was your vision?

Jesse: We’ve relied heavily on the kindness and expertise of others. We made a lot of those decisions on our own in the past while doing renovations and we agreed we needed skilled help.
When it came to changing the layout, we consulted with our neighbor, David Hennen, who happens to be an architect. We were able to make some of the layout decisions based on the architectural drawings he provided. Of course, those changes came with input from the interior designer, Nancy Spragens, and the contractors.
Nancy led the way on the majority of our design choices. She sat with us to talk about paint colors and she came up with a brilliant palette for us to choose from. She’s been instrumental in choosing cabinetry, tile, flooring, window treatments and many other things. She really knows what she’s doing, thankfully.  
We’ve had a lot of help, too, from really too many people to list. I started listing everyone that has in some way influenced the design and it started looking like a phone book.

Coury: With lots of help!
When we first moved into the home, Jesse and I did all the work. We stripped wallpaper and painted the walls. We picked out paint colors and window treatments ourselves. And let me tell you - we didn't know what we were doing. So this time, we decided to do it right. And the first step in doing that was hiring an interior designer, Nancy Spragens.
Our main vision was to keep the character of our house - the beautiful woodworking, the coffered ceiling, the built in china cabinet - but change the few things that needed updating - the toilet room, the shower stall, the tiny closet space. And we kept in mind one thing everyone seemed to emphasize: you can never have enough storage space.

The Enterprise: What parts have been the most exciting? What are you particularly pleased with? Bathroom vanities? Cabinets? Drywall? What made you jump up and down in pure joy?

Jesse: The exciting parts have come in stages, but I think the most exciting part for me so far has been split between seeing the cabinets and watching the trim go up. Our house has extensive woodwork in it, so watching that go back has been a thrill. On a recent Friday I called our trim carpenter after business hours because I was so amazed at the work he did on our coffered ceiling. That’s the kind of stuff that makes me most excited.

Coury: As crazy as it sounds, getting insulation and drywall, then paint on the walls has been the most exciting for me. After months and months of my house being just a shell with beams, that is when it started to feel like a home again!

The Enterprise: Has there been anything that you did that you now wish you had NOT done? And, vice versa, is there anything you did NOT do that you wish you would have?

Jesse: So far, I can’t find anything we’ve done that I wish we hadn’t done. I think once we get moved in and I stub my toe on something for the 177th time, then I’ll be wishing we hadn’t done something.
Even though there has been extensive renovation, there are still things I could find that I would like to do to the house. The insurance covers the replacement value of items that were affected by the fire, so you can’t just decide to put a hot tub on your back porch and charge it to the insurance. There are several projects that we’re going to do out of own pockets, but obviously you can’t do everything. I think one thing I’ll look back and wish I had done while we were in the mess was replace the wood on the front porch. That may not be out of the question yet, we still have to wait and see how things look when we’re moved back in.

Coury: I probably won't know the answer to this until we're finally living at home!

The Enterprise: The process started when? And move in date is estimated to be when?

Jesse: I believe CDE was in our house about 10 days or so after the fire, so Aug. 19, and our move-in date is tentatively going to be mid or late April (which is subject to change, of course). If we go very far into April, that’s eight months since the time of the fire.

The Enterprise: What are you most looking forward to about being in your home? What do you daydream about? What are just itching to do at YOUR home?

Jesse: I look forward to several things. For one, I look forward to not having my son sleeping in a crib at the foot of my bed. The poor guy deserves to not hear me snore all night. I look forward to cooking chocolate chip pancakes, bacon and eggs for my family in our new kitchen. I look forward to sprawling out with my family on our sectional like we used to before the fire. I look forward to the peace of mind and calm that comes with being home. I daydream about putting my son on the floor and letting him crawl up our new steps, something he’s been dying to do. I daydream about having friends over, grilling some food and just hanging out at my house.

Coury: I am excited to have space! When Aunt Ackie gave us her home, she generously emptied several drawers and cabinets for us, but she couldn't empty out her entire home. Now we are busting at the seams (especially as we are constantly replacing items) and that is so frustrating.
I daydream constantly about being home. I can't wait for my entire family to stretch out on our couch together. I can't wait to swing on our front porch and watch the Spalding Ave walkers go by. I can't wait for my children to play in our backyard. I can't wait for Emerson to be in her "pink room" and for Eliot to finally have his own room. I am even excited to do the most menial chores - laundry, dishes - in my own home. I simply can't wait to, at the end of the day, pull in my driveway and walk in my home.