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HOMEOWNERS - Bob and Heather Cherichella

REBUILT - March 2002-May 2003 (acquired 2001)

LOCATION - A tidal marsh on Broad Creek in Wexford Plantation

STYLE - British colonial, the prevailing architecture in Wexford Plantation

CONSTRUCTION - "The world's most elegant bunker": poured concrete walls with steel reinforced bars running horizontally and vertically

EXTERIOR - Stucco scored to look like limestone, raised-seam metal roof

HIS FAVORITE ROOM - "The library — I'm a voracious reader"

HER FAVORITE ROOM - Heather spends the majority of her free time in the great room (comprising kitchen, family area, nook, and sun room)

AT-HOME PASTIMES - Playing golf and watching the egrets, herons, pelicans, sunsets, and passing kayaks

HOUSEBUILDING TIP - "The more active you can be, the more time you can spend with the builder, the better the experience will be."

The Study

The Pool

The Living Room

HILTON HEAD, SOUTH CAROLINA — Bob and Heather Cherichella's decision to pull up stakes and relocate to Hilton Head seemed more of a foregone conclusion than an actual decision. Having maintained a second home in Wexford Plantation for several years, they'd grown fond of the community and the friends who lived there.

In North Carolina, they were closer to their youngest child, a student at Emory University, and Bob was right in the heart of the East Coast territory he managed. When they stopped to think about it, it made no sense to stay put. "Why are we living in Indiana?" they asked themselves. "Let's come here full time!"


After the house caught fire, most of the landscaping was salvaged, stored in a nursery, and then replanted, giving the grounds an unusually mature appearance. Shop Outdoor Living.

Everything about the place felt right. "There's a rhythm we really like," Bob explains. "A bit of the Old South. And great people! The weather's warm, and the roads aren't crowded. It suits our temperament."

On Valentine's Day 2001, they bought a new house in Wexford Plantation and immediately undertook an extensive six-month renovation. (Bob's friends asked, "What are you going to give her next Valentine's Day?") The Cherichellas remained in the house while it was being remodeled, moving from room to room and vacating the premises only once (for 14 days) while the hardwood floors were being installed.

When the last of the work was completed, the house, according to Bob, looked "absolutely spectacular. Heather had done a great job!" Their furniture and other belongings were put in place the first week of August, and Heather cooked her first meal in the remodeled kitchen.

FROM DREAM HOUSE TO NIGHTMARE

Here Bob takes up the story. "The second night we were there, a bad electrical storm came through the area. There were some 500 lightning strikes, and a tree fell over on the house. The damage was bad enough that we went to stay with friends.

"Our friends were phenomenal. We missed being in our community."

"Two hours later, we got a call that the house was in flames. It had been struck by lightning. We got there in time to see it collapse."

The neighbors mobilized a network of support, bringing Bob and Heather meals and repeatedly asking, "What can we do?" The two of them credit an organization within Wexford Plantation that takes care of people when catastrophe strikes. "Our friends were phenomenal. We missed being in our community."

Buoyed by the support and determined to return home to Wexford Plantation, Bob and Heather began to focus on building a new house for themselves.

"We loved the area and the people we lived around," says Bob. "It was an easy decision. The house burned down in August, and in March 2002, we started building."

STARTING FROM SCRATCH

In the meantime, he and Heather rented a home in Sea Pines Plantation on the Intercoastal Waterway. "It was like being kids in an apartment and starting all over," says Heather. She waited to shop for furniture until she had the new floor plan in hand — with the exception of a 12-foot-long china cabinet she'd ordered prior to losing the house. "They'd made it incorrectly, so I'd told them I'd wait for the right one. Luckily, it wasn't to be delivered until a month after the house burned, or it would have burned up, too. We got lucky on a few things like that."


"Kitchen cabinets go through phases," says Heather, "dark, light, blond. But white is always 'in'." Shop Kitchen & Entertaining.

Heather shopped for everything from furniture and paintings to simple things like coffee pots. "The day after a fire, you have to go out and buy underwear and toothbrushes and the basics. The last thing you want to do is shop; you would rather sit in the fetal position for awhile. I thought I'd never get sick of shopping, but believe me, I did."

Every meal was a chore. "I'd go to reach for something, and it's not there. You get numb, and then it becomes comical. 'Why am I looking for that? I know where it is: it's gone.' It was hard in the beginning, but both of us are still healthy, and our kids are healthy."

It's the irreplaceable things that are the most hurtful, things like photographs. Bob and Heather's children, however, are doing their best to supply replacements from their own photo collections, and their oldest son put together a cookbook of old family recipes. "Losing everything makes you appreciate everything you have, especially the people."

SILVER LININGS

Bob and Heather planned to rebuild on their same lot, a decision that surprised some of their friends. "It was so beautiful and the location so perfect," says Heather. "We're on a tidal marsh, and the tides change between six and nine feet every six hours, so every time you look out the window, it's a different view. At high tide, you see water; at low tide, you see animals moving around, egrets and pelicans and herons, and you see kayakers as the water flows back in. Every day you look out and see something you didn't see the day before."

Rebuilding gave Bob and Heather the opportunity to rearrange the floor plan in order to capitalize on all the natural beauty. "Now that we've changed the flow of the house, there isn't a bad view anywhere," says Bob. "We put the best views in the living areas."

"When you do an extensive renovation like we did, you sit back and think, Gee, if we could do it all over again..."

There were other silver linings in the clouds, he says. "When you do an extensive renovation like we did, you sit back and think, 'Gee, if we could do it all over again...' So we had a chance to do those things we hadn't done the first time around.'"

First and foremost was making the house more structurally sound.

"We affectionately refer to it as the world's most elegant bunker," says Bob. "The walls are poured concrete between sleeves of Styrofoam with steel-reinforced bars running horizontally and vertically. One of the reasons the renovations had taken so long was there were structural issues inside the house. But this new house isn't going anywhere." (He tells a story to emphasize the point: Back in September 2004 when hurricanes were criss-crossing the Southeast, their builder learned that he and Heather planned to be away for a night and phoned to ask, "Would you mind if we came and stayed in your place?")

The second time around, they opened up the kitchen and great room and made them the focal point of the home, borrowing space from the formal living room to do so and transforming it into a small conversation area ("We call it the great room because it's the greatest room in the house," says Bob).

They also took space away from large, furnished bathrooms ("To me, they were a waste," he explains) and added it to the bedrooms. A game room was added upstairs for the grandchildren, and a mahogany-shelved wine cellar at one end of the dining room ("Part of the whole experience of having a meal is choosing the wine").

And when they installed the new pool, they took advantage of new pool-cleaning technology that eliminates the need to vacuum ("The pool is very low maintenance and always ready to swim").

Yet another positive aspect of rebuilding: super-sizing certain elements of the house. "We're relatively big people: 5'10" and 6'7". We built this custom home for our custom fit. Everything is adult size: the living room mantel and the counter heights in the kitchen and baths.

"If we ever get around to selling this house," Bob concludes, "we won't have anybody under 5'8" wanting to buy it!"



THE MAKE-IT-HAPPEN TEAM

He has nothing but praise for his wife and the team who pulled the house together. "Heather and I talked to three different architects, showed them the footprint, and said, 'What can you do with this?'" The Cherichellas based their selection on intuition.

"We're people persons, and we base a lot of what we do on feel, so we went with this incredibly creative architect. And where we really got lucky was the builder. He's a master builder: both a general contractor and an engineer." Though the two had never before worked together, they played off each other's strengths beautifully. "We had this creative architect who was a big-picture kind of guy, and a builder who was very pragmatic and detail-oriented. They've since done a number of jobs together." Bob is quick to mention that the design firm Heather worked with was equally wonderful. "The three of them — architect, builder, and designer — made a great combination.

"If we ever get around to selling this house," Bob concludes, "we won't have anybody under 5'8" wanting to buy it!"

"My wife was integral to all that," he adds. While his work often kept him away while the house was being built, Heather was at the job site day in and day out. "The more active you can be, the more time you can spend with the builder, the better the experience will be. Things come up that require answers, and if you're there, it's easy to do that." Her constant presence paid off in other ways: "She has a tremendous knowledge of what makes this house work structurally and creatively."

Bob says everyone loves working with his wife because she can make decisions. "It's not always the builder's fault if the client isn't happy. Often the client isn't sure what they want or can't decide. Take time to deliberate, get as close as you can, then go in with an answer." All in all, the building process went exceptionally well. "You hear so many horror stories in new construction. Very few can say they're good friends with the builder, but we can. We can't say enough good things about him."

HAPPY AT HOME

Leaving compliance with the plantation's exterior architectural standards to the architect, Bob and Heather focused on the interior. There were two features from the old house that they wanted to make sure they replicated: the spiral staircase and the library. "We wanted the continuity of a great library," says Bob. "A gentleman from Georgia did all the cabinets and woodwork. I'm a voracious reader. The library is and probably always will be my all-time favorite room."

Heather's favorite, on the other hand, is the kitchen, which comes as no surprise given that Bob says she's "an unbelievable cook." It's a cheerful room with white cabinets. "Ten years from now, they won't be dated. Kitchen cabinets go through phases: dark, light, blond. But white is always in, and they're easy to keep clean — just wipe them down." She's particularly partial to her double oven, six-burner gas cooktop ("It's easy to regulate the heat, and you can have vegetable, meat, and sauces all going at once right there in front of you"), and trio of dishwashers ("I put stemware in one, dishes and silver in another, and pots and pans in another").

Another favorite spot is the screened porch off the master bedroom. "It's a great place to have coffee," says Bob. "And I love watching the sunrises and sunsets, the life out there on the marsh."

What else does he like about living here? "I grew up in a five story walk-up in New York and slept on a foldout couch, so I feel like I'm staying in a Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons. It's my own little enclave." He relishes the quiet, the beauty of their surroundings. Yet he's also a dyed-in-the-wool Easterner who appreciates the art center and great restaurants just outside the plantation. When they're at home, however, Bob and Heather shy away from diversions, except for the company of the truly interesting people who make up their community. "We don't watch much TV or go to movies. When we're home, we just enjoy every minute of it."

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