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Originally published December 17, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified December 17, 2007 at 10:31 AM


Kirkland family's home gets "Extreme Makeover"

At first, Connie Chapin walked through the house with her hands in her pockets, afraid to touch anything. Now she sleeps through storms...

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

At first, Connie Chapin walked through the house with her hands in her pockets, afraid to touch anything. Now she sleeps through storms and delights in having her own bathroom.

"Dreams do come true," the 44-year-old single mother said.

Chapin and her four children were featured Sunday night on ABC Television's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition." Their ramshackle 80-year-old Kirkland home was torn down two months ago and replaced by an energy-efficient, two-story Craftsman-style house.

"My old house was a cage," Chapin said. "The new house has given me the freedom to love my children and my life."

About 300 people paid to watch the television show at Kirkland Performance Center. The evening was a benefit for Hopelink.

Pictures of the home's interior weren't to be released by the news media until after the show aired, but that hasn't kept people from wanting a peek. Chapin often has intercepted strangers trying to open her front door.

"This is a private home," she said. "There will be no tours."

An ABC representative has been at the house in recent weeks, overseeing completion of a few details. The driveway had to be redone and a sidewalk added to meet Kirkland codes.

The Chapins saw that as an opportunity.

"We got to put our handprints in the cement," said Rachel, 11.

The finish work hasn't kept the family from enjoying the new home. They relish the new kitchen with stainless-steel appliances, a work island and eating nook.

"In the old kitchen, two was a crowd," said Chapin. "Now the whole family gets dinner and cleans up together."


They've gone from tiny rooms and barely working 1-½ baths to three bathrooms, five spacious bedrooms, an office and a large living room and dining room, where four gingerbread houses decorate the new table.

"Making gingerbread houses the first week of December is one of our Christmas traditions," Chapin said. "But this is the first time we've had a table that all four would fit on."

A decrepit but functional swimming pool in the backyard has been replaced by a 40-foot pool. Chapin supports her family by giving swim lessons.

Until the makeover, storms kept Chapin awake as she planned her four children's escape routes from a crumbling building. A structural engineer declared the house a hazard, warning her it would collapse in the wind. After several years struggling to keep the family fed and warm, she said the engineer's report seemed insurmountable.

She had leaned on Hopelink several times for assistance, most recently to hook up a gas furnace donated by friends. Chapin couldn't cope with anything else major without moving and starting over.

In desperation, she nominated herself for the makeover program. Her tape was picked from the 15,000 applications the popular reality show receives each week. On Sept. 26, "Extreme Makeover" lead designer Ty Pennington knocked on Chapin's door. After a day consulting with designers, the Chapin family was sent on a Florida vacation.

The children eagerly shared details about their Vero Beach experience, which included seeing dolphins, helping release baby turtles and breakfast with Disney characters.

"It was a vacation where I didn't have to say no," Chapin said.

While friends packed up the family's personal belongings, Daimon Doyle, president of the Building Industry Association of Washington, and the volunteer contractor for the job, lined up skilled tradesmen to help. He coordinated the hundreds of people who donated about 10,000 hours of labor.

As the Chapins were flown to Florida, the old house at 10203 116th Ave. N.E. was demolished. Crews worked round-the-clock to build the 3,500-square-foot house. The family returned, expecting to see the new home on Oct. 3. Wet weather hampered construction, and the "reveal" was delayed a day.

"We weren't allowed to look at newspapers, listen to the radio or watch television that day," Chapin said. "A producer was with us the whole time."

Chapin was reassured when she saw a huge rainbow that afternoon. The rainbow, she said, ended on their house. From inside the limousine on reveal morning, the family heard the crowd cheering.

"It was really weird," said Molly, 16. "It just kept getting louder and louder."

Chapin cried when she saw the house. "It didn't seem real; it felt like we were in someone else's house," she said.

Once inside, each child and Chapin entered and re-entered rooms as camera crews taped them from different angles during their day of discovery.

Daniel, 9, found a kayak hanging from the ceiling of his outdoor-themed room. Chairs were made from a tree felled in the backyard. He goes up a climbing structure to get to his bed, and his night light is a camp lantern.

Rachel, 11, has a Hollywood-themed room, and Anna, 14, a techie room in bright pink. A television on her wall doubles as a computer screen.

There were new clothes in the bedrooms, dishes in the cupboard and food in the refrigerator. It began to feel like home the second day — after Rachel broke a glass.

Chapin's wish now is to work on someone else's "Extreme Makeover" house.

"To live in a house built with so much love is comforting," Chapin said. "I'm touched so many people helped to do something to keep us warm and safe."

Sherry Grindeland: 206-515-5633 or

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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