Except for an overhead light, which we’ll get to later, the two houses are nothing alike.

One is a century old and looks it, stripped down to the original narrow clapboard siding and filled up with period tchotckes.

The other is six months young, its interior as minimalist and gleaming as the stainless countertops.

But for months, the homes shared a history, as the Missoula city employees who own them – and whose desks are within hollering distance of one another – waged a friendly rivalry over their progress.

“We teased each other when one would do something the other hadn’t reached,” said Jamie Kosena, whose new home was finished in time for Thanksgiving dinner last year – just a couple of weeks before renovations were completed on Lynette LePiane’s house.

“She started a month before me,” retorted LePiane.

LePiane’s great-grandparents were married in the house, and she herself grew up there, and inherited it when her mother died in 2009. Her challenge – to restore the house to its original turn-of-the-century grace, but with modern conveniences. Closets, for one. And a television room for her husband, Cliff.

“I struggled with my obligations to my great-grandparents and to my mom,” LePiane said. At every turn, there were ghosts. At many, there were tears.

“Those poor guys,” LePiane said of McMahon Builders and the other contractors who worked on the house. “I cried and cried.”

Kosena didn’t have the emotional baggage, but finances demanded that she and her husband do a lot of the work themselves in order to achieve their dream house. Kosena probably expended as much sweat as LePiane did tears.

The result for each?

“I love my house,” Kosena said. Repeatedly.

Ditto, LePiane said. Ditto.

***

When Lynette and Cliff LePiane decided to move into the house after her mother’s death, the historic lines were hidden beneath a layer of green stucco. Even indoors, features that survived weren’t always desirable.

Take the green-and-white checked linoleum in the kitchen. Tactfully put, it was very much a product of its time. It had to go. But it was also a part of Lynette LePiane’s childhood. More tears – followed by a perfect solution.

A small strip of the linoleum was saved and now serves as the floor to a master bedroom closet.

On the other hand, the original porch supports hidden by the stucco were lovely, but no longer sound. They ended up in the attic, adorning the top of a staircase. Other features were salvageable. The kitchen’s porcelain double-drain farmhouse sink was restored to its former glory; likewise with the clawfoot tub in the master bath.

The kitchen was expanded to include an island and small dining area, “but the front room and dining room are exactly how they were,” LePiane said – right down to the old-fashioned pushbutton light switches, a gift from McMahon and electrician Tom Garland after the LePianes decided they couldn’t afford them.

Those same builders – the ones who also provided the LePianes with extra storage off the kitchen – “were really, really respectful of my emotional attachment to the home,” she said.

That said, LePiane counsels patience for anyone undertaking a remodeling project. That advice is set down in thick ring binder that contains many of the 11,000 (you read that right) photos LePiane took during the work on the house, along with the contact information and thank-yous to all the contractors who worked on it.

“You don’t always get your way,” she said. “But if you do have your heart set on something, make sure everyone knows – and be ready to compromise. Money matters. For instance, your heart might be set on a Jacuzzi, but you’d rather have a toilet.”

***

Kosena got her Jacuzzi.

She and her husband had a plan when they set out to build a home – to do part of the work themselves, so they could afford all the features they wanted. “I was the budget Nazi,” Kosena confessed.

That meant buying a piece of slate that was the perfect color for the bathroom vanity, never mind that it had a minuscule crack; opting for a shower curtain instead of doors; getting – at a sidewalk sale – a huge black piece of granite for the kitchen island, with enough left over for a guest room vanity, and going to Home ReSource for the front door. “It had holes and half the glass was gone, but it was a solid oak door,” Kosena said.

A rocking chair/conversation piece in the living room features a seat and back woven from leather belts. The couple found it in a consignment store.

Such savings allowed for the tub, as well as a gas fireplace in the living room.

Overall, what they wanted for their first home together was as much about feel as style.

“We wanted something very open,” Kosena said – and indeed, the house seems surprisingly more spacious than its 1,700 square feet, thanks in part to nine-foot ceilings, tall windows and an impressive lack of clutter.

“I’m a bit of a freak” about order, Kosena admitted. “Actually, we all are.” Proof – her middle-school-age son’s neat-as a-pin room.

The home’s materials aid in the task. The stainless steel countertops – including one atop washer and dryer that makes for easy ironing, sorting and folding, shine up fast and are as practical as they are beautiful, making hot pads unnecessary.

The floor is circle-sawn fir, whose finish masks scratches.

Like LePiane, Kosena ended up with extra storage space – in her case, a pantry and closet.

“He was just very innovative,” she said of builder Doug Kimmel. “And clearly, he has a wife.”

The couple solved the issue of a potentially dark front hallway by putting a pane of reeded glass beside the front door, and a transom over the door. But they needed a little more light.

A stained glass lamp, framed by the transom, was the solution.

Later, as Kosena and LePiane compared notes on the progress of their homes, LePiane realized she and Cliff had bought the same lamp for his TV room.

That was a coincidence. The rain chains weren’t.

“I stole them from her,” LePiane said of the chains that some people use instead of downspouts. She took one look at Kosena’s and now her home has them, too.

***

The couples had something in common far more important that accent pieces.

Each worked well – indeed, joyfully – as a team. Both Kosena and LePiane gave credit to their husbands for the homes’ décor, choosing materials and colors that would do a decorator proud.

“It was just so much fun,” Kosena said, of even the grunt work that she and her husband did together. “I loved working with him so much.”

And each couple couldn’t say enough good things about their builders and contractors. In fact, said LePiane, who threw “lunch Fridays” for the workers during the months of the project, she actually misses them being around.

Throughout it all, Kosena and LePiane wore a path between each other’s desks.

“We were moral support” for one another, LePiane said. “On frustrating days, on teary days, we’d be there for each other.”

As for their respective projects, “it turns out that we have completely opposite same tastes,” LePiane said. “If that makes sense.”

Seeing both houses, it makes perfect sense.

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