When Ann Garton and her mother breezed through the big, circa-1915 house near Davenport's Vander Veer Botanical Park some eight years ago, they knew that buying the place would saddle Ann and her husband Dave with a project, but, in Ann's words, it would be "a doable project."

Pluses were that the home was structurally sound and in a good neighborhood, with attractive architectural features. Minuses were that the dining room had a drop ceiling, the hardwood floors were covered with carpeting, the walls and ceilings were pink and the kitchen - with five doors and two windows - was not very functional.

"Thankfully, my mother has a great eye for finding a diamond in the rough and seeing its potential," Ann said.

Because the Gartons were relocating to the Quad-Cities from Houston with Deere & Co. and didn't know how much time they'd have before transferring again, they set as their top priorities the changes that would make the house more attractive for resale: repainting and refinishing the floors. They did this - and most of the other improvements - themselves, both inside and out.

A starting point was the selection of wallpaper for the dining room. Ann's mother, always the consultant, suggested a floral pattern of white, maroon and dark green on a rich cream background. This set the color palette for the rest of the downstairs.

Pulling up the carpet was more challenging than they expected; the padding had been laid upside-down, making it stick to the floor like glue. "A friend and I worked with heat guns to remove all the sticky padding," Ann said. Then Dave rented a drum sander and went to work.

His advice for others considering do-it-yourself projects: Don't be afraid to try.

"Stop at the rental stores and talk to them," he said. "They'll walk you through it, step by step. If it (your project) doesn't work, you can always call someone (a professional) then."

The Gartons also painted the exterior of their home, replacing mustard yellow and colonial blue with a three-color scheme of green/gray, dark green and rusty maroon.

They chose paint over synthetic siding because painting was more economical and because it preserves the character of the home ... which is why they bought it in the first place.

Attic-to-family room conversion

One of the biggest single projects Dave tackled was refinishing the attic, transforming unused space into a family room with lots of storage. This was no small feat, beginning with how to get the drywall into the attic since it could not be carried up the stairs because of a sharp turn. The solution was to have Menards deliver 35 sheets onto the porch roof. From there, it was handed through a second-floor bedroom window and carried up the more-open attic stairs.

To install the drywall, Dave rented a drywall jack and followed the framing and the roof line. To cover imperfections where he had to patch, he hired a contractor to coat the drywall with a thick, plaster-like coating before painting.

The result is a bonus space where the family watches television and reads, and where son Eamon (an Irish name), 7, can play. Also, there is hidden storage behind two walls.

Kitchen, bath redo

The Gartons' last big projects were to redo the kitchen and first-floor bathroom, which had been built in what was originally a back porch. For these jobs they hired a local contractor and consulted with KBD Kitchen & Bath Design of Davenport on the design. The Gartons gutted the space beforehand to reduce costs.

While everything in the kitchen now is new, the main functional change was to build a 5½-by-3-foot peninsula out from a wall. This doubled their counter space, gave them a place to eat meals and greatly improved the work flow.

"Dave is the cook and he hated the house because the kitchen was so dysfunctional," Ann said. "Just this little rearranging has made a huge difference."

Another change was to expose the brick chimney, which adds a warm, rustic feel. The cabinets are white to match the woodwork in the rest of the house and to lighten the space. The appliances are stainless-steel, the countertops are black granite and the floor is 16-inch multi-toned gray "luxury vinyl tile" installed with grout. It's called Alterna by Armstrong. (See more in an accompanying story.)

Ann wanted a wood floor, but Dave was concerned that it wouldn't match the rest of the downstairs. When she went shopping at Abbey Carpets Gallery in Davenport, she was sold on the Alterna. Unlike ceramic or porcelain tile, it has more "give," which is important in a "nothing-is-level-or-square" older home. She also loves the color that doesn't show dirt and "helps pull it (the room) all together."

Their only regrets about the kitchen are that they didn't do it sooner and that they didn't put radiant heat under the floor.

The three-fourths bath was also a total redo. And Ann made the small back porch more functional with the addition of a bench with storage space, a storage cabinet, shelves and hanging pegs.

Front porch, neighborhood

Despite the many improvements, if you ask the Gartons to name their favorite feature, they just might say their front porch.

"We love our front porch," Dave said.

And the neighborhood.

While their kitchen was torn up for its makeover, "there wasn't a week went by when we weren't eating at a neighbor's house," Dave said. "Where (else) do you get that?"