Lorri Kreuscher’s extreme makeover started with an extreme personal loss.

Her husband of more than three decades died in 2010, just as they were beginning the process of building a house a couple of miles from their longtime home in Bloomington.

“I was devastated,” she said.

They’d started clearing the lot and developing plans, but she put the project on hiatus. “My heart wasn’t in that anymore — to go through all that by myself. I was left trying to figure out what in the world to do.”

She found herself reluctant to leave the home where they had raised their family. “I had dreams of selling the house and terribly regretting it,” she said. So instead of building a new home, she stayed in her old one, grieving and adjusting to life on her own. “I’m very independent,” she said. “But I had never lived alone before.”

After about a year, Kreuscher decided it was time to make a few home improvements.

“I started tearing down trees,” she recalled. “Views were important to me. I love gardens and pretty things outside.”

Then she went to see a neighbor’s remodeling and got inspired to redo her brick fireplace. One thing led to another, and soon Kreuscher was redoing her entire house.

“I got the bug,” she said. The massive makeover project kept her busy, and she started to get excited about the possibilities of a home that reflected her taste and personality. Kreuscher and her late husband had done some “piecemeal” remodeling over the years, but their home’s original 1963 floor plan and facade were largely intact.

“It was a typical rambler — a lot of separate rooms,” she said, including a formal living room that was rarely used. “I had people in there probably 10 times” during all the years she lived in her home.

She envisioned a more open floor plan, with inviting spaces to gather with her three grown children and 10 grandchildren. She met with a design-build firm, but soon realized she wanted day-to-day control. “I needed more input and involvement,” she said. “The creative side of me was coming out. Someone said, ‘Lorri, why don’t you just do it yourself?’ I said, ‘Are you kidding me? I don’t know anything.’ ”

But she resolved to learn, doing online research, seeking out experts and asking a lot of questions. Soon she was acting as her own designer and general contractor, soliciting bids, hiring subcontractors to help her fulfill her vision — and occasionally firing those who didn’t.

Taking it slow

As a woman with no experience in construction, Kreuscher knew she had an uphill climb to credibility as a job-site boss. “I openly admitted I didn’t know everything, but I tried to assume a position of authority,” she said. “I took it really slow.”

Over 2 ½ years, she dramatically transformed her dwelling, knocking down walls and putting on two additions, turning her five-bedroom house into a two-bedroom dream home with a luxurious owner’s suite, a workout room and even a gift-wrapping room, plus a new garage, exterior, driveway and landscaping, including a pondless waterfall. “I redid everything,” she said.

Along the way she relied on her business savvy, honed during 43 years of managing a Shaklee distributorship. “I’m in business, I understand numbers, and I’m persistent,” she said.

But she also enjoyed tapping into her artistic side, dreaming up distinctive touches and seeking out unusual materials, like her leathered soapstone countertop. “I was soaking up ideas everywhere,” she said.

She aimed for a contemporary look, with clean lines and square shapes, softened by a mixture of metals and woods in both cool and warm tones.

“People say, ‘You have an Asian thing happening here.’ I didn’t plan that,” Kreuscher said. “But I know what I like.”

One of her biggest points of pride is the backsplash she designed for her kitchen. “I didn’t want the typical thing,” she said. “I got the idea from an art class I took in college.”

She’d admired the color-block paintings of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian, and decided to try something similar using a melange of tiles, of different textures, finishes and materials, including metal, ceramic, porcelain, glass and stone.

“It was a nightmare for the people installing it — the tiles were all different thicknesses,” she said. “When the guy started putting it in, I thought, ‘This is my biggest mistake of the whole project.’ I was so nervous. It was a crazy idea I had.”

The tile contractor was ready to call a halt. “He said, ‘We should stop,’ but I said, ‘Just finish it.’ ” And she’s glad she did. “I worried about it, but it turned out nice,” she said. “It’s something I really, really like.”

Another hurdle was redesigning the fireplace that now faces both her kitchen and living room. “This fireplace was a real monster — dealing with the flues,” she said. “I didn’t know anything about flues, but I would push through until I got an answer.”

Although Kreuscher called the shots, she relied on the expertise and craftsmanship of many collaborators. “I met a lot of good people doing this,” she said.

One person in particular. During the project, she formed a special friendship with Brian Koenig, a landscaping subcontractor.

Bonding over boulders

“He was very helpful and kind,” she said. “I didn’t feel like I had to second-guess him. He was on my side.”

They bonded while picking out boulders together. And he teased her about her vanity license plates: ECO CEO.

“I thought it was a little snooty,” he said with a grin.

But he came to appreciate her other qualities. “She’s kind and generous,” he said. “Just a very caring person.”

Yet she could be tough and tenacious when she had to be. “She’s a real tiger,” he said. “She will not give in if it’s not correct. She’ll fight until she gets it the way she wants it.”

Friendship and mutual admiration gradually grew into love. Kreuscher’s home makeover project was completed around Labor Day, and she and Koenig married a few weeks later — in her newly landscaped back yard.

Now the house she designed for her life as a single woman is a home for newlyweds.

“I never planned on remarrying after Bob died,” she said. “When Brian came into the picture, I thought, ‘What am I going to do with him?’ I designed this for myself.”

Fortunately, her new husband feels at home in his new digs. “I’m partial to the outside, of course, but I love it all,” he said.

And she has the welcoming home for family gatherings that she’d dreamed of having. “The grandkids love to come over,” she said. “Now they come over every Sunday,” often hanging out on the lower level, which has a big-screen TV, two pizza ovens, popcorn machine, ping-pong table and a cork wall with a dartboard.

Kreuscher couldn’t be happier with her new and improved home. And she’s still surprised how well it turned out. “I did not have a master plan. I’m amazed to this day that it didn’t end up disjointed,” she said. “I just walk around in a daze. I love it! They’ll probably carry me out of here.”