Our vinyl-clad home sits on a deep lot on one of the quietest streets in Bethesda. Two blocks to a top-notch elementary school. One block to the swim club. A creek so close you can sometimes hear its splash above the din of crickets on a summer's night. Half a mile to shopping, restaurants and the all-connecting Metro system. A slice of close-in suburban heaven on a country lane.

The home appraiser might have prompted outrage, insult or indignation when he stated, "You've got a lovely little house here. But you do know there's a 50-50 chance it's a tear-down." Instead, my husband and I found freedom.

We were wrapping up our rock-bottom refinance. We did not pull out equity for expansion. We lowered our cost of living, leaving me to still covet my neighbors' new master bedroom suites and upstairs laundry rooms. We started on a process I now call subtraction.

Rather than add on new space, we looked at the space we have and started to work on eliminating problems in an egocentric fashion rarely lavished on homeowners concerned with resale. And, underneath the vinyl, we found a home we love.

An eyesore, like the siding wrapped around the portico, gone. Underneath, the charm of old wood and bead board, thickly layered with paint, was found. The wooden front warmly welcomes all who approach.

A wall separating the living room from the morning light is also gone, transforming a shoebox of an office into a cozy dining space that spills dinner guests into a living room formerly used only to unwrap Christmas gifts. With heavy curtains hung above the archway, the only architectural detail in our pre-World War II Colonial, the old dining room is now an office and guest room.

An island separating kitchen and family room is gone now too. A real table for family meals is in its place.

Subtraction also includes the less-than-glamorous task of routinely and ruthlessly cleaning closets and drawers. Most items are given away to start a new life with another family. However, in an attempt to engender the support of my enterprising children, toys and games are periodically collected for a garage sale yet to be held, leading to a basement waiting to flood other homes with valuables.

In all honesty, we added things here and there. Paint as warm and mellow as butter melting on bread is spread across the first-floor walls. Newly refinished hardwood floors will soon unify these rooms as well. And, in the living room, a salvaged, hand-carved mantle provides a place to hang Christmas stockings, despite the fact there is no fireplace.

Yes, I still covet closets larger than my son's bedroom. But I have discovered that one man's trash is indeed another's treasure.