In 1975, Robert and Mary Millstone moved into what they thought was the ideal Rockville neighborhood. It was a three-minute drive from Robert's business and full of youngfamilies like their own. The only drawback was the three-year-old, two story house they volight for $75,000. They weren't crazy about it, they said.

However, six years and six major remodeling projects later, the Millstones are glad they bought the four-bedroom home. They've redone the kitchen and master bath, added a screened porch off the family room and deck off the master suite, put in a swimming pool and two fireplaces, and are in the process of turning the single-car garage into a fifth bedroom and extra bath.

"We still love the neighborhood," Mary said. "And I think we've made the house livable for us."

At what price? A lot less than you'd think, the Millstones say. Rather than hire contractors or remodeling firms (except for the pool), they made a rough sketch of each addition, hired carpenters, plumbers and masons to do the work, and acted as their own general contractors. That meant buying supplies, finding reliable workmen (usually ones they knew from Robert's business, Montgomery Scrap), and coordinating material deliveries with scheduled work hours. The savings were substantial.

For example, the kitchen was redone in 1977 for less than $8,000, including new cabinets, appliances, design, and the addition of a cooking peninsula, after they'd estimated between $15,000 and $25,000 for a remodeling firm to do it. The master bath cost less than $10,000--a complete gut-job. The back of the house was extended to make room for a dormer and soaking tub, ceramic tile was used throughout, and top-of-the-line fixtures were added. The Millstones estimated the cost to be half what remod asking double.

In return for the savings, they say, they got the aggravation of trying to do a professional contractor's job without really knowing the game. The bathroom took a solid six months, during which they slept in a tiny spare bedroom, and "things were really a mess because there wasn't somebody orchestrating the whole thing. And I was in school at the time," Mary said. She divided her energies between classes at the University of Maryland, supervising her two daughters, and running the remodeling job.

"The plumber couldn't put in the tub until the carpenter made the frame for it," she said. "The carpenter couldn't make the frame til the tub came. When the tub finally came, the carpenter couldn't get here. There were a long series of things like that."

Such is the fate of nonprofessional contractors, and things don't necessarily get any better as you get more experienced, she added. Recently the carpenter working on the garage ordered a bow window when the Millstones wanted a bay window. Mary sent it back. The supplier delivered it to the carpenter's house, where it now sits in the basement. The carpenter wants the Millstones to pay for it.

"These things happen if you don't get it all down in writing," Mary said. "And we can't really get it in writing because we don't have architectural plans from the beginning." The only advantage is that these minor mess-ups usually cost less than a general contractor would . . . and besides, Mary likes working without formal plans.

"It's nice not having anybody tell me what I ought to do," Mary said. In the kitchen, for example, "you know how you work, how your prepare your meals and clean up after." If you study current trends in building magazines (which she did), then "you can do it yourself." And she feels she's been more sensitive than "experts" would have been on some details, such as the cooking island she designed not only to fit into a limited space, but to let her look out the back window and "watch the kids in the yard while I was working. They were pretty young at the time."

Her basic technique has Home Remodeling. . . -Almost Hassle-Free -- By Ellyn Bache Special to The Washington II n 1975, Robert and Mary Millstone moved into what they thought was the ideal RockI ville neighborhood. It was a three-minute drive from Robert's business and full of young families like their own. The only drawback was the three-year-old, two-story house they bought for $75,000. They weren't crazy about it, they said.

However, six years and six major remodeling projects later, the Millstones are glad they bought the four-bedroom home. They've redone the kitchen and master bath, added a screened porch off the family room and deck off the master suite, put in a swimming pool and two fireplaces, and are in the process of turning the single-car garage into a fifth bedroom and extra bath.

"We still love the neighborhood," Mary said. "And I think we've made the house livable for us."

At what price? A lot less than you'd think, the Millstones say. Rather than hire contractors or remodeling firms (except for the pool), they made a rough sketch of each addition, hired carpenters, plumbers and masons to do the work, and acted as their own general contractors. That meant buying supplies, finding reliable workmen (usually ones they knew from Robert's business, Montgomery Scrap), and coordinating material deliveries with scheduled work hours. The savings were substantial.

For example, the kitchen was redone in 1977 for less than $8,000, including new cabinets, appliances, design, and the addition of a cooking peninsula, after they'd estimated between $15,000 and $25,000 for a remodeling firm to do it. The master bath cost less than $10,000--a complete gut-job. The back of the house was extended to make room for a dormer and soaking tub, ceramic tile was used throughout, and top-of-the-line fixtures were added. The Millstones estimated the cost to be half what remod asking double.

In return for the savings, they say, they got the aggravation of trying to do a professional contractor's job without really knowing the game. The bathroom took a solid six months, during which they slept in a tiny spare bedroom, and "things were really a mess because there wasn't somebody orchestrating the whole thing. And I was in school at the time," Mary said. She divided her energies between classes at the University of Maryland, supervising her two daughters, and running the remodeling job.

"The plumber couldn't put in the tub until the carpenter made the frame for it," she said. "The carpenter couldn't make the frame til the tub came. When the tub finally came, the carpenter couldn't get here. There were a long series of things like that."

Such is the fate of nonprofessional contractors, and things don't necessarily get any better as you get more experienced, she added. Recently the carpenter working on the garage ordered a bow window when the Millstones wanted a bay window. Mary sent it back. The supplier delivered it to the carpenter's house, where it now sits in the basement. The carpenter wants the Millstones to pay for it.

"These things happen if you don't get it all down in writing," Mary said. "And we can't really get it in writing because we don't have architectural plans from the beginning." The only advantage is that these minor mess-ups usually cost less than a general contractor would . . . and besides, Mary likes working without formal plans.

"It's nice not having anybody tell me what I ought to do," Mary said. In the kitchen, for example, "you know how you work, how your prepare your meals and clean up after." If you study current trends in building magazines (which she did), then "you can do it yourself." And she feels she's been more sensitive than "experts" would have been on some details, such as the cooking island she designed not only to fit into a limited space, but to let her look out the back window and "watch the kids in the yard while I was working. They were pretty young at the time."

Her basic technique has generally worked out pretty well, she said. She gets an overall plan in mind, then cuts out plans she likes from trade magazines and lets carpenters price the various possibilities.

"For the bathroom," she said, "We knew that I wanted a soaking tub, and Robert wanted a big shower with a seat. And we went from there." Usually it worked out fine, Mary said.

Except, she added, for the one disaster. When they added a chimney to the living room, the mason didn't pour its foundation deep enough or tie it properly into the frame house. When winter came, water seeped underneath, froze, and pulled the entire chimney away from the house. The whole chimney had to be rebuilt, at about the same cost as if it had been done right originally.

"The first man could have done it but he was lazy, and we didn't know what to look for," Mary said. "Doing your own contracting is cheaper unless you make mistakes . . . and you pay for those." After the chimney fiasco, the Millstones decided to hire professional help when the project was too technical for them to supervise properly. The pool, handled entirely by Anthony Pool contractors, turned out just fine.

And yet they keep returning to contracting their own work as new needs arose, and they say they aren't sorry. The bedroom going in now will house Robert's mother this summer, and the bath will serve the pool area. Because they've worked slowly, they've been able to save up the cash for many of the additions rather than financing at prohibitive rates, and they feel they've increased the value of their house while making it genuinely comfortable.

"We like our neighbors, and if we moved we'd have to start all over," Mary said. "To get the things that we've put in, we'd have to buy a $400,000 house."