WOONSOCKET — Maple cabinets, granite island, plush, multi-hued carpets with that brand-new smell.
There’s a feast for the senses in Paul and Lorraine Jacob’s new house on Hillsdale Street. But the most important component of the only new house built in the city this year is something you can’t see or touch.
Call it generosity: When the Jacobs’ 46-year-old cape was destroyed by fire last winter, a citywide network of supporters launched a prolonged and persistent fundraising campaign to help the couple rebuild bigger and better than ever.
“It’s great to be home,” said Paul Jacob as he settled into the new place Tuesday, ending nine months in the exile of a North End rental. “We were really getting homesick.”
Well-known figures in civic circles, the Jacobs run Jacob Video and Sound, the company responsible for cablecasts of City Council meetings on Cox public access stations. Paul Jacob has also been entertainment chairman of Autumnfest for about 20 years, and he’s been associated with the annual civic bash even longer. He also runs municipal cable programming for neighboring Blackstone, Mass.
Still, the Jacobs were surprised and humbled by the outpouring of help that materialized to get them back on their feet after the fire, on Feb. 4.
A bubbly, outgoing woman who is rarely at a loss for words, Lorraine Jacob had trouble finding the right ones to express her appreciation.
“You don’t expect it and you want to give back somehow,” she said, throwing up her hands in a gesture of exasperation. “There’s so many people you want to thank.”
The Jacobs say insurance covered the replacement value of their existing home, while the fundraisers – most of them organized by the Autumnfest Steering Committee, brought in another $12,000 or so.
But somewhere along the way, Paul Jacob says, he and his wife realized the money, however badly needed, wasn’t as important as what it represented.
It wouldn’t have mattered to them if their supporters had only raised $1,200. The mere fact that so many people and organizations rallied to their side in a time of need is what he and his wife find so gratifying.
“It made us feel good,” he says. “We were so down for a long time. We lost everything in the fire, all our furniture, all our possessions.”
The cause of the fire was never determined, though the Jacobs have their theories. The couple wasn’t home when the fire started, but they say there was a wood stove in the breezeway that was running when they left to run some errands.
Still, they’ve been told by firefighters there was no conclusive evidence the stove was the cause, shifting their suspicions to electrical appliances that were turned on when they left – perhaps a small fan circulating warmth from the cast iron stove.
Half the main level of the house was gutted by the fire, the rest ravaged by smoke, water and intensely hot temperatures. The two-story, which they had just finished sprucing up with new paint, wood trim and roof repairs, collapsed in heartbreaking heap of charred rubble.
They turned to a family friend, John Cote of J.B. Construction in Manville, for hands-on expertise. His advice: Demolish what was left and start rebuilding from scratch.
“The only thing we kept was the foundation and we went up off that,” says Cote.
The Jacobs wanted Cote to be their general contractor at a time when a number of builders were vying for the work. But Cote told them he wouldn’t take the job unless the Jacobs hired an architect first.
“There were all these guys out there throwing numbers around before they even knew what they were going to build,” said Cote.
The Jacobs took his advice and ended up enlarging the footprint of the original house from a rectangle of 24 feet by 32 feet to a 32-foot square. They blew out the peaked roof a bit, too, so now they’ve got more headroom in the upstairs bedrooms and more closet space.
The six-room, two-bath house is a showstopper: New maple cabinets, granite counters and hardwoods in the kitchen, creamy ceramics in sparkling bathrooms, vibrant, fresh carpets in the bedrooms, and a composite deck overlooking the backyard.
The Jacobs were living in a rental on Glen Road whose owner offered to sell them the property while the construction project was under way. It was an interesting offer, but the Jacobs never took it very seriously.
“We’ve been here since 1965,” says Paul. “We were only the second house on the street when we moved in. We’re so glad to be back.”