CLEARWATER — "Ugly" contests aren't competitions people usually want to win. But Cindy Villella was elated when she won an "ugly kitchen" contest.
"I snapped off pictures of my kitchen and e-mailed them," said Villella, 56. "When the e-mail said that I'd won, I couldn't believe it was true. I'd never won anything."
She and her husband, Steve, didn't qualify for the contest at first. Originally, the winner was to receive $5,000 toward a kitchen remodel. But the Villellas, who are caring for ill and elderly parents, didn't have money for the rest of the remodeling.
But the contest's sponsors — the Home Improvement Source and APSCO Appliance Centers in Clearwater — ended up rethinking their rules.
"I saw people with horrible kitchens" said Bruce Hoyland, owner of the Home Improvement Source at 30333 U.S. 19 N.
"After talking with these people, I found that none really had money to remodel."
So they decided to give the winner a free kitchen.
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The Villellas needed a new kitchen. They had crumbling cabinets and a Formica countertop that had long ago lost its shine.
When they purchased their fixer-upper home eight years ago, they intended to remodel. They bought all new appliances.
But their plans changed.
Cindy Villella's father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. When his wife died, Cindy traveled to Tennessee and brought him to live with her and Steve.
A year later, her mother broke her hip. There were two choices: Put her mother in a nursing home or move her from Alabama to Clearwater. So Cindy moved her mom in, too.
After working for 30 years, Cindy had new responsibilities. She had parents living with her who were in their 80s and had been divorced from each other for many years.
So in 2009, Cindy quit her job as a printer in a business she had owned until 2001. The ugly kitchen became a constant sight for the full-time caregiver.
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The Villellas were among 185 contest entries. With so many telling heart-rending stories, Hoyland said, it was difficult to choose the most deserving.
"We decided to pull the name out of a kitty," he said. "I'm happy for the woman who won, especially after seeing how excited she was. She didn't believe that she'd really won up until the time we tore out her kitchen."
Mont Krest Stone in Largo donated a $600 piece of granite for the countertops, and Ferguson Supply, a local plumbing supply company, donated a sink and a faucet worth about $400.
All the work to cut the granite, install the cabinets and appliances, and finish the kitchen took about three weeks. Work recently wrapped up.
Dan Hewitt, manager at Home Improvement Source, said that with materials and labor, the kitchen would have cost $12,000 to $15,000.
"It couldn't happen to nicer people," he said of the Villellas. "She's a sweetheart, and she's basically been stuck in her house 24/7 for the last two years."
Laura Greco, APSCO Appliance Centers marketing and operations manager in Largo, hopes this won't be the last contest. "Helping this family get a kitchen, which was simply not possible without this contest, was very rewarding for us," she said.
Cindy Villella loves the remodel. And she's happy Hoyland suggested donating the appliances she and her husband had purchased when they bought the house to Habitat for Humanity. She says taking care of her parents is what she's supposed to be doing with her life right now.
"I've been lucky twice in my life, once dealing with cancer, needing radiation and not chemotherapy," she said. "And now winning this beautiful kitchen. If I never have good luck again the rest of my life, I'm all set."