Bill Rancic

Reality TV star Bill Rancic stands in front of his renovated home in Hinsdale. (Bill Hogan/Chicago Tribune photo / February 8, 2011)

"Did a bomb go off in here?"

Giuliana Rancic, house-hunting with her husband, Bill, had just stepped inside a stately shell of a mansion on a leafy street in Hinsdale.

It was an unfinished mess. Outside, a mangle of soil and gravel. Inside, the dusty debris of a project abandoned midconstruction. A wooden plank served as front steps to the makeshift front door.

The Rancics — she the stylish "E! News" host, he the winner of the first "Apprentice," together the stars of the Style Network reality show "Giuliana and Bill" — were filming their hunt for a new home as they sought to trade in their Gold Coast condo for a house in the suburbs, and Giuliana, shaking her head at the wreckage, gave a swift verdict: "No."

But Bill, whose many entrepreneurial hats include real estate developer, threw open his arms as if to embrace the challenge.

"I'm home," he said.

In May, the celebrity couple bought the five-bedroom, seven-bathroom house and Bill embarked on his first suburban renovation to make the never-occupied home their own.

When they moved in this fall — just in time to host family for Thanksgiving — they had transformed the space into what Giuliana described as "traditional chic," a fusion of the classic architecture with their modern sensibilities.

"I love clean houses," said Bill, 39, padding around his new kitchen barefoot and in jeans, while Guiliana, 36, who took charge of décor, lounged in stiletto boots. "Less is more."

Located a few blocks from Hinsdale's charming downtown and a short drive from Bill's family in the western suburbs, the three-story home drew the jet-setting city couple as a nest in which to settle down, host big family gatherings and, hopefully, start a family of their own.

The Rancics have been candid about their struggles to conceive, filming the intricacies of fertility treatments and trauma of miscarriage for their reality show. The house is in part a wish: Build it, and they will come.

"We tried not to let it get us down," Bill said of what it was like to construct a house for kids with none on the way. "Once we were in the house, there was no turning back."

In addition to the emotional wallop, the greatest challenge of the renovation was time — having the house ready for move-in before the couple's condo sold and in time for Giuliana's bed rest after in vitro fertilization.

Renovating a mammoth house would usually take eight to 12 months, said Jennifer Wallack, the interior designer, but the Rancics did it in about four.

The facade of the red-brick house, based on Federal-style architecture, didn't need much work. But most everything around and inside it did.

They ripped out the marble floors in the foyer and put in Brazilian cherry wood to match the rest of the house, then stained it with a dark wenge finish, Wallack said.

They converted a basement bathroom into an elegant wine cellar, dimly lit with limestone walls and kept at an optimal 61 degrees.

They shifted the wiring and plumbing in the master bathroom — the most costly and time-consuming part of the renovation, Wallack said — adjusting the existing layout to accommodate a copper tub.

Despite the time crunch, Bill said a remarkable team, headed by general contractor Bert Connolly, helped the process go smoothly.