Not too many people who can say they bought a piece of land and built their own home. There are even less people who can say they have had their house for over 111 years. I would bet there are even less people who have done all this in the heart of Los Angeles. Well this is one of those cases. I bought this house from the family of the original owner, who’s great grandfather built the place. There are actual pictures of him working on building the house. I have to say when I see stuff like, I get a little nostalgic. However, after walking the house for the first time that nostalgia went away real fast. First let me give you a little back story to this house. The original house was built in 1905 and it was split level one bedroom, one bathroom house. Later the family added on, and made it a 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom home. Now to the present, I say this with absolute respect, the home was in rough shape, but not by the fault of the previous owners. It simply was not maintained for a long time and it just added up.
There was so many personal belongings left behind that it was overwhelming. Even though we had to clean it up, I have to say that there was a lot of cool stuff that we found. A lot of old tools, furniture, books, plates, décor etc. Some would call it junk but to this “vintage junkie” it was hidden treasure. It was hard to get rid of most of this stuff, but it had to be done and it had to be done carefully. On most occasions we would bring in a crew to trash everything out, but here we had to make sure we didn’t throw away anything of importance. It took three times as long to do this trash out, but we were able to save a lot of the furniture and trinkets. Tina had a lot of input in the beginning because she had an idea for everything that we kept.
One of the gems that we found was an old (Really Old) 1920’s Vulcan Smoothtop gas stove. It was in dire shape and most flippers would have trashed it. No, not us! To Tina and I this is a piece of American History. If given the opportunity, time, and resources it is our responsibility to bring it back to life. So we made a few calls and found a place that specializes in restoring old appliances just like this one. We were told it was not going to be cheap, but it was something Tina and I really wanted to do.
About 6 weeks later we had the place cleaned out and most of the rooms demoed. We had almost everything to the studs. By now I am sure you can see a recurring theme with these houses, there is always something that comes up. For those of you who have ever remodeled your own homes, I am sure you have experienced it. When you remodel older homes there are always hidden problems that you don’t discover until you start tearing things down. Well, this one is no exception. In fact you will see soon it is one of the most challenging homes we have ever worked on. Our first major obstacle at this point was getting our plans approved with the city of Los Angeles. We wanted to take the main dwelling and make it into a 2 bedroom with 2 baths and a powder room. It was very challenging, but after several revisions we finally got them to approve the plans and issue our permits.
Now the fun part starts. We had to re-frame both units and it took a lot longer than we expected. The reason for this is that every stud was out of place so we practically had to reinforce the entire house so that it was level. We also had to raise the floors in the kitchen to match the living room. There was so much work that was off camera that had to be done. The cost was adding up fast and we hadn’t even started on the finish work(cabinets, tile, flooring, fixtures, etc.) Next we moved to the mechanical portion of the house like the electrical, plumbing and HVAC. That process took another month due to the city. The inspector that we had was very tough on us. In my career I have remodeled close to a 100 homes and just by sheer trial and error alone I would like to say I am kind of an expert. He called us out on some stuff that we never ever had to do, but I have also learned in my career never argue with the inspector. It can only go bad for you.
So after four tries we finally got the rough portion of the permit signed off and we were now ready for drywall. The drywall took another 2 weeks since we had to work with 2 separate dwellings.
After that was done we finally got to the stage where we can start designing. So one day Tina and I went to meet some friends for dinner in Pasadena. The dinner date was set fairly late and we had some time to kill so we decided to check out the house at night. We have never been at Echo Park after dark. We came up Duane Ave which is the street that connects to Alvarado and you basically make a quick right and you are right in front of the house. When we arrived the sun was still up. We went in and did a quick walk through to see how far we came along. We spent a good hour there just going over details and design ideas. We didn’t even notice that the sun went down until we saw a few lights flash across our window and into the living room. Right away that caught our attention and we knew this was going to be a problem. We never realized that all the cars that came up Duane Ave that made a right would shine their headlights into the house.
As a realtor I have taught myself over the years to try and analyze any property as if I were the buyer and the seller. It is important to our clients that we can relate to all concerns past, future and present. This is one of those cases that I had to switch hats from owner to contractor and then to buyer. I, as the buyer, would not want to see headlights in my living room window every night. Switching hats back to seller, I should put up a fence that act as a partition. Switching hats to contractor, I knew I had to build a fence that was both functional and aesthetically pleasing (As you can see I own a lot of hats!) I went over the numbers with Tina, and we knew we our budget was getting thinner and thinner. After a very short discussion we knew what we had to do. The next day I went over the design with my crew and I had them get to work immediately. Our plan was to create a horizontal fence that was solid all the way through using a nice cedar so that no light could penetrate it. We added 2 gates with a seamless design so that it would look as if the gates were not even there. We knew we did not want to paint it or stain it. All we wanted to do was seal it to protect it from the weather.
After it was done we realized we did something very needed. Not only did we create a barrier from oncoming headlights, but we also created another private space in the front of the house, so in essence we had a front lounging area. As you know I love all things that are dual purpose. Whether on purpose or just by accident I love it all the same.
Now we had to move our main focal point to the main house and we knew we had to balance vintage with modern. This home is in the heart of Echo Park which is a thriving community for millennials looking for something in the city. These young families have a taste for modern living who also appreciate vintage style. To accomplish this we decided to restore the wood floors and have it transition to a very modern gray hexagon tile. We got the hexagon tile inspiration from the old tile that was in the bath and kitchen.
For the cabinets we wanted to do some modern flat style doors that would accentuate the restored Vulcan stove. This would be the balance that we were looking for.
Since this was a split level home where the entry is the top floor we had stairs in the middle of the house leading down. When we removed all the walls we didn’t account for the stairs not having a guard rail or banister. We had to get creative so I went to my metal working specialist Joe DeMel. Joe owns a company “Precision Eyeballing” located in downtown Pomona where he fabricates unique pieces made of metal in our warehouse. He has done a few pieces for me in the past for my office, and we love everything he has done so far. I gave him a call and explained the sit and he said he could make something happen.
For the bathrooms we decided to go modern with the design and colors. We used clean lines with some smaller hexagon accent tiles. We chose chrome plumbing fixtures to bring that vintage balance we have been using. Even all the rooms have that same symbiotic balance with the old school three panel doors.
We had the inside pretty much figured out and now we had to go to the outside. We wanted to bring that same design scheme of modern with vintage to the exterior. We decided to keep the larger horizontal siding that was more of the classic aspect with straight angled wood trim for the windows and doors. For the modern portion of it we needed to do something dramatic. Restoring the siding and trim took another week so we needed to come up with a paint scheme that would embrace this contrast of styles. Usually Tina would be making the paint choices but I know Echo park and I know what people want in this neighborhood. I went with a very dark gray for the body and a light orange that was almost yellow. Tina had her doubts but I knew this place was going to pop.
Once the paint was done, we did another walk through to see if we were missing anything. Of course right away I knew we were missing a few items. The first and foremost is the front windows. I had my guys put in dual pane energy efficient windows. The serve a good purpose but it just didn’t look or feel right. We all know after the Monrovia house that I am now an expert wood window maker (This would be the second time J) so I took the measurements and went to work. I made 4 set of windows using real wood so that we could stain them to match the front door. It took a couple days but it was well worth it.
The second item that didn’t not sit well with us is the back yard. I mean come on, you have this million dollar view of downtown Los Angeles and you can only appreciate it through you window. No, no we had to make it right. Tina and I talked about it and we decided to go with full deck so that whoever lived here could enjoy that amazing view. This was another added cost that we did not account for but honestly it was truly a no-brainer. Initially we wanted to build a deck that would extend close to 25 feet and wrap around the rear of the house. However after going to the city planning department they dropped a bomb on us. They wanted to us to conduct a soil test and erosion test which would run close to 10k. After that they wanted us to dig a create 25 foot deep pillars to support the deck. The total cost to do this was going to run close to 30k. As much as I wanted to do it there was definitely not enough in the extended budget to do this. So we decide to build 2 decks instead of one large one. After another week of framing and nailing we were able to get it done. The good news is that since this was on the exterior and in the rear were able to continue work on the inside so it did not slow us down.
We spent another 2 weeks buttoning up the place. There was so much we did that episode was not able to air. We had to work late hours and even a couple of weekends but we were able to complete both units. Although this was a long renovation project it gave Tina plenty of time to plan the staging. One of the cool things we were able to do was restore some of the old original furniture and use them as pieces for staging. We love the fact that we were able to do this. No one would ever really know but to us it was another gesture to pay respect to the family who built and lived here for over a hundred years.
Some of my best memories growing up in Fontana are ones of my dad raising horses. He has a real passion for them and he taught me a lot about them. I have to say there is something majestic about a horse that just makes you appreciate their grace and strength. When this house first came to me I was reluctant based on the price and specs of the house. It was a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom house with a little over 1,700 square feet with no garage. These days having no garage is a very big deal since everyone in the household drives. However once I learned that it was a horse property in the middle of Whittier , I was sold! We went to go look at it right away.
The first thing we noticed when entering the community is the sign that says “Pellissier Village, Equestrian District”. Then all of the sudden we saw all of these homes with a ranch look and feel to them. It was very surprising to learn that in Whittier, a sprawling metropolitan area, there was a small tract of homes that allow horses. When we pulled up we could see that the home had a nice look to it, a very simple “A” frame roof pitch with a porch in the front. I was already picturing in my head what I was going to do to this place, but we’ll save that for later.
The first step inside and we noticed that this place hadn’t been updated in decades. There was a landing you had to step down from to be in the living room. It made no sense at all. The kitchen was a little cramped, so we knew we had to rearrange the whole thing and we were going to have to take a wall down to open everything up.
The family room was attached to the kitchen with an old rock fire place. It appeared to us that this was remodeled after the home was built. Right away we could tell that it was not done in the most professional manner.
The fireplace lead to a long hallway with the laundry connections to the right and the first bathroom to the left.
On the other side of the house is where the hallway was located that connected to all the bedrooms and the other bathroom.
The last bedroom at the end of the hallway was enormous! It could have easily been 2 big bedrooms. Ding! (That was a light bulb going on in my head.) That’s what we were going to do. I had a vision to continue the hallway and pop in 2 separate doorways creating 2 large bedrooms making this place a 4 bedroom 2 bathroom home.
Finally we got to the back yard and there was not a lot to look at, but there was an old storage shed made of siding. Besides that it was just dirt and weeds. We ended up buying the house for $387,000 which took awhile to close escrow since it was a probate sale.
We started demo on day one since we had a pretty good idea of what we wanted to do as far as the floor plan was concerned. Based on what I had seen, I thought this was going to be a lighter rehab then most of our “Vintage Flips”. I couldn’t be there much for demo day since at this time we had 3 other projects going on, so I wanted to be there for the important days.
Day one of design day was one of these important days and it ended being more eventful then I would like. Tina and I arrived at the house on a Monday morning, and disaster struck right away. We walked in to a pool of water and we were freaking out. If anyone out there knows a thing or two about renovations, they will tell you one of the worst things that can happen is a leak that has been going for days without notice. Luckily for us this house is on a slab and the water damage was contained before it could get into most of the drywall. Another fortunate thing is one of my oldest and best friends Ruben Terrazas runs and owns his own restoration company, Puro Clean. I called him and being the great friend that he is, came the same day. He and his crew got almost all the water out on the first day. He had to spend a few more days to run his machines to get all the moisture out, including the walls. After it was done the cost was not too bad (I got the friends and family discount.) I have to be honest it could have been worse but it was still an added cost that we didn’t have the budget for.
After a week of catching up we finally got to see the place after deleting the wall and taking down a bunch of the drywall. When we are at this stage of the renovation, I can envision things a whole lot better. We knew we had to come up with a design that was themed around a ranch but we had to make sure we were able to modernize the house too.
The first obstacle we had to tackle was the exterior, especially the front. Ranch houses have this certain look to them that is inviting and welcoming. You can imagine people just sitting on their porch drinking some lemonade. So I went to my “designer especial” Tina. She right away went online and started doing research on what we had to do to make it look and feel Ranch. We did a draft on the computer so we could try a few options. The first thing she focused on was the porch. Tina came up with doing some crow’s feet for the post and adding some horizontal wood beams to wrap the porch. It was a great first step but it was not enough. Next we added some stone veneers to enhance the Ranch look. The left side of the house now had that look, but the right side was still stucco and that did not sit right with us. So we came up with doing something called board and batten. It is a architectural feature where you take wainscoting but go very simple in the designs. You use very clean lines with no intricate cuts. It is a similar style to shaker doors which so happens is very common in barn houses. For good measure, we added a wooden gate that accentuated the farmhouse look, by going with wood and using 2 cross beams at a 45 degree angle. For the side post we went really high so we could add a solid wood header where a man on a horse can walk under without hitting their heads. Now we were really rolling on the renovation!
Next we moved to the inside. We knew we had to bring in some elements that would meld together. So we decided to go with metal, wood and leather as the theme. For the kitchen we knew that we wanted to go with a shaker style since we were going for the ranch look, but we wanted to kick it up a notch. I came up with routing out the insides of the upper doors, and inserting chicken wire mesh. Tina came up with a great idea for the door knobs and pulls. She wanted to not use them at all, and instead wanted to go with leather pulls for both the doors and drawers. We got two of the three elements so far, and now all we needed was to bring in some wood. Tina thought of using butcher block for the counters but that was too obvious of an option so I thought why not use it for the back splash. I do not believe anyone has ever done that, so I figured we should be the first. The kitchen is the heart of every home and we wanted to give this home a very strong and nurturing heart.
We had to tackle the floors next. As much as I wanted to, our budget did not allow us to go real hardwood floors (Especially with the flood we just had!) We went with the next best thing, a very thick laminate in a light natural color with a semi distressed texture to it.
For the bathrooms we went pretty simple with white subway tile with added colored tiles to give it some life. We wanted to bring the same theme of the rest of the home into the bathrooms so we decided to bring in some wood. For the main bath we took the old chicken shed siding from the backyard and cut them into 8 inch pieces. Then we used the pieces in a herringbone pattern on the wall to the left. It was an excellent statement piece that brought out the blue trim we used. In the hall bath we kept the interior wood siding that was already there and moved it around and restored the pieces that were missing or damaged. I was very proud of the way both bathrooms came out.
After we had the kitchen and floors done we still felt we were missing something. Especially when you first walked in. There was no “Wow” factor, something that we are so used to doing. So we went back to Silverado Salvage in LA and went on a shopping trip. We didn’t really know what we were looking for, but we knew it had to be vintage and it had to have character. We went on a Thursday to meet with the owner Jeff to get some ideas. It took a while since we had been there so many times and we knew what was mostly there. Finally we came across a stack of reclaimed wood planks. What caught our eye is that some of the planks had a teal color to them. Tina is a huge fan of teal because it is one of those colors that goes with anything. It stands out so well, but has a very neutral feel to it. I loved the wood but I had no idea what she had in mind. She explained to me that she wanted to cut these pieces into random lengths and that she wanted them to go on the wall in the living room to make a custom accent wall. I loved the idea! We were taking the accent wall to a whole new level. So we asked Jeff to pack it all up and we had our fingers crossed we had enough. Lucky for us, we had just enough, and it turned out amazing!
Things we really moving and we were feeling really good about this house again. Then “Bam!” we get another call. Our framer Casey was forming the hearth for the fireplace in the living room and while he was doing this he noticed that a couple of the wood studs were charred. We didn’t catch this at first since it was behind the wall, but after carefully examining it we discovered that the fireplace was not properly built. The brick and the mortar holding it together was not properly channeling the heat up into the chimney. So what was happening over the years is the heat was escaping through the brick and mortar and was heating the wood up. Honestly it was a devastating phone call to get, but at the same time I was very happy to catch it before we sold the house. As the owner and contractor of this house it is very, very important that we make a quality product and that we sell a quality product. This was no exception! It was going to cost us a couple of thousand but it was well worth it. We removed the damaged brick, reframed the damaged studs, and replaced the brick with a special heat brick made specifically for fire places.
During the reconstruction of the fireplace I came up with another idea. I really liked the crows feet for the front beams and I wanted to bring that into the house as well. After a couple of drawings (on a napkin if you believe it) I came up with a design to bring some posts into the house where the living room and kitchen meet and where the kitchen and the family room meet. I also added wrapping the beams in cedar planks to really add the wood element. That night when I went home I showed Tina my napkin schematic, she instantly fell in love. That same night she went on her computer and put my mock up on the screen and started doodling with the color. My original thought was to stain the beams the same color as the floor, but Tina said that by doing that the eye would not catch these beautiful beams. Plus it would clash with the butcher block back splash. She then remembered her white washing idea back from the Upland house (We white washed the floors with Milk Paint.) Her notion was that by white washing them we would be adding a hint of vintage while keeping the place light and open.
At this point we were practically done but looking at the back yard I felt it was nice and open. Yet something was definitely missing. I called in the expert on this one (If you guys thought Tina, then you are all wrong) I called Papi, my dad. I showed him the place and he was very impressed with the front and the inside. We went to the back yard and he knew right away what I was missing. He said to me “Jessie, this is a horse property right?” I replied yes of course it is. Then he said “So if this is a horse property, where are you going to keep your horses?” I don’t believe it, he was so right. My dad is a genius and my hero. Even now he is still the wisest man I know (thank you dad.) That night we started working on drawings for a horse stable. I knew what I wanted to do but it is always easier to say then to actually build. We went with a wood stable with the same style design as the gates at the front of the house. For the roof we went with corrugated steel. It took 3 days but we got them built and water proofed.
Now we were done. After a day of staging and cleaning up we got the house looking perfect. Tina spent a good amount of nights putting together ensembles that paid tribute to the ranch style while keeping things semi modern for today’s living. This house was challenging but after it was all said and done I have to admit it is one my favorites. It was a challenge to Tina and myself to get this place dialed in with a style of house that we had never worked on. I can happily say “We nailed it!”
Obviously by now everyone knows I am an architectural junkie. I am a huge fan of the 50’s especially during the Mid-Century boom, sometimes known as the golden age of design and architecture. It was a time when people started to break away from the more conventional design principles and started doing things more daring. If you don’t know what Mid-Century Modernism is, the best way to explain it is to look at 2 very big companies. The first is Ikea, the home furnishing store. Their ideas in design are based on this era. The second is actually Apple. A lot of Apple and Ikea designs are based on the emphasis of the modern aspect of this era. It just so happens I am huge fan of both companies, and it has a lot to do with their designs. One of the agents in my office, Anthony Vasquez came across this house and knew that I loved these kinds of homes. When this property came across my desk I knew right away who built the house and who designed it. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s there were a select tract of homes throughout Southern California that were being developed by Joseph Eichler. His vision was to build these homes based on the designs of Quincy A. Jones and Frederick E. Emmons. The idea behind these homes was to have open concepts with large glass windows and sliders with post and beam construction. The vision was to inspire open thinking and for people to explore the world around them by bringing the outside in. Another aspect behind these homes was that they can be built with readily available materials at that time. You have to imagine after the second world war there was a surplus of material such as plywood and steel. It was a perfect storm for this era to grow into an iconic period of society. You had people who wanted to forget the war just happened and to do that you had to usher in a new era of forward thinking and designing. (Enough with the history lesson. I get carried away sometimes. I actually made a whole post about Eichler Homes, which can be found here.) I was very intrigued by this home, so we set up a showing because I had to see how much of the original features were still intact. On our way to the house we drove through the neighborhood to get an idea of what these homes looked like. When we pulled up I could immediately see that there was something missing.
This particular track of homes all had an open outdoor atrium you would walk through before actually getting inside the house. When you first walk into this particular home you stepped right into a tiled living area. It was very big, but I knew it was not correct. To the right was the dining room and kitchen. Straight ahead was the living room and to the left was the bedroom and bathrooms. I walked the house for close to an hour so I could envision what this place looked over 50 years ago. I could see that at some point one of owners removed all the glass from the atrium and actually poured new concrete to bring the old atrium up to floor level. They also patched over the roof where the opening use to be and put in sun lights instead.
The kitchen was dated and I could tell it was remodeled at some point but definitely not era specific. Same with the tile throughout the house and the carpet in the living area. To the untrained eye, one could not fathom the amount of work required to get this place back to how it should look. I spent many hours trying to come up with a budget on this place and I will be honest there were a lot of variables that I could not accurately project. The biggest of all was to bring the atrium back. After a long discussion with Tina and going over the numbers we felt we could take this project on and make a profit. I have to admit that I was very excited to get to work on an Eichler.
Once we closed escrow I went to work immediately. We wanted to take on the biggest challenge first and again, that was the atrium. I brought the demo crew in to remove all the tile from all the floors, and I had them jack hammer the atrium floors. I had to get that level lower than the rest of the house and I had to find the drain that would lead all the water outside for when it rains. Believe it or not, an exterior run off drain is one of the most important things to have when dealing with a multi level area. Without one the lower area would flood every time it rained. If we didn’t have a drain we would need to trench one from the atrium to the exterior of the house and this would cost $3000-$4000. I had my fingers crossed that day. Luckily for us, my crew was able to locate the drain after the demo and when they tested it, it appeared to be in perfect working condition. First disaster averted!
Tina and I walked this house after the demo was done and I started looking over the floor. It was a concrete slab that went through out the house. I have always been a big fan of polished concrete in homes. You see them in a lot of commercial businesses and even in some higher end offices, but you rarely see them in a home. I wanted to bring that look and feel to the house. It would meld perfectly with the open concept and all the glass that would be surrounding the house. So we made the call to a local vendor to get a bid. They came in and gave us a fair price so I gave them the approval and they knocked it out in 4 days. It was more than what we would regularly do, but I believe the result is worth the cost.
Now we had to design the kitchen since we changed the lay out completely. Is was easy since we now had a blank slate to work with. Tina was extra excited because she loves doing large kitchens. She had it planned all along that we were going to do a water fall style kitchen island that would be able to entertain and act as a dining table. We also wanted to go ultra modern with cabinets so we decided on a flat panel style kitchen with a wood look veneer.
With the color choices we knew we had to bring in some bold statements to make the kitchen really pop. For the backsplash we went with a dark blue square patterned texture tile. Very hard to find by the way but Tina knew exactly where to go. On the side of the wall that featured the upper wall cabinets I didn’t like the idea of going with the same style base cabinets. I wanted to bring more of a 1950’s element to the kitchen.
On one of our trips to Modernism week out in Palm Springs I would see a lot of furniture that had sliding doors that revealed when slid back and forth. I wanted to something with that effect, but with a modern flair. I pitched Tina the idea and she loved it. She also added that we should do a bold color veneer on the doors so there would be more color in the kitchen. After some research she found a place that sells just what we were looking for. We went with a dark blue and a gold veneer to bring out the blue back splash and the wood grains of the base cabinets. Once we got the design figured out I went to work building these cabinets. I had never built anything like this. Our usual custom build cabinets are doors that swing open like a door. This design required them to slide open on both sides. After some trial and error, I figured out how to make the slot where the doors would sit and we made it so is would slide back and forth easily.
Next we had to put our focus on the bathrooms. We knew we wanted to go with several shades of white for the walls and ceiling for most of the house so that we can add bright colors to make everything pop. We did the same for the bathrooms. In the master we went with the same type of tile in the kitchen but instead of dark blue we went with teal. In the hall bath we did the same thing but with an orange. With the straight lines of the tile pattern and the layout we chose it brought everything together.
We were pretty much done with the interior at this point but I felt something was missing. I honestly couldn’t figure it out but Tina went through our photos when we visited the Desert during Modernism week and she saw that a few of the homes had a lauan accent wall. The true Eichler purist of these MCM homes would have caught it right away. The problem is we didn’t really have any walls to spare. In the kitchen we had cabinets on all the walls and to be honest we really liked the white. Tina came up with an awesome idea. She decided to do it on the partition wall in the master bedroom separating the room from the closet area. This was just the right amount of wall space to give the room some life without over doing it.
The next big project was installing all the tempered glass surrounding the atrium. I was very nervous when they were doing the installation but the guys we hired from WMB Glass were very good at what they do. The last big item we had to complete was the gas fire pit. You can’t have an indoor outdoor living style house without a conversation fire pit. When they were forming the concrete pads for the atrium I had my plumber run a gas line to a spot where I knew I wanted the fire pit. Personally I have never done one so I did a little research and learned that it was not that hard. All we had to do was form 3 separate layers at 3 different times. Once we formed the base we waited for it to cure. Then we added another layer and repeated. Once the last layer of concrete cured we just removed the forms and “Tada!” a fully functional gas fire pit.
Now, we were done on the inside. All we had left was to install a flat panel garage door to match with the era and add some landscape to brighten up the front. At this point I handed it off to the my designer savant Tina. She told me she felt added pressure on this one because we had to make everything look authentic as possible. There are a lot of critics out there, especially with mid century modern homes. There is a certain look to them that boarders modern and natural. It is easy to overdo it on the modern side of it. You can spend a whole day at “Ikea” or “Scandinavian Designs” and go on a shopping binge, but you would not get it 100 percent right. We had to dig deep on this one and we made a bunch of phone calls. We finally found a place in Highland Park called “The Hunt Vintage”. They specialize in custom vintage mid century furniture. We set up an appointment to meet at the store with the owner. When we got there it was like a blast into the past. I was like a kid in a candy store. I wanted to buy everything! After walking the place with the owner we knew we found the place. He was very intrigued by the show and he wanted to help us out. It was pretty clear that we did not have the budget to buy enough furniture to furnish the entire house so he decided to lend the furniture to us. This was so elating to hear. After all the added expenses we finally caught a break. Whooo Hooo! All we had to pay for was the delivery fee and that was it. We were able to really deck this place out with true Mid Century furniture. On staging day we as a family had a lot of fun. Our boys Carter and Mason were able to join Mom and Dad to complete the house. It is always nice to be able to spend time with the family while working. It is the one true benefit as a business owner that Tina and I can say all the hard work pays off in moments like this. Once we were done we ordered pizza and just sat around the kitchen island and had dinner. A well deserved treat for the hardest working family on HGTV! J
Of all the projects on season one I would have to say this house was the one that broke our hearts. As you may already know, Tina and I love craftsman style homes, so when we came across this house we fell in love immediately. It had all the details that make a craftsman so unique: the pitch on the roof, the support beams coming out of truss, the window trim, the siding and the beautiful front porch all just scream craftsman. As a bonus this home is located in the heart of an area called Retro Row near Belmont Shore in Long Beach. It is famous for its independently owned stores that offer unique goods such as clothing, furniture, art, books, coffee, bars and some of the best food from restaurants you have never heard of. It was the farthest of homes that we worked on, but I used to look forward working here because of all the great food.
Our first challenge was the usual when it came to older homes. The home did not flow and there was no master bedroom suite. In the beginning we had a lot of options, because we had a lot to work with. So we took what was then a sun room that lead to the living room, but was also connected to one of the bedrooms into a master bath. By sealing the doorway to the living room we could then open a door from the bedroom.
We then planned on evening out one wall in the kitchen and taking down the wall that separated it from the nook. We would have been able to create a very large kitchen with adjoining laundry room, and an over sized island overlooking the front window. It would have been an entertainers kitchen with a lot of space to maneuver and cook. It was going to make this place feel so open with the functionality of today while keeping all the characteristics of a vintage craftsman. After drawing the plans we went to the planning department in Long Beach for approval. This process usually takes a couple of weeks for most people, but we have got it down to science, so I figured it would take a week before we would begin demoing. Oh was I wrong! I mean really wrong!!
We found out that the porch and sun room were technically encroaching the allowed setbacks. Basically, they were saying that both the porch and sun room were too close to the sidewalks. I am a person who is very fair, and I understand that when things are not right you have to correct them. That is the price of doing business the right way. I will agree that the sun room was not originally part of the house, but the porch had to be. I am one thousand percent sure it was, so sure that I had one of my guys jack hammer into the foundation knowing this was an added cost just to prove that I was right. So happens after jack hammering we found the foundation footing was original. We took our findings back to the city and it made no difference. Even after we proved it was there before any of us were born they still would not acknowledge it.
As a flipper and general contractor you hear about these horror stories. You see it happen on other TV shows, and you hear about how a city can come in and make you tear things down. Well I can honestly say this was one of those times, and yes it can happen. After much debate and arguing with the city of Long Beach, we lost. They actually made us tear down the sun room, and worse they made us tear down the original porch. This was devastating for so many reasons. One, it was one of the key features that made us fall in love with the house, and now that it was gone the house looked drab. Two, the expense of demoing the porch, the foundation it was sitting on, and the roof that tied it all together was a huge unforeseen expense that could topple this project into the red. And three, we were going to be close to a month behind which we did not account for at all. This was a total disaster! This is what I mean about breaking our hearts! Tina, being the supportive wife that she is, simply said “Let’s get to work! No reason to mope. Let’s do what we always do and come out on top.”
After the demo of the sun room and porch we had to come up with plans to correct the mistake. So we closed off the area and added a door to enable access the outside. We also had to correct the roof, foundation, siding, and fascia and we had to relocate the original window to a place that worked. All this was adding up and it was adding up fast. While all this was going on, I had our electrician and plumber come in a move all what they needed for the new floor plan.
We were still able to create a master bath, but to make that happen we had to take some space from the kitchen. This was not something I wanted to do but we really had no option. The moment we did this the kitchen got really small, really fast. So we had to make another revision. The laundry area was taking up too much space so we had to relocate that to the hallway that we designed. It took a while but Tina and I finally came up with a floor plan that we both agreed on. After we got all the framing, plumbing, electrical and drywall we had to come up with designs. We knew we had to step it up even more so to make up for the lost porch and smaller kitchen. I went to my clutch hitter Tina to come up with a design scheme that would be a home run.
First the biggest obstacle, the missing front porch. We knew we had to take your focus off what was not there, and draw your attention to something that was. Tina went a bluish gray for the siding, a very dark gray for the fascia, and bright white for all the window and door trims. Then she went very bold and did a burnt orange on all the horizontal beams and lines, to give it a nice pop of color. I have never seen this combination but I have to say she hit a home run with this idea.
After the paint was done we stood back and although we were very pleased we felt we were still missing something. We had this very large open space on the side of the house of where the old porch was. (Thank you city of Long Beach) *that was sarcastic by the way* I came up with a great idea. If the city is going to take our porch away, then I was going to build a yard. I built a fence that encompassed the space 25 feet one way and 50 other. We used a nice cedar and had the fence built in a craftsman-like style to emphasize the era. We then painted the outside of it to match the fascia to tie it together. It came out very nice, and now I started feeling better about this project.
For the interior we had to do something dramatic to take a away from the feeling of the smaller kitchen. Tina to the rescue! She wanted to brighten up the kitchen, and to bring in some natural light via the windows. She went with a light gray floor tile and a gray shaker style kitchen cabinet. For the back splash she used a white raised bevel edge subway to give it more depth. In fact it looked so good that we had the tile go all the way up to the ceiling on all the walls.
For the wall cabinets we knew we had to give an open space look to the now enclosed kitchen. We decided to remove the interior panel by routing them out with a router and we added glass so you could see inside. Since we went all the way up with the subway it would have been a shame to cover it up. We decided to remove the back panel as well to show off that awesome looking tile. Even after all this Tina was not satisfied. She felt it lacked life, and life to Tina means color. She went bold again by painting the upper cabinets and the open shelves red. It really came together very nicely and we accomplished what we had set out to do. We made the kitchen feel open and bright, but we were still able to give it the accents of yester year.
Next we had to do something about the amazing built in hutch that was in the dining area. This was a design feature that we had to keep, but that we also had to dress up somehow. One thing that a lot of original craftsman homes had was stained glass, and we wanted to bring that element into this house. There was one major problem. It was too expensive to do it professionally, and neither I nor Tina knew how to do it. Tina did some research, and decided to take a local class on how to create stained glass. Well I’ll tell you one thing, never tell Tina she can’t do something, because one way or another, she will figure it out. After a few classes she designed and created a piece that tied in all the colors we used. It came out way better than I thought it would. LOL! Don’t tell Tina I said that!
Originally, we were going to turn the dining area into part of the living room, but since we lost the eat-in kitchen we had to bring the dining room back. Unfortunately, there was no separation from the living room to what would become our dining room. After racking our brains a bit we decided to bring back a feature that I am sure was once in this house, but was probably removed to give it more space. That feature was built in book cases with a tapered post to match the outside. This feature was very popular during the craftsman era and I wanted to bring it back. There was no way we could find original ones that would fit perfectly so I did the next best thing. We decided to build them from scratch. It was not as hard as I thought it was going to be and they did the trick beautifully. They made the home look and feel more authentic while giving the living and dining rooms some separation. Dual purpose! My favorite kind of projects!
At this point people were walking by the house and giving tons of positive comments. We were feeling really good about ourselves and everything was moving smoothly. Just when we started loving this house again, I got a call from one of my guys with the typical “I have some bad news for you”. The hardwood floor guy was not going to be able to bring the original hardwood floors back. Apparently over the years and years of sanding and refinishing, the floors got too worn. Basically if we tried to bring them back we would end up sanding into the sub-floor. So that was another few thousand dollars that we did not account for at all. This place reminded me of that old Tom Hanks movie. “The Money Pit”.
After we got all the big items resolved and completed, we still had to address the bathrooms. When we first walked the house before we bought it, there was an original Kohlers claw-foot cast-iron tub in the garage. We had no idea what shape it was in, but we knew if we had a chance to restore it and bring it back to life we would. I called my glazer Jeff from DeMontigny Refinishing and Restoration to give me his opinion. He checked it out for us and told us he had good news and bad news. The good news was that he could totally patch and re-glaze the thing to look new. The bad news is that the legs on the thing were beyond repair and finding a perfect set of 4 would be very difficult. Tina really wanted to make this happen so she went searching online at every possible retailer, and no one had them. She came close a few times but they always ended up not working out. She eventually went to a swap meet in LA and found a set that was all brown and rusted. She checked under each foot and they all had the numbers on them that we were looking for. We got really lucky with the feet.
On that same trip it just so happened she came across an old desk that was made of solid wood. It really had this old world craftsman handmade feel to it. Tina called me right away and asked if it was possible to take an old desk and turn it into a vanity. I told her to measure the width, depth and height of the table so I could make some calculations. She texted me a picture along with the dimensions I asked for, and after running the numbers, I determined it would make a great vanity. We had to make some modifications of course, but it took less than a day to make them. After we cut out the top for the drop in sink and after cutting the holes for the fixtures all we had to do was water proof it so that it could last forever. Just to finish off the master bathroom we added a barn style door to complete the look.
We were now basically done. All we had left was landscaping and Tina’s favorite: “Staging Day!” On this particular house we knew we had to bring in some special pieces to mix in the new with the old. It was kind of a tribute to what we did to this house. We brought in New-Original features. It is an oxymoron, just like this house was. So we asked a friend of ours who collects old items if we could borrow some of her stuff, and she was more than happy to help. After a day of staging, I have to say the house turned out really really great for what we had to deal with.
The “Time Capsule”. That is the nickname that we came up with on this project. I actually came across this one from a dear friend of mine, Mr. Bob Karatz. Both Bob and I are prominent members of the prestigious Red Hill Country Club where I play a lot of golf, and take the boys for swimming lessons. We spend as much time there as a family as we can. On one of our outings I ran into Bob and he mentioned to me that his neighbors, the Duvall family, was selling their home, and he knew that they didn’t want to sell it to just anyone. He mentioned to them that I have a knack and passion for restoring vintage homes. After hearing this, they wanted to set up a meeting and I was more than happy to oblige. So we decided to meet at the house on a weekday with Bruce Duvall, who is an established and respected Optometrist in the city of Upland. We walked the house together and I had to say one thing. This house was the best house I had ever seen in its original condition. I mean, it was like stepping into a “Time Capsule” (hence the nick name.) Everything was the way it was supposed to be back in 1957, when it was built. In fact, I learned from Bruce that his father, the late Dr. Edmund Duvall built the house. This home is right up against the golf course. From the back yard you have a clear view of the 8th hole, which is amazing. I also learned that they have owned this house ever since, and he and his sister were raised in this very house by Dr. Duvall and his wife Elaine. I really didn’t know what to think at the time. I mean we were just finishing the Spanish Revival in Monrovia with a similar situation and the pressure on that project was taxing on Tina and I. That night I went home and talked it over with Tina. Of course being the great wife and that she is, Tina told me “If anyone can give this house the love and care it deserves it would be us.” The next morning I called Bruce and made an offer of $500,000 and I promised him that we would take their childhood home and turn it into something they and their late parents would be proud of. It was not long before they accepted the offer and we were right back into the thick of a major remodel. Personally I was excited because on light days I would be able to sneak away and play a couple rounds of golf. Oops! Just kidding Tina. I mean to say that I was excited because being prominent members of the country club I would be able to show off our talents. Many people know what we do but none had actually seen in person the product that we are capable of putting together. We knew that we had some challenges with this one. We had to take the original character that was already there and take it to the next level without losing that 50’s feel.
The first thing that I noticed was that the family room which in this case was in the center of the home didn’t feel right. First off it was separated by a sliding glass door which gave it an outdoor feel. Second there was a built in BBQ grill on the other side of the fireplace. Lastly there was a 3-4 inch drop from the rest of the house when you entered that room. All these thing made it clear that this room did not belong inside the house. So we decided to remove the sliding glass door and left it open to the living room. Then we demoed and removed the outdoor built in BBQ. Finally we poured new concrete to bring the floor up to keep it level with the house. This was not part of the budget but we knew it had to be done.
Once the floor cured we stood back and looked at what was missing. We noticed that there was only two ways out to the back yard and that was through 2 regular sized doors. We had to do something about this but we felt that by putting in just regular slider doors was not dramatic enough. I mean, you sit in this room and look through the back window and you have this phenomenal view of the golf course. It would be a waste to use a simple 8 foot sliding glass door. So I came up with something dramatic. We went with La Cantina style doors. These doors are a hybrid of sliding and swinging doors. You have the option to use one of the four panels as a regular door or you can collapse all four panels to give you a 12 foot opening.
Even after that we were not satisfied because we knew back in the 1950’s the term “indoor/outdoor living” meant something. We succeeded in making this room look and feel like part of the house but we lacked the outdoor part of it. The La Cantina doors helped but we knew there was just one thing missing. Tina came up with an idea of creating a deck that was on the same level as this room so when you stepped out it really felt like you were outside when you were still inside. I knew the moment she said it that we had to do it. Again another added cost to the budget, but we felt it was a must to truly honor this home.
The next challenge was the overall layout of the house. It was large, but not as functional as we would have liked it to be. First there was another lounge area off to the right of the den that served as a conversation room in its day, but now with the living room being extended to the den and beyond it really had no purpose. After drawing it out and many different versions we came up with turning that area into a master suite with a full on walk in closet and master bath. We did this by extending the hallway and popping a doorway into the lounge room from the hallway. Then we closed off what used to be master bath, and made that room into a regular room and popping a door on the other side of the bathroom to connect to what will now be the master suite. Once we did this the home became 4 bedrooms with a master suite and a living area that is double the size from before.
Now we were headed in the right direction. The next challenge was to find a way to save all the awesome features this house had and we knew the first thing we had to do was save the kitchen cabinets. The question was how to do this while giving it a feel of the modern era. Tina put her thinking cap on and decided to go with something dark to contrast against the honey colored cabinets. We went with a black quartz counter top with mini sparkles in it to give it some flair. Then we went with a large black 24” by 12” tile laid in a symmetrical line pattern to give it more clean modern lines. We also popped a peek-a-boo opening from the cook top so you can look into the indoor/outdoor area.
Next we had to do something about the flooring in the living, dining and hallway areas. During our first walk through we discovered that this house originally had cork floors. This was very popular in the 50’ and it would be fantastic to be able to bring that aspect back. Unfortunately the floors that were there were beyond saving so we had to install new floors. Tina decided that we had to do something other than the natural cork look since it would clash with all the natural wood elements we were using. We went bold and decided on black cork. I was a tad nervous since it would be installed everywhere but I have to say it came out looking like a million bucks.
Next we moved to the bathrooms where we decided to save the vanities to match the kitchen. When we decided to create a new larger master bathroom we didn’t account for the fact that the vanity in the old master was way too small. Luckily for us I made sure we save all the wood from the house with the honey look. After taking some measurements it appeared that we had just enough to make the dual vanity. This was going to be tricky because we did not have any wood to spare and if we made one wrong cut it would mean the difference between a single vanity or a dual vanity. The next reclamation project was to try and save these amazing original porcelain sinks. The colors were not appealing but it was easily fixed by re-glazing them a classic white. On the bathroom designs we kept it simple. Clean lines with a splash of classic color and texture. In the master bath we did 24” by 12” tile in the same pattern as the kitchen floors and for the pop we used an oval texture tile in white to give it some contrast. In the hall bathroom we did the same design but inverted the colors.
Even after all this Tina felt like we were missing something. She wanted to add some dimension to the home with something that will hit when you first walk in. The way the home was designed now is when you first walk in you are in the foyer looking directly at a blank wall. The easy way to solve that is to add a painting or wall art. No, not Tina. If it was easy everyone would do it. She went and got a special order wall paper with a pop of color and texture that this house would have had in its golden days.
After this we pretty much had the interior buttoned up so we moved to the exterior. I knew we had to do something drastic to give it a transformation without breaking the bank. We walked the exterior to get some inspiration and after a short while we found it. It was the same day the deck was being built, so I took a piece of scrap wood and held it against the house. I then took another piece and stacked it on top and asked Tina what she thought. I saw her face light up and I knew I was onto something. After a little tinkering with different types of woods and different sizes we decided to use a stain grade cedar tongue and grove plank. We then went with a light stain to not take away from the natural wood look with the beautiful wood grains of the cedar. We painted the house a nice neutral color so the wood planks could really pop. We did a full landscape plan and painted the door teal to give it more contrast.
One thing that was not featured on the episode was that I actually put in a concrete golf cart ramp. So whoever bought this house could access the course whenever they wanted. To me I felt it was a must since one of the major selling points is that you have this great course essentially as your back yard. But not being able to access it regularly would be a waste. This was not in the budget but we went ahead and did anyway.
Now we were 99 percent done. What’s next, oh yeah staging day! Tina’s favorite part. On this house it was a bit of a challenge. We had to balance mid century style furniture without being too modern. I mean, this is still a mid-century ranch so we had to find era appropriate furniture. After several trips to swap meets, fairs, craigslist post and even some trips to Ikea we were able to put together an eclectic look that met the flair it needed while conforming to the great era this home was built in. Once we had it all done we asked Bruce Duvall if he would come by and take a look before we did our open house. I have to say he was very pleased and impressed with what we were able to create. His opinion was very important to us since we made him a promise that we would honor the home his parents built and raised him in. I drive by this house all the time on my way to Red Hill Country Club and I see the backyard every time I am at the 8th hole. And every time I feel a sense of pride of what my lovely wife and I were able to accomplish together.