I usually wouldn’t say this, but I thought this house would be one of my least favorite projects. I say this because I didn’t see a lot of potential for restoration. I knew we would do an amazing job on the renovation but I pride myself on bringing old homes back to life and giving them a little Cal American flavor. I didn’t see any of that potential for this house. Fortunately, that all changed. We bought the house almost sight-unseen. I was only able to see the front half of the house and I was not allowed in the garage. Buying it was a risky move but I felt it was going to be a good deal. Another reason I bought this house was because I have a rental property literally across the street. I knew I would either flip this house or keep it as a rental.
The first day we filmed at the house was really the first day I was able to get a full picture of the home. The first thing that stood out was the color. It was a blinding lime green. Completely hideous! We had to walk the house before we filmed, in order to get a grasp of things. Still I couldn’t really figure out the layout. I saw a boarded up wall and it was definitely an opening to something. I then figured out that the dining room had been converted to a make-shift bedroom. This discovery was the easy part. I later found out it was not done completely right.
There was also a 2-car detached tandem garage. I was never able to see inside the garage when we were trying to buy the house. Filming day was the first time I was able to get inside. The garage was full of stuff. I mean floor to ceiling full of old stuff! There was also a partition dividing the garage and what appeared to be some kind of bedroom. There were plumbing lines and a drain and I could clearly see that the place at one time was being used as living quarters. I already knew this had to go and it was not going to be cheap. Everything was on a slab and that always costs more to repair. We were only one day into this house and we were already seeing additional costs that were unexpected. We usually run into these problems during demo. Oh well! This is what to expect when you flip vintage homes.
Demo day was finally upon us. This part is usually fun but in older homes like these you always find things that were done wrong. However, sometimes you get lucky and find something cool. Or in this case you find something you can actually use. I was in the middle of doing demo in the only bathroom in the house. The tub was sitting against the wall and it was actually duct taped all around the base. I assumed this was because there were cracks or leaks at the base. It never dawned on me what could actually be underneath all that tape. When I was hammering the base there was a strong mildew odor that hit me right in the face. It was straight out nasty! After about the fourth or fifth swing of the hammer I noticed the tub starting to bull nose. I tapped it with the hammer and I heard the most beautiful sound. “Dong!” We had just discovered the original cast iron claw foot tub. Fully intact but definitely in need of some tender loving care. These are the few moments that I get to feel like a kid again. It’s like digging in the backyard, playing Indiana Jones, and finding something cool like an old coin or an arrowhead.
Since we decided to rearrange almost all the walls we decided to take down all the drywall. (Here is a tip for those of you planning to do a major remodel. If you have to remove half your drywall or plaster in your house, you might as well remove it all and just drywall the entire house. It will take more time trying to patch and match the thickness of the wall than just doing it all new. Plus you avoid any uneven walls which you sometimes get when patching.) We were in the middle of removing the ceiling and we were able to find the old cast iron sink in the attic. I am not sure if it belonged to the house but it was in great shape. I didn’t want to put this part in the show at that time because I knew not many would believe you could strike iron two times in one day. So I told my guy to hide it so I could surprise Tina later.
Design time! For today’s modern living it seems everyone is in agreement. Open space is better space. Unfortunately, when they built these homes back in the early 1900’s that model was nonexistent. To make matters worse the previous owner decided to close off the dining room and make it another bedroom. Now it was our job to make it right. We had plans drawn up making this home a 3 bedroom, 1 bath with a true dining room. That is difficult to do when you are working with 1054 square feet. After a lot of measuring, drawing, erasing, more drawing, we were finally able to come up with an awesome floor plan. We even found a place for a stackable washer and dryer closet. Now it was time for Tina to do her thing. She still amazes me with these ideas that just pop into her head. Not all of them work, and almost all of them end up going over budget, but I have to say her creative talent knows no bounds. I struggled trying to come up with a theme and she just walked in and said “let’s do a railroad theme.” Boom! Done. Really? That was fast. So that’s what we did!
We used railroad ties as steps for the front walkway and specific hardware to pay homage to the era when this house was built. We went so era specific that we did something that I have never done before. Tina was able to talk me into using linoleum, or what some like to call vinyl flooring. You have no idea how many times I have flipped a home and discovered linoleum floors. I always think to myself “Yuck, that has to go.” And now I am actually voluntarily agreeing to install it. It is mind blowing the way things can “flip” on you so fast. (Haha!) The linoleum design surprisingly was very cool. We went with shades of blue and white and came up with a plaid design. I was very impressed when I saw what you can do with linoleum these days.
Now we needed a kitchen design that would balance the wood floors and linoleum. Since we were doing an open concept kitchen and living room we needed a design that would be inviting and not dividing. We went with a traditional white shaker cabinet but we knew we had to turn it up a notch. Tina decided to use a butcher block counter top and use the cabinets as a peninsula. This would give the two rooms some division but still keep the open concept. I loved the idea so we ran with it! Tina’s backsplash design was a little risky. She wanted to use three different tiles to make a design. It started with a base of mini-hex tiles, then a blue pencil liner that would match the linoleum floor, and finally transitioned to a traditional subway.
For the bath we decided to restore the claw foot tub. I wanted the tub to be the centerpiece of this room. We also decided that we were going to bring the butcher block from the kitchen to the vanity in the bathroom. In order to bring some more color and authenticity to the room Tina wanted to do wainscoting all around. For the floors we chose a light gray hex tile that would really complement the rest of the design. All in all I was very happy with the choices we made.
After about two weeks spent wrapping up the inside we needed to decide on the exterior design. We had to get rid of that hideous lime green and we wanted to use a more traditional paint color. However, we also had to make sure we didn’t do a drab paint scheme. Today’s buyers wouldn’t like that. The solution was to use two traditional paint colors and then a third accent color that would pop. We went with a crème colored base with white trim and then chose a teal accent color for the windows and doors. It really worked out well. Another issue was the fact that we had this fairly large porch and it was being neglected. Tina had the idea to create a trellis that would expand the porch and give the home a more welcoming look. I would never have thought of this. I have to say it again, she came through with another amazing idea. For landscaping we decided to keep it simple. Clean lines with sod, gravel and bushes in addition to the railroad ties leading up to the house. We made the house look so welcoming that everyone will want to just walk up, pull up a chair and have some lemonade.
At the end of the remodel I was excited to surprise Tina with the cast iron sink that we found in the beginning. I knew she would really appreciate what it represented. Being able to restore and reuse old tubs and sinks is a joy that we both share. We were able to incorporate it with the vanity that we had and were able to sit it on the butcher block. It came out looking spectacular. I also added a design feature of my own. I did not like the way the dining room looked. It was too plain for me, so I came up with corner built-in shelving that would act as functional storage. Also by painting it a deep blue-green we had the pop of color that I knew was missing. I was very impressed and proud of myself. I actually gave myself a pat on the back. LOL!
Staging day was here and this was the last house that Cal American Homes was going to stage on our own. We had so many homes that we were restoring, and with Tina being pregnant it was getting very difficult to stage. We did go out with a bang! My crew and I worked on staging until 10 pm the night before the open house. We got everything done in one day. It was a grind but it was all worth it. This project ended up being one of my favorite ones. The open house was a huge success and once again we outdid ourselves. We sold the home for $380,000 which was $30,000 more than my original asking price. Score another win for team Tina and Jessie!
The city of San Dimas is one of the last small towns along the foothills. I love this city for it’s sense of community, wonderful people, and the variety of vintage homes. When my friend Brenda Gonzalez brought this potential home to me I was very excited. Brenda is a seasoned agent with ReMax Masters and we have known each other for many years. She is a big fan of what we do and of the show. I called her as soon as I received her email. She told me she had a house in downtown San Dimas that was just the kind of home we love working on. We set up an appointment to look at it the same day. I left 30 minutes earlier than I needed to so that I could drive the neighborhood.
The home is located in a small tract where all the homes are craftsman bungalows. I have seen a hundred neighborhoods that have these tracts but for some reason this one really had my mind reeling. There was something about it that made me think, but I was now running late to my appointment so I headed there right away. I knew whatever it was that was bugging me would come to me eventually.
I pulled up to the house and met Brenda and the seller at the door. It was a very cute craftsman with a high pitch in front and a small porch, very classic in the architectural sense. The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the ceilings. There were acoustic panels in ceilings that were about 9 feet high. I also noticed the floors were hardwood but they appeared to have been painted over. So far it was pretty standard and what I usually see in these homes. We walked past the living room, dining room and two bedrooms to the kitchen. It was a standard galley style kitchen with the pantry to the right. The main bathroom was to the right of the kitchen but there was no real separation between the two. It’s usually not good to have the main bathroom right next to the kitchen. Then we walked to what I thought would be the third bedroom, but instead we walked into a room that was about 7 feet deep and 25 feet long. It was being used as a laundry room and storage. Off to the right of this room was a large walk in closet. It was a very strange set up. Across from where I was standing was the door to the last bedroom. This room felt different from the rest of the house. It was obviously an addition and it was a lot newer than the rest of the house. It had vinyl windows instead of wooden windows like the rest of house. It also had its own bathroom with walk in closet. Brenda saw the look on my face and explained that this part of the house was added on a few years ago and it was done with permits. It was done very well, from what I could see.
From there we walked back to the laundry/storage room and went through a side door to the back yard. When you stepped out you immediately landed on a raised platform with plain plywood on top. It was meant to be a deck but it was never completed. The back yard was very spacious and the reason for this was there was no garage. I looked over at both neighbors on each side. They both had garages with the garage door facing the alley. This brings me to one of my principles when it comes to flipping. It’s okay to buy a home with one negative. For example, not having a garage. But I never buy a home with two negatives. Another example is a bad floor plan. This home had both strikes against it. Usually I would walk away from this house, but I knew that if I really thought about it I could solve one of the two negatives. Plus, I really liked the house and the neighborhood. I made an offer of $375,000. Brenda said that she would talk it over with her seller and get back to me. After a couple of days Brenda called and informed me the seller countered our offer at $400,000. I told her it was too much to pay for a house with no garage. After a little back and forth we settled on $392,000.
I was at the home on our final walk through the day before we closed escrow. I was looking at it and comparing it to the other houses in the neighborhood and it finally dawned on me what was bugging me. All these homes had the same original footprint and a gable on the roof. This is rare, since most builders tweak their homes a bit to give the buyers a choice. However these homes were too alike, and I remembered that Sears Roebuck used to sell homes via a catalog. I pulled out my handy phone and started searching. From what I could read it appeared that Sears Roebuck started selling these kit homes in the early 1900’s. The home we were buying was built in 1912 so that was the first indication. Now I was getting really excited. After reading more it appeared that you can tell if your home is a kit home by looking at the lumber that the home was built with. These homes were shipped via train and they came in a boxcar with a 75 page instruction book on how to assemble them. Each kit contained between 10,000 to 30,000 pieces. To assemble them the pieces were marked by stamps so you could put them together with the instruction book. I couldn’t wait for demo day! I had a feeling that we had just bought our first kit home. The problem now was the the sellers needed 30 days to move, so I had to wait. As most of you know I am not the most patient person in the world. It was going to drive me nuts waiting to find out! Lucky for me I was working on three other houses at the time. Plus, Tina was pregnant, we had two crazy kids at home, and I was still running my real estate office, so I was pretty sure my mind would be occupied.
The day finally came when we were able to take possession of the home. Right away my mind was back to getting into the walls to see if we indeed had a kit home. Again my curiosity would have to wait. When we were able to get into the home we noticed the entire crew was getting bitten and everyone started scratching. We were able to finally see a flea jump on one of my crew member’s black pants. It was not only one flea, we saw at least a dozen. Basically the home was infested with fleas. We all ran out of the house, slapping away at these little blood suckers. We had to have the house bombed several times to get rid of them. We found out that there was a hole in the crawl space of the home, and when the previous owners moved out the stray cats from the ally were going under the house and depositing their fleas.
After a week of treatment we were finally able to resume work. We started removing the original moldings to see if we could find any stamps. Our first attempt was a failure so I started doing more demo than I needed to for the remodel. I just had to find out for sure if our home was a kit home. After many attempts it finally sank in that we did not have a kit home. Oh well! Now it was time to get back to work.
The first thing we had to do was to come up with a way to make the floor plan more functional. We had to figure out a way to make the kitchen feel bigger. We didn’t have a lot of options. There was no way I was going to remove the amazing built-in that was in the dining room, on the other side of the kitchen. There was no way of pushing it back either. So I came up with a solution to actually make the kitchen smaller in order to feel bigger. Sounds crazy right? Let me explain. I came up with an idea to open up a walk way on the other side of the built-in. By doing this we would lose kitchen cabinets, but we would be opening it up to the dining area. It was a risk that I knew we had to take in order to make this place more functional. In the end it worked out.
The next challenge was to figure out what to do with the large utility room. It was obviously too large to be a laundry room and it was too small for a den. It took more effort to figure this out than I anticipated. I wanted to improve the flow of the house and this was preventing me from doing that. I asked Tina what her thoughts were and she said, “Don’t change anything.” She suggested putting in a set of French doors with a lot of windows to let in more natural light. She also suggested making the large closet the laundry room. This in turn would make this room a true utility room. It can be an office, art room, play room or even a home gym. So we did just that. It turned out to be the best decision we made.
The next challenge was the addition. The addition was done in the early 2000’s and the mill work resembled that era. We had to make sure that we made the addition feel like the rest of the home. To accomplish this we had to make the moldings, casing and trim the same as the original part of the house. This was not easy or cheap, but we felt it was a necessary detail that could not be ignored. For the tile we decided to do something classic and go with black and white for the bathroom. We used white subway tile for the tub walls and a black and white mini hex for the floors. For the walls we went with a simple brick pattern. However, for the floors we had to do something special. Tina decided to go with a white border for the exterior and black for the interior. She also added a little something to the pattern. Tina wanted to cut out 7 white hex tiles and place them in a floret pattern and insert them into the black. This gave it a really cool feel and look to the floors. We did the same exact thing in the master but we inverted the colors with a black border and black florets. This was a very simple pattern but the result came out a lot better than I expected. For the kitchen we wanted to do something a little out of the normal white subway. We decided to go with a green toned subway mosaic that had hints of earth tones in it. We did this because we wanted to use a special brown quartz countertop that would play off the backsplash. The idea was to keep it simple but also make sure we stayed era-specific. Another detail we added was a farm style sink right in front of the window that would look out to the porch/deck.
Next we had to deal with the floors in the house. The home had the original floors from over 95 years ago. They were in good shape but needed a lot of TLC. The wood was Douglas Fir, commonly known as a Christmas tree. Doug Fir is a resilient wood species and lasts for a very long time. Over the years the floors had been painted a few times and the paint used was oil-based. It was harder to sand off than usual and we had to use a few more sanding belts than expected, but all in all the mission was accomplished. The next hardest part was deciding what color to stain the floors. A lot of people don’t think much of staining but it makes all the difference. It’s the same as paint colors. If you go too dark your home becomes too dark. You go light and sometimes you have no contrast. In this case we were doing walls that were almost white so we need something to offset that. We decided to go with ebony. It is the darkest stain possible. The result was exactly what we expected. We got the pop of color we wanted and the depth we needed to make this home feel larger than it was.
The interior was pretty much done as far as the finishes and details were concerned. Now we had to figure out what we wanted to do on the outside. I wanted to do something drastic with the color and make this home really stand out. We decided to go with blue but we did not know what shade of blue. We tried several different pallets but ultimately I fell in love with a dark blue that resembled Dodger Blue. You know me. I Love My Dodgers! Now that we chose a body color and white for the trim we had to bring in a third color. This was very common in craftsman homes. I adore craftsman homes so I wanted to do something special for this home. I wanted wood as the third element. So we decided to install new cedar shingles right below the roof line. I also wanted to incorporate this into the wood railing around the porch. We came up with cutting a half hole in the cedar planks so that when two pieces were next to each other they made a full circle. It was a really cool project that I enjoyed doing with Tina.
Finally we were at the tail end of this remodel and we had to decide on a landscaping plan. In the past we have done a lot of sod and accent plants. Since this home was a California Craftsman Bungalow I wanted to do something cool. So I convinced Tina we should do something drought tolerant, using California native plants. We used decomposed granite and put in cool drought tolerant plants throughout the yard.
After the landscaping was done we had to stage the home. We needed to do something with the room in between the kitchen and master bedroom. We did our best to make it feel inviting but we had to make the buyer see the possibilities via staging. We put a desk in the corner and put a coat hanger in the other corner. This gave it an appearance of an office where you can get away to think and work. I think all in all we did a smashing job. We sold the home for more than we thought we would get, and that’s always a good thing!
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