We were so fortunate to find this gem, a 1936 Spanish hacienda home in the Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach. This was a smaller home in a very expensive neighborhood. It had a large corner lot and great bones, but we had our work cut out for us.
In 1884 Jotham Bixby, owner of Rancho Los Cerritos, sold 4000 acres of his rancho to what would soon be called Long Beach. The city was incorporated in 1887.
Spanish homes of this era had clay roofs, archways, hardwood floors, and courtyards. Our home was no exception. It was in disrepair and very overgrown, but it wasn’t hard to see the beauty that was underneath.
The original floor plan needed very few revisions. The only changes we made were closing off a door leading from the living room to a bedroom, and taking out a small closet in the master bath to increase the size of the shower.
The entry to the home was through the courtyard. The living room was large and had a beautiful fireplace and the original large windows and wood moldings. The only thing we decided to add were wooden beams on the ceiling. We also wanted to leave the formal dining room as it was. The kitchen had a gorgeous coved ceiling and an adjoining breakfast nook. The breakfast nook had built in shelving and a door leading to the courtyard.
The kitchen was a total gut. We installed rough hewn wooden cabinets, black quartz countertop, farmhouse sink, and a blue clay tile backsplash with a random star pattern. The floors in this kitchen and courtyard just called out for Saltillo tile. This house would have had Saltillo tile when it was built, as it was a very common material due to it’s coolness and ease of care. However, when the tile was laid Tina thought it would be too dark after sealing and would blend with the cabinets too much, so Jessie decided that white washing the tile was the way to go. That was a small change but made all the difference.
The Saltillo was also laid in the courtyard, on the steps and the front porch – and was just what it needed!
Other original features of the home were the built-in telephone nook, the windows and the moldings.
The hall bath had the original vanity, tub and sink, all of which we restored. The original tile in the hall bath couldn’t be saved, but we wanted to honor the triangle pattern by using a similar pattern on the shower walls.
We also used a triangle pattern tile in the master bath. Since the master bath was fairly small and dark, we doubled the size of the door by opening it up and hanging two barn doors. Making the opening larger made the bathroom feel larger and lighter.
Next we moved to the outside, and needed some inspiration for the paint colors. What better place to go than Rancho Los Cerritos! The Bixby family home still stands and is now a public museum owned by the city and dedicated to the history of the Rancho and the surrounding area. Tina and Jessie visited the Rancho with the boys and took inspiration from the colors. They decided to paint the home in similar colors, cream for the body with green for the trim.
Once the overgrown plants were removed it became clear what was needed to finish off this amazing home. We landscaped the front yard with decomposed granite, grass, bougainvillea, cacti and succulents. In the back yard we were hoping to save the in-ground spa. Jessie and Tina were distressed to discover that it had been filled with concrete and brick and couldn’t be saved. Instead it was concreted over and made into an inviting patio area.
This project was a labor of love. We couldn’t be happier with the results of the renovation and we know that the owners will be happy here for a very long time.
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!
The world of buying and selling real estate has changed in recent decades. It used to be that prospective homebuyers would find an open house in their target neighborhood or go down to their local real estate office to meet with an agent. Those methods are still good practice, but technology has added a lot to the entire process of shopping for a house. Here are some tips for finding the right real estate agent for you.
At the end of the day, remember that you’re making a big financial investment and you’ll likely live in a house for years to come. Don’t settle for a house that doesn’t work for you or an agent that can’t help get you the right home. When making a commitment this big, you deserve to get exactly what you want.