We got the opportunity to buy this 1918 Grove House in the city of Ontario from another investor. He started the project and was unable to finish it. It was a great house, but unfortunately we inherited a few of that investor’s problems. This was one of our largest home renovations to date with 1900 square feet, 4 bedrooms and 2 baths.
Ontario was settled by the Chaffey brothers, who came to California from Ontario, Canada. Easterners flocked to California in the early 20th century. The warm weather and ability to grow crops all year round was a real draw. Southern California had the perfect climate for growing citrus. There were lemon and orange groves all over the area, and this home was originally a farmhouse for the groves. It would have been the only house for miles around at the time it was built in 1918, surrounded by lush citrus trees as far as the eye could see.
The house is on the historic registry, thus we couldn’t make any changes to the floor plan. It still had many of the original features, such as the river rock planter on the front porch, coffered ceilings in the living room, and beautiful mahogany paneling and built-ins. It had a large kitchen and large dining room.
There wasn’t much demo to do on this house, but we had to make sure the house was up to code. We updated all electrical and had to reframe some of the walls. We had two major surprises, however. The foundation needed major repairs – new rebar, posts and concrete. This was an additional $10,000 we hadn’t planned on. Also, the city threw a wrench into our plans when they required us to gable the back roof that was over an upstairs addition. Another $5,000! This was adding up fast. Oh well, it’s only money. Right?
True to the period there was no master suite but we were lucky to have two bathrooms, one up and one down. The upstairs bath was huge and we wanted it to have a dramatic design. Tina chose black subway for the shower walls, dark green paint for the bathroom walls, and a mahogany vanity that had a double sink and was 72 inches wide. It was uncertain if the vanity would fit through the door at first, but it just squeaked through. Whew!
The kitchen was large, and we wanted it to have a traditional look. Because of this we used bead board cabinets, marble countertops, a farmhouse sink, and tin backsplash. Tin ceilings were everywhere in the early 1900s and now companies have adapted the tin and made it into backsplash material. This kitchen was unique, beautiful and true to the period. We were very proud of the final result.
Finish carpentry was very important in this house. We are proud of the talented crafts people that work for our company. From installing and adapting the vintage French doors in the living room, repairing and rebuilding some of the mahogany panels, refinishing the coffered ceilings, and giving the beautiful built-ins some tender loving care – they hit a home run!
On the exterior we decided to stay with the Americana theme. We painted the siding a navy blue, the trim a crisp white, and the corbels a beautiful red. In the porch planter we put red and white geraniums, and in the front yard azaleas, gardenias and camellias. Just like the plants the farmer’s wife would have lovingly tended in her yard back in the day.
This house will always be special to us because you got to see the day that our third beautiful boy, Max, came into the world. This is why we do what we do. In the end it is all about family! Not just our family but the families that will be living in the homes we renovate for many years to come, making their own beautiful memories. We are truly blessed.
This time we are back in our hometown of Claremont, with a large 1914 Craftsman home. This home is 2700 square feet with three bedrooms and three bathrooms. It is on a beautiful tree lined street right in the Claremont village.
We love Craftsman homes and this beauty has all of those features and more. The large front porch with natural rock, the original wide wooden door, the dining room built-ins with pagoda cutouts on the cabinet doors, the wood paneling, the grand fireplace, and the pocket doors between the living room and dining rooms – all we could say was WOW!
The main living areas needed cleaning and brightening and the large fireplace needed something special to make it stand out in this beautiful home. The fireplace is the first thing that you see when you enter. Batchelder tile was very common on fireplaces of that era, but our fireplace didn’t have any special tile. Ernest Batchelder was an artist and teacher who lived in southern California in the early 20th century. He created art tiles and was a leader in the American Arts and Crafts Movement. His tiles became hugely popular and by the 1920s could be found in homes throughout the country.
Pasadena Craftsman Tile currently has the blessing of the Batchelder family to make authentic reproductions of his tiles. We hired them to make special tiles for our fireplace, a tree pattern in a beautiful green/blue color surrounded by tiles in the same hues. The cost was $4500, and worth every penny!
The original hardwood floors were in great condition and only needed sanding and stain to bring them back to life.
The kitchen had been remodeled in the 1960s and needed an update and a style more in keeping with the style of the home. Tina wanted the kitchen to be bright and light, so she decided on white cabinets for the uppers and a sage green for the lowers. Also we had that amazing pagoda cut-out design on the dining room cabinet doors, and Tina wanted to carry that design into the kitchen. A template was made from an original door and a machinist used the template to cut out the doors. The result was truly original. The finishing touches were the soapstone countertop and handmade wavy tile backsplash.
The floor plan included two bedrooms and two bathrooms downstairs, and one bedroom and bath upstairs. In order to make a true master downstairs we opened the wall between a bedroom and bathroom. This bathroom had a built-in that we decided to keep, and we installed the vanity in the center of the built-in. The original clawfoot tub was still there. We restored the tub by cleaning it, painting the outside black, and applying a wax pigment patina on the feet. We did a marble tile floor in a basketweave pattern and the same wavy handmade tile from the kitchen for the wainscot. The final result was beautiful!
We were so fortunate to have original pictures of the home, and the exterior of the home still had the original cedar shingles. We were hoping to power wash them and keep them in their original condition. However, the force of the water was making gouges in the soft wood. We had to paint the shingles instead, and chose an olive green for the shingles, blue on the windows, and brown trim. It gave the home a very natural look, which is the Craftsman way.
The original wide front door had a lot of cracks in it. We stripped it and installed a brand new sheet of oak on the face. Once it was stained you couldn’t tell that it had been repaired. It was good as new!
New landscape added the finishing touch. This home was returned to it’s stately elegance and will be a lovely home for at least another hundred years.
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!
Because we work with a lot of vintage homes, we’re often thinking of ways to try and decorate them according to their era. Some of the tips we’ve found can be used in any home and one of the better ideas is vintage phones. Seriously! Vintage phones (or vintage-inspired phones) bring warmth to a house and take us back to a time before texting and emailing. Maybe that sounds a little corny, but there was a time when phones kind of brought people together. If you’re really lucky, your vintage house has a phone nook. Plus, they were part of the home so a lot times they were made to look aesthetically appealing. They come in all different shapes, sizes and even colors. If you’re trying to bring some authenticity to your vintage home, great! Or if you’re just looking for a conversation piece or a unique decoration, this might be a perfect option.
Have you ever noticed those masonry blocks that appear on some buildings’ corners? We see them a lot, especially with some older, more stately places that we work on. Those block things actually have a name—they’re called quoins, which is pronounced coins. Quoin is a French word that just means corner. Sounds fancy though!
There was a time when those blocks were functional and provided walls with strength and stability. They were also used as decorative features that could add some panache to a corner or give the illusion of strength. Building technology has improved to the point that they’re no longer necessary for the structural support. Today quoins are pretty much used as a way to add visual emphasis or contrast. Quoins are usually uniformly cut blocks (or imitation blocks that are cast) that alternate evenly between long and short lengths, though sometimes they’re all square or some other variation.
Quoins were originally popular in Europe in various incarnations. They can be seen in ancient European buildings, including in windows to add strength, and was especially favorable in the 1600s England and France—so the French term makes sense. The look found its way to the United States in the 1800s when we were a new country and our architectural styles were heavily influenced by Europe. We still see them today, especially with European-style houses that are popular these days.