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.
In some homes and buildings there is a small window above a door or up high that can often serve solely as decoration or swivel open up just a little. Transom windows —that’s their name— come in a variety of shapes and sizes.
Because they are high up, when transom windows are above front doors or above, say, living room windows they can allow sunlight to stream into a room. Also, you can close your curtains but still get the benefits of natural light from the transom window above. Also, when they swivel open, they can allow for air circulation.
Less common today are interior transom windows above doors or front doors in older apartment buildings. There were popular—and necessary—before the days of air conditioning. They allow for light and cross ventilation while still maintaining privacy because they are small and up high. Today, they are still a great addition to homes for both decorative and functional purposes in rooms that need a little extra ventilation. In older homes, they’re a terrific original feature that can easily be preserved.
Of all the projects on season one I would have to say this house was the one that broke our hearts. As you may already know, Tina and I love craftsman style homes, so when we came across this house we fell in love immediately. It had all the details that make a craftsman so unique: the pitch on the roof, the support beams coming out of truss, the window trim, the siding and the beautiful front porch all just scream craftsman. As a bonus this home is located in the heart of an area called Retro Row near Belmont Shore in Long Beach. It is famous for its independently owned stores that offer unique goods such as clothing, furniture, art, books, coffee, bars and some of the best food from restaurants you have never heard of. It was the farthest of homes that we worked on, but I used to look forward working here because of all the great food.
Our first challenge was the usual when it came to older homes. The home did not flow and there was no master bedroom suite. In the beginning we had a lot of options, because we had a lot to work with. So we took what was then a sun room that lead to the living room, but was also connected to one of the bedrooms into a master bath. By sealing the doorway to the living room we could then open a door from the bedroom.
We then planned on evening out one wall in the kitchen and taking down the wall that separated it from the nook. We would have been able to create a very large kitchen with adjoining laundry room, and an over sized island overlooking the front window. It would have been an entertainers kitchen with a lot of space to maneuver and cook. It was going to make this place feel so open with the functionality of today while keeping all the characteristics of a vintage craftsman. After drawing the plans we went to the planning department in Long Beach for approval. This process usually takes a couple of weeks for most people, but we have got it down to science, so I figured it would take a week before we would begin demoing. Oh was I wrong! I mean really wrong!!
We found out that the porch and sun room were technically encroaching the allowed setbacks. Basically, they were saying that both the porch and sun room were too close to the sidewalks. I am a person who is very fair, and I understand that when things are not right you have to correct them. That is the price of doing business the right way. I will agree that the sun room was not originally part of the house, but the porch had to be. I am one thousand percent sure it was, so sure that I had one of my guys jack hammer into the foundation knowing this was an added cost just to prove that I was right. So happens after jack hammering we found the foundation footing was original. We took our findings back to the city and it made no difference. Even after we proved it was there before any of us were born they still would not acknowledge it.
As a flipper and general contractor you hear about these horror stories. You see it happen on other TV shows, and you hear about how a city can come in and make you tear things down. Well I can honestly say this was one of those times, and yes it can happen. After much debate and arguing with the city of Long Beach, we lost. They actually made us tear down the sun room, and worse they made us tear down the original porch. This was devastating for so many reasons. One, it was one of the key features that made us fall in love with the house, and now that it was gone the house looked drab. Two, the expense of demoing the porch, the foundation it was sitting on, and the roof that tied it all together was a huge unforeseen expense that could topple this project into the red. And three, we were going to be close to a month behind which we did not account for at all. This was a total disaster! This is what I mean about breaking our hearts! Tina, being the supportive wife that she is, simply said “Let’s get to work! No reason to mope. Let’s do what we always do and come out on top.”
After the demo of the sun room and porch we had to come up with plans to correct the mistake. So we closed off the area and added a door to enable access the outside. We also had to correct the roof, foundation, siding, and fascia and we had to relocate the original window to a place that worked. All this was adding up and it was adding up fast. While all this was going on, I had our electrician and plumber come in a move all what they needed for the new floor plan.
We were still able to create a master bath, but to make that happen we had to take some space from the kitchen. This was not something I wanted to do but we really had no option. The moment we did this the kitchen got really small, really fast. So we had to make another revision. The laundry area was taking up too much space so we had to relocate that to the hallway that we designed. It took a while but Tina and I finally came up with a floor plan that we both agreed on. After we got all the framing, plumbing, electrical and drywall we had to come up with designs. We knew we had to step it up even more so to make up for the lost porch and smaller kitchen. I went to my clutch hitter Tina to come up with a design scheme that would be a home run.
First the biggest obstacle, the missing front porch. We knew we had to take your focus off what was not there, and draw your attention to something that was. Tina went a bluish gray for the siding, a very dark gray for the fascia, and bright white for all the window and door trims. Then she went very bold and did a burnt orange on all the horizontal beams and lines, to give it a nice pop of color. I have never seen this combination but I have to say she hit a home run with this idea.
After the paint was done we stood back and although we were very pleased we felt we were still missing something. We had this very large open space on the side of the house of where the old porch was. (Thank you city of Long Beach) *that was sarcastic by the way* I came up with a great idea. If the city is going to take our porch away, then I was going to build a yard. I built a fence that encompassed the space 25 feet one way and 50 other. We used a nice cedar and had the fence built in a craftsman-like style to emphasize the era. We then painted the outside of it to match the fascia to tie it together. It came out very nice, and now I started feeling better about this project.
For the interior we had to do something dramatic to take a away from the feeling of the smaller kitchen. Tina to the rescue! She wanted to brighten up the kitchen, and to bring in some natural light via the windows. She went with a light gray floor tile and a gray shaker style kitchen cabinet. For the back splash she used a white raised bevel edge subway to give it more depth. In fact it looked so good that we had the tile go all the way up to the ceiling on all the walls.
For the wall cabinets we knew we had to give an open space look to the now enclosed kitchen. We decided to remove the interior panel by routing them out with a router and we added glass so you could see inside. Since we went all the way up with the subway it would have been a shame to cover it up. We decided to remove the back panel as well to show off that awesome looking tile. Even after all this Tina was not satisfied. She felt it lacked life, and life to Tina means color. She went bold again by painting the upper cabinets and the open shelves red. It really came together very nicely and we accomplished what we had set out to do. We made the kitchen feel open and bright, but we were still able to give it the accents of yester year.
Next we had to do something about the amazing built in hutch that was in the dining area. This was a design feature that we had to keep, but that we also had to dress up somehow. One thing that a lot of original craftsman homes had was stained glass, and we wanted to bring that element into this house. There was one major problem. It was too expensive to do it professionally, and neither I nor Tina knew how to do it. Tina did some research, and decided to take a local class on how to create stained glass. Well I’ll tell you one thing, never tell Tina she can’t do something, because one way or another, she will figure it out. After a few classes she designed and created a piece that tied in all the colors we used. It came out way better than I thought it would. LOL! Don’t tell Tina I said that!
Originally, we were going to turn the dining area into part of the living room, but since we lost the eat-in kitchen we had to bring the dining room back. Unfortunately, there was no separation from the living room to what would become our dining room. After racking our brains a bit we decided to bring back a feature that I am sure was once in this house, but was probably removed to give it more space. That feature was built in book cases with a tapered post to match the outside. This feature was very popular during the craftsman era and I wanted to bring it back. There was no way we could find original ones that would fit perfectly so I did the next best thing. We decided to build them from scratch. It was not as hard as I thought it was going to be and they did the trick beautifully. They made the home look and feel more authentic while giving the living and dining rooms some separation. Dual purpose! My favorite kind of projects!
At this point people were walking by the house and giving tons of positive comments. We were feeling really good about ourselves and everything was moving smoothly. Just when we started loving this house again, I got a call from one of my guys with the typical “I have some bad news for you”. The hardwood floor guy was not going to be able to bring the original hardwood floors back. Apparently over the years and years of sanding and refinishing, the floors got too worn. Basically if we tried to bring them back we would end up sanding into the sub-floor. So that was another few thousand dollars that we did not account for at all. This place reminded me of that old Tom Hanks movie. “The Money Pit”.
After we got all the big items resolved and completed, we still had to address the bathrooms. When we first walked the house before we bought it, there was an original Kohlers claw-foot cast-iron tub in the garage. We had no idea what shape it was in, but we knew if we had a chance to restore it and bring it back to life we would. I called my glazer Jeff from DeMontigny Refinishing and Restoration to give me his opinion. He checked it out for us and told us he had good news and bad news. The good news was that he could totally patch and re-glaze the thing to look new. The bad news is that the legs on the thing were beyond repair and finding a perfect set of 4 would be very difficult. Tina really wanted to make this happen so she went searching online at every possible retailer, and no one had them. She came close a few times but they always ended up not working out. She eventually went to a swap meet in LA and found a set that was all brown and rusted. She checked under each foot and they all had the numbers on them that we were looking for. We got really lucky with the feet.
On that same trip it just so happened she came across an old desk that was made of solid wood. It really had this old world craftsman handmade feel to it. Tina called me right away and asked if it was possible to take an old desk and turn it into a vanity. I told her to measure the width, depth and height of the table so I could make some calculations. She texted me a picture along with the dimensions I asked for, and after running the numbers, I determined it would make a great vanity. We had to make some modifications of course, but it took less than a day to make them. After we cut out the top for the drop in sink and after cutting the holes for the fixtures all we had to do was water proof it so that it could last forever. Just to finish off the master bathroom we added a barn style door to complete the look.
We were now basically done. All we had left was landscaping and Tina’s favorite: “Staging Day!” On this particular house we knew we had to bring in some special pieces to mix in the new with the old. It was kind of a tribute to what we did to this house. We brought in New-Original features. It is an oxymoron, just like this house was. So we asked a friend of ours who collects old items if we could borrow some of her stuff, and she was more than happy to help. After a day of staging, I have to say the house turned out really really great for what we had to deal with.