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.