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.