We were so excited about the possible purchase of this 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath, 1100 square foot, 1925 Spanish Revival home in downtown La Verne. La Verne is a vibrant small city with a downtown full of historic homes. The day that we first walked the home we were full of anticipation. We just weren’t prepared for what we actually found.
There was a large concrete ramp leading up to the front door. Once inside the house the odor was overpowering! Poor pregnant Tina was very close to losing her lunch. It was one of the dirtiest, smelliest houses we had ever bought. And horrifically there was a pile of dead cockroaches in the oven!
However, this house was a great example of mission architecture, and the house was full of great design possibilities. This style of home was based on the grand idea of making a home look like the beautiful missions that are in California. As Jessie said, people wanted to feel like they were living in a mini-mission!
Weighing the positives against the negatives, the positives won! With a purchase price of $350,000, a $55,000 renovation budget, and a possible sales price of $500,000 this house looked like a winner! Time to get started!
On the exterior the concrete ramp came out, the aluminum awnings came down (to be replaced with beautiful fabric awnings in hues of gray, black and orange), and the house was re-stuccoed to give it the original adobe style once again. In addition, Jessie and Tina wanted to make the windows special. They decided to duplicate the pattern of the amazing 9-light French doors that were in the living room. Molding was added to the new windows to replicate this pattern.
The interior floor plan needed minimal adjustments. We removed the wall between the living room and kitchen to get the open concept that modern buyers love. We also made the kitchen a little bit smaller so that we could increase the size of the third bedroom and bath, making it an actual master suite with a full bath.
The living room had a great fireplace that needed to be returned to its former glory. The best way to do this was by using a beautiful hand-painted Spanish tile on the face. Tina found the perfect one, but it was very expensive. After Jessie got over the initial shock of $15 per tile (!) he realized it was exactly what was needed.
Original features of the home were the coved ceiling in the living room, the 9-light French doors, and the original hardwood floors. We restored all of these, just like we always do if it is at all possible. We put a dark stain on the floors.
The kitchen was galley style, and we brightened it up by painting the cabinets a beautiful blue. Spanish homes are so fun because they call for lots of bright colors. We installed butcher block countertops in a natural stain and a gorgeous tile backsplash. The tile was the traditional star and cross pattern that you see often in Spanish design.
In both bathrooms we used a combination of white square and white hex tile. To add color we installed a band of brightly colored Spanish tile at eye level.
Perhaps the best part of working on this home was finding out we were having a third boy! In the episode we visited Tina’s OB/Gyn, Monica Valenzuela, MD, and with all the family present we got the news about baby boy #3! My goodness, are we going to be busy!!!!
Tina was on bed rest on the day of our Open House, so Jessie was on his own. Many people walked the house that day and gave very positive feedback. We ended up selling the house for $485,000, and after a $60,000 renovation and closing costs and fees, we netted $52,000. But we also saved another vintage home, and provided one lucky family a beautiful place to live. We really do have the best job in the world!
I usually wouldn’t say this, but I thought this house would be one of my least favorite projects. I say this because I didn’t see a lot of potential for restoration. I knew we would do an amazing job on the renovation but I pride myself on bringing old homes back to life and giving them a little Cal American flavor. I didn’t see any of that potential for this house. Fortunately, that all changed. We bought the house almost sight-unseen. I was only able to see the front half of the house and I was not allowed in the garage. Buying it was a risky move but I felt it was going to be a good deal. Another reason I bought this house was because I have a rental property literally across the street. I knew I would either flip this house or keep it as a rental.
The first day we filmed at the house was really the first day I was able to get a full picture of the home. The first thing that stood out was the color. It was a blinding lime green. Completely hideous! We had to walk the house before we filmed, in order to get a grasp of things. Still I couldn’t really figure out the layout. I saw a boarded up wall and it was definitely an opening to something. I then figured out that the dining room had been converted to a make-shift bedroom. This discovery was the easy part. I later found out it was not done completely right.
There was also a 2-car detached tandem garage. I was never able to see inside the garage when we were trying to buy the house. Filming day was the first time I was able to get inside. The garage was full of stuff. I mean floor to ceiling full of old stuff! There was also a partition dividing the garage and what appeared to be some kind of bedroom. There were plumbing lines and a drain and I could clearly see that the place at one time was being used as living quarters. I already knew this had to go and it was not going to be cheap. Everything was on a slab and that always costs more to repair. We were only one day into this house and we were already seeing additional costs that were unexpected. We usually run into these problems during demo. Oh well! This is what to expect when you flip vintage homes.
Demo day was finally upon us. This part is usually fun but in older homes like these you always find things that were done wrong. However, sometimes you get lucky and find something cool. Or in this case you find something you can actually use. I was in the middle of doing demo in the only bathroom in the house. The tub was sitting against the wall and it was actually duct taped all around the base. I assumed this was because there were cracks or leaks at the base. It never dawned on me what could actually be underneath all that tape. When I was hammering the base there was a strong mildew odor that hit me right in the face. It was straight out nasty! After about the fourth or fifth swing of the hammer I noticed the tub starting to bull nose. I tapped it with the hammer and I heard the most beautiful sound. “Dong!” We had just discovered the original cast iron claw foot tub. Fully intact but definitely in need of some tender loving care. These are the few moments that I get to feel like a kid again. It’s like digging in the backyard, playing Indiana Jones, and finding something cool like an old coin or an arrowhead.
Since we decided to rearrange almost all the walls we decided to take down all the drywall. (Here is a tip for those of you planning to do a major remodel. If you have to remove half your drywall or plaster in your house, you might as well remove it all and just drywall the entire house. It will take more time trying to patch and match the thickness of the wall than just doing it all new. Plus you avoid any uneven walls which you sometimes get when patching.) We were in the middle of removing the ceiling and we were able to find the old cast iron sink in the attic. I am not sure if it belonged to the house but it was in great shape. I didn’t want to put this part in the show at that time because I knew not many would believe you could strike iron two times in one day. So I told my guy to hide it so I could surprise Tina later.
Design time! For today’s modern living it seems everyone is in agreement. Open space is better space. Unfortunately, when they built these homes back in the early 1900’s that model was nonexistent. To make matters worse the previous owner decided to close off the dining room and make it another bedroom. Now it was our job to make it right. We had plans drawn up making this home a 3 bedroom, 1 bath with a true dining room. That is difficult to do when you are working with 1054 square feet. After a lot of measuring, drawing, erasing, more drawing, we were finally able to come up with an awesome floor plan. We even found a place for a stackable washer and dryer closet. Now it was time for Tina to do her thing. She still amazes me with these ideas that just pop into her head. Not all of them work, and almost all of them end up going over budget, but I have to say her creative talent knows no bounds. I struggled trying to come up with a theme and she just walked in and said “let’s do a railroad theme.” Boom! Done. Really? That was fast. So that’s what we did!
We used railroad ties as steps for the front walkway and specific hardware to pay homage to the era when this house was built. We went so era specific that we did something that I have never done before. Tina was able to talk me into using linoleum, or what some like to call vinyl flooring. You have no idea how many times I have flipped a home and discovered linoleum floors. I always think to myself “Yuck, that has to go.” And now I am actually voluntarily agreeing to install it. It is mind blowing the way things can “flip” on you so fast. (Haha!) The linoleum design surprisingly was very cool. We went with shades of blue and white and came up with a plaid design. I was very impressed when I saw what you can do with linoleum these days.
Now we needed a kitchen design that would balance the wood floors and linoleum. Since we were doing an open concept kitchen and living room we needed a design that would be inviting and not dividing. We went with a traditional white shaker cabinet but we knew we had to turn it up a notch. Tina decided to use a butcher block counter top and use the cabinets as a peninsula. This would give the two rooms some division but still keep the open concept. I loved the idea so we ran with it! Tina’s backsplash design was a little risky. She wanted to use three different tiles to make a design. It started with a base of mini-hex tiles, then a blue pencil liner that would match the linoleum floor, and finally transitioned to a traditional subway.
For the bath we decided to restore the claw foot tub. I wanted the tub to be the centerpiece of this room. We also decided that we were going to bring the butcher block from the kitchen to the vanity in the bathroom. In order to bring some more color and authenticity to the room Tina wanted to do wainscoting all around. For the floors we chose a light gray hex tile that would really complement the rest of the design. All in all I was very happy with the choices we made.
After about two weeks spent wrapping up the inside we needed to decide on the exterior design. We had to get rid of that hideous lime green and we wanted to use a more traditional paint color. However, we also had to make sure we didn’t do a drab paint scheme. Today’s buyers wouldn’t like that. The solution was to use two traditional paint colors and then a third accent color that would pop. We went with a crème colored base with white trim and then chose a teal accent color for the windows and doors. It really worked out well. Another issue was the fact that we had this fairly large porch and it was being neglected. Tina had the idea to create a trellis that would expand the porch and give the home a more welcoming look. I would never have thought of this. I have to say it again, she came through with another amazing idea. For landscaping we decided to keep it simple. Clean lines with sod, gravel and bushes in addition to the railroad ties leading up to the house. We made the house look so welcoming that everyone will want to just walk up, pull up a chair and have some lemonade.
At the end of the remodel I was excited to surprise Tina with the cast iron sink that we found in the beginning. I knew she would really appreciate what it represented. Being able to restore and reuse old tubs and sinks is a joy that we both share. We were able to incorporate it with the vanity that we had and were able to sit it on the butcher block. It came out looking spectacular. I also added a design feature of my own. I did not like the way the dining room looked. It was too plain for me, so I came up with corner built-in shelving that would act as functional storage. Also by painting it a deep blue-green we had the pop of color that I knew was missing. I was very impressed and proud of myself. I actually gave myself a pat on the back. LOL!
Staging day was here and this was the last house that Cal American Homes was going to stage on our own. We had so many homes that we were restoring, and with Tina being pregnant it was getting very difficult to stage. We did go out with a bang! My crew and I worked on staging until 10 pm the night before the open house. We got everything done in one day. It was a grind but it was all worth it. This project ended up being one of my favorite ones. The open house was a huge success and once again we outdid ourselves. We sold the home for $380,000 which was $30,000 more than my original asking price. Score another win for team Tina and Jessie!
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!
Here in Southern California, we get a lot of sun. There’s nothing surprising or new about that statement but what’s interesting is how architecture often accounts for this. The technique is called brise soleil and it’s a French term that translates as “sun breaker.” So quite literally, it’s an architectural feature that breaks up the sun, directs it or provides shade without completely obscuring the building. The sun isn’t just in California, of course, so you’ll see this technique everywhere but we do see it a lot here, especially in Modern or Mid-century Modern homes and apartments.
With Mid-century buildings, cement blocks are a common brise soleil but we’ve seen them made out of all kinds of materials. They can be louvers, fins, folding shutters. A brise soleil feature can be small and cover just a window or the entire side of a building. Their versatility is extraordinary. Think of them as built-in Venetian blinds for buildings.
With some houses and buildings, we’ve noticed that the brise soleil features have been removed. And what a shame! They’re there for a great (and functional) reason and usually add to the distinctive architectural look of a building!
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.