Righting a Bungled Bungalow
Beneath decades worth of bad remodeling choices, a reluctant renovator and his wife discovered a 1911 Craftsman showpiece
At first glance, the pink stucco bungalow didn't appeal to Los Angeles residents Murray and Mary Beth Cohen, but upon closer inspection the couple recognized its hidden potential. The original bones were in good shape and the style and feel seemed right to them. "It had a terrific vibe, a purist quality to its craftsmanship," says Murray. So they worked to uncover what had once been, and restore the home to it's 1911 splendor.
Among their initial discoveries was the hammered-copper fireplace hood with the raised-relief Tree of Life, which was left untouched to protect its timeworn patina.
Buried beneath decades of paint and paper lay the well-preserved Arts and Crafts wall covering original to the living room. Sometime in the 1920s or '30s, it had been covered with different wallpaper, which actually ended up preserving what was underneath. A friend of the couple—a restoration contractor just getting his business off the ground, and who they hired to do woodwork recovery—offered to do the otherwise costly wallpaper restoration for free, a price that fit pefectly in the Cohen's budget.
The first project that Murray took on himself was stripping and staining the French doors and woodwork in the den. "The soft pine was hard to stain without making a blotchy mess, since it tends to absorb color unevenly," he says. "I actually felt like crying a few times." But once the project was complete, the results gave the owners a peek at what the house could be, and that was all the motivation they needed to get up and running.
Following the outline of unstained areas on the existing trim, the team recovered missing pieces, like the battens and plate rail with corbels in the dining room, and two waist-height bookcases, which were restored with their tops patterned after the mantel shelf in the living room. The vintage Arts and Crafts chandelier over the dining table came from a salvage dealer.
Once a good part of the interior was done, it was time to tackle the exterior. Underneath the stucco were original red-wood shingles. Some were salvageable, but the couple also purchased over a thousand new ones. The color choices came from a drive around a nearby neighborhood, where they knocked on the door of a home they had admired with a grayish-green base, Oxford Brown trim, and Indian Red sash, and asked the owners for their paint information.
Rather then sandblast the whitewashed brick porch piers, which now stood out against the new exterior, the homeowners painted them using a decorative two-tone technique that Murray learned about on a model-train website. This saved them a lot of money. "If you don't inspect it too closely, you can't tell," he says.
The original Quartersawn oak entry door and casing were stripped and refinished with varnish to show off the wood grain, and damaged window trim was replaced with new oak.
The backyard was the last item on the phase-one to-do list. Working with a local mason, the homeowners faced the existing concrete back patio with brick to give it a warmer, more finished look. A new pergola overhead provides shade and links the space visually with the porch they added outside the sunroom. Removing a parking pad in back and installing a terraced lawn surrounded by garden beds created a backyard oasis in the small urban lot.
Along with the concrete patio and no-frills backyard, this shot shows the pink stucco that once wrapped their Craftsman and almost kept the Cohens' homeowning dream from becoming a reality.
The interior layout remained the same, but enlarging an existing side porch and adding a second one expanded the house's footprint.
Cost of home: $428,000
Remodeling cost: $150,000
Time frame: 6 years and counting
Where they saved: Painting the brick piers instead of sandblasting them, and having friends restore the wallpaper and design the garden for free.
Where they splurged: Hiring pros to remove the stucco and strip the living room and dining room woodwork.
What they would do differently: Use more drought-tolerant plants and have little or no lawn in the back.
Biggest challenge: Making the 1939 sunroom addition off the back feel like part of the original house.
How they solved it: By matching the roofline of the new porch pergolas with that of the sunroom.