When Susan and David Dickinson bought their California Craftsman bungalow in 1983, Susan was concerned about all the work that the house needed. This Old House arrived in 1988 just in time to help with a major remodeling project: adding a stair to the attic and building a master bedroom and bath upstairs to make more room downstairs for the latest addition to the family, four-month-old Sam.
“David and I were renting an apartment then, and it made sense to buy a house and fix it up,” Susan said. “My father was here for only a day and a half, and in that time, we had to find a suitable house. We looked at this one first, and then about six other houses, but all afternoon Dad kept asking questions about the bungalow on Figueroa Street. I wasn’t so enthusiastic; the house had been rented for years, and I could see that it needed a lot of repairs.”
In its favor, however, was the bungalow’s prime location, only a few blocks from the center of town. Perched atop a knoll in a quiet neighborhood, and with a fine view of the mountains from the broad front porch, the house was built in 1923 for William Laskey, a tailor. Records show that Laskey put the concept of “sweat equity” to good use—he acted as his own contractor and hired day laborers to do the work, the cheapest way to build. The total cost was $3,500—inexpensive even for 1923. In the 1980s, houses on Figueroa Street were selling for $140,000.
The Dickinson bungalow displays many of the hallmarks of the Craftsman style: a full front porch recessed beneath the main roof; typically broad windows flanking the centered front door; clipped roof gables lending the house a quaint look; and, inside, glass-fronted bookcases flanking a central fireplace. The Dickinson bungalow, however, has one important extra not usually found in the earlier Craftsman house: a pull-down stair ladder leading up to a partially furnished attic. This attic space got the Dickinsons thinking.
While the attic’s 2×4 joists were not sturdy enough to floor over and build on, they became a starting point for an expanded second floor that would include a master bedroom, bath, walk-in closet and storage space. But before plans for a second floor could go forward, the house’s inadequate foundation needed shoring up. Local houses of this vintage had foundations made of concrete mixed with beach sand. Over time, the salt from the sand deteriorates the concrete, leaving little for the house to rest on. So the TOH crew got to work: jacking up the house, excavating, and pouring a new 18-foot-deep, 15-foot wide foundation. With the house finally on solid foundation, the roof came off and framing for the shed dormer began. Invisible from the street, the addition perfectly mirrored the house’s original roofline.
But into every renovation, a little rain must fall. In this case, severe thunderstorms struck during the framing of the second floor, sending water through a protective tarp and into the first floor, resulting in extensive ceiling damage. But the sun shone over the rest of the renovation effort, until the house had its much-anticipated second floor, complete with French doors and a balcony, as well as a custom Arts-and-Crafts pergola on the side of the house, and a brand new deck out back. Along the way, the Dickinsons, their friends and family, pitched in, the house got all the work it needed and the young family got an expanded living space with the Craftsman character of their old house.