Craftsman Does Fancy Remodeling for Celebrities : German-born Builder Has Worked for Top Names to Adapt Homes to Their Life Styles

Times Staff Writer

Barbra Streisand just sold the Malibu Colony home she had owned for about eight years to Sting, and Dietmar Kruger is now busily remodeling the house to suit the male rock star’s tastes.

“We’re adding onto the second floor, putting in skylights and windows to take advantage of the ocean view, changing its 30-year-old look to a modern Cape Cod-style exterior and California interior with tiled floors and soft furniture,” Kruger said.

With the help of interior designer Victor Post and landscape architect Jerry Cummings, Kruger’s firm, Ardsley Construction Co., is putting an estimated $700,000 worth of work into the house, which sold for what Kruger termed “somewhat less than the asking price of $1.35 million.”

Among the features he is planning to build into the house is a hot tub that can be heated by telephone through a computer. “So, when Sting arrives in L. A., all he has to do is call the hot tub, and it will turn on.”

$45,000 Bookcase

Since he started his company in 1967, German-born Kruger has specialized in such unusual details and fine craftsmanship for the rich and famous.

In the late Paul Lynde’s Beverly Hills home, he built a room with a 40x20-foot, red-lacquered ceiling and stainless steel walls.

For another home, he created a 17th-Century courtyard.

He designed and built a $45,000 bookcase, a 1,000-square-foot bathroom and a 12,000-square-foot house.

He built two separate kitchens in another residence “because the husband liked to cook different things than the wife.”

Crate for Rolls Royce

He also built a crate for a Rolls Royce to be shipped to Hawaii, and he decorated a 140-foot tall Christmas tree.

The tree was for Jim Nabors in the early ‘70s, when the comedian/singer lived in Bel-Air. At the time, Kruger was remodeling Nabors’ master bedroom.

“He had this enormous pine tree in front of his house. So I rented a truck with a huge boom and personally decorated it. It became an annual event for the next six or seven years.”

Kruger worked intermittently on Nabors’ Bel-Air home for eight years, remodeling guest, secretarial and other areas, building a new kitchen and constructing a bar.

Then Nabors had Kruger fly to Hawaii. “He brought me over when he bought his house in Diamond Head in ’79 or ’80, and we made his spa, bar and some furnishings here and shipped them over and installed them,” Kruger remembered.

Wall-Mounted Checks

Nabors was one of Kruger’s first celebrity clients. The craftsman/builder--who creates furniture and high-tech electronic and lighting systems as well as houses and room remodels and additions--has had many since.

Copies of checks on office walls in Palms bear witness to this. There is one for $45,000 from Burt Bacharach and others from Marvin Hamlisch, Rona Barrett, Elizabeth Montgomery, and The Captain (Daryl Dragon) and (Toni) Tenille.

Kruger’s firm also built sound studios for Larrabee, Village Records, Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles.

Steve Martin, Herb Alpert, Bob Newhart, Don Rickles, Mac Davis, Paul Lynde, Mike Douglas, Anthony Newley, Marlo Thomas, Donna Summer, Gene Hackman, Neil Diamond, Totie Fields, Diana Ross and Bill Bixby are a few of the other luminaries Kruger says he has had as clients.

Cardboard Room

Another one: Barbra Streisand. Kruger says he built a full-scale cardboard room for her on her Bel-Air property “so she could visualize the changes she wanted for her office. We showed her, she made suggestions, and we modified it on the spot.”

He worked for Sonny and Cher soon after they bought a home in Bel-Air that had been owned by Tony Curtis.

Sonny and Cher were among Kruger’s earliest celebrity clients, which he gained while working with interior designer Ron Wilson. Kruger’s first wealthy client was Burton Green (Burtie) Bettingen, one of Beverly Hills founder Burton Green’s three daughters. Known as one of the wealthiest persons in the Los Angeles area, Bettingen bought John Wayne’s house in Newport Beach for $5 million after the actor died in 1979. (She also maintains a residence in Beverly Hills.)

Kruger met Bettingen when he was working with Vernon Hazelton, a contractor whom Kruger described as having “a good clientele, mostly in the Hancock Park area.”

Before that, life for Kruger was a struggle.

Life in Custody

He was born in 1942 in Germany and lived from the ages of 2 to 6 in a concentration camp first in custody by the Germans and then the Russians.

His father was a Lutheran minister who spoke out against the Third Reich and was imprisoned in Germany, while his wife and four children were taken to East Prussia, now mostly part of Poland. After the war, Kruger’s father was released and gained the family’s freedom. They returned to Dusseldorf, where Kruger went into construction when he turned 14.

“I had no choice,” he said. “In those days, only people who had money got a higher education.”

First, he was a carpenter apprentice, working for the equivalent of about $2.50 a week and 10 cents an hour for overtime--that is, after nine hours.

Second Job in Dairy

At 15, he got a second job in a dairy, working for about 45 cents an hour from 6 p.m. to midnight. He worked from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. as a carpenter.

“In the meantime, I had this incredible desire to leave Germany and go to America,” he remembered. The desire was undoubtedly fueled by letters his family received from relatives who had moved there. He envisioned more opportunity in the United States. Even then he had a strong yearning, inspired by a trade-school instructor, to work for himself.

At 17, his uncle in New York sent a ticket, and Kruger emigrated to a little farming community about 55 miles from New York City. For three years, he worked for a young man from Munich who was building tract houses. Then Kruger entered the U.S. military and served for three years in France. When he returned to New York in 1965, he became a U. S. citizen.

Came to Los Angeles

“I worked again for the German fellow, but I had friends in California.” So five months after he got out of the Army, Kruger married his 19-year-old girlfriend and moved West.

They stopped in Dallas, where he worked framing houses, but they found the weather too hot.

“We lasted there four weeks,” he said. Then it was off to a motel room on La Brea Avenue and Hollywood Boulevard at $20 a week. “It was tough the first couple of weeks. Neither of us could find a job,” he recollected.

When he found work, it was fixing the bird cages of an employment agency owner, who soon put him in touch with a small construction company, where he was hired to build room additions.

A year later, he went to work for the contractor with Hancock Park clients but still wanted to work for himself. When the contractor ran out of work, Kruger gave it a try.

Got Contractor’s License

“By then, we had a baby, but we had saved $1,000,” he said. “So I had 1,000 business cards printed, and I walked up and down the streets in Beverly Hills, knocking on doors and leaving the cards, saying I would fix a lock, a screen or whatever. That’s how I started working for myself.”

At the same time, he went to contractor’s licensing school and about a year later, he started his construction firm, which is named for a hotel in Upstate New York that is owned by his wife’s parents.

To this day, Kruger says, he and his company of 25 core people (including skilled draftsmen, cabinetmakers, finish carpenters, framers, painters and masons) reflect his German roots. They work long and hard. (They designed, remodeled and decorated a Malibu Beach home in six weeks and labored 24 hours a day to complete the Beverly Hills Federal Savings facility in three months.) And they pride themselves on their craftsmanship and attention to detail.

“I like to pamper my clients, and by that I mean, give the person with means the nicest things they can have,” he said. “Sure, what we do is expensive, and we charge for it.” But he claims that most of his clients have seen their property values increase as a result.

“Like Sting’s house. When it’s completed, probably in April, it will be worth $2 million to $2.5 million.”