Home Improvement : Couple Decides There Is No Place Like Home : Small-town feeling, diverse population inspire the remodeling of a very modest house.

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

The 777-square-foot house in the hills of Altadena that was ideal for bachelor Ken Davis in 1977 was bursting at the seams for him as a family man in the mid-1980s.

Shortly after they were married in 1983, Ken and Jette Davis considered buying a larger house before deciding to remodel their 40-year-old two-bedroom ranch-style house in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.

They looked at houses from Glendora to Valencia, but kept coming back to Altadena, an unincorporated area north of Pasadena with a diverse mix of middle-class blacks and whites, yuppies and older couples.

“We decided to remodel when we found that none of the houses we looked at had as good a location as the house for which I paid $35,000 in 1977,” said Davis, a news executive at television station KTLA, Channel 5.


Small-Town Atmosphere

“After a pressure-packed day in the news business in the heart of Hollywood, it’s great to come home to Altadena. It’s like a small town in the mountains. Furthermore, I want our children to grow up in a community that has diversity.”

Danish-born Jette Davis was pregnant with their youngest son, Philip, during the six-month remodeling process. Their other son, Christopher, is 4. Philip is now almost 3 months old.

Working with an architect friend from Palo Alto, Chris Tripoli, Davis came up with a plan that would create a new master bath and closet, extend the living room and add a third bedroom. Tripoli drew the basic drawings and Lon Cross, an engineer at Lockheed in Burbank, drew the working blueprints.


“Originally, we wanted to have the new child’s bedroom in the front and an extension, with a bay window, to the living room,” Davis said. “We changed our plans, moving the bedroom to the rear of the house when we discovered that our neighborhood has a 40-foot front-yard setback. We could go out only 12 feet from the front facade of the house.”

The setback requirement forced the Davises to keep the bay window projection of the living room and the new master bathroom on the same plane: “We originally wanted the bedroom to project farther out,” he said. The bay window incorporates a window seat with storage underneath.

Davis cites the setback as an example of pitfalls that face homeowners planning a remodeling project:

“If something in the design looks wrong or out of character with the rest of the neighborhood, let it be a warning to you,” he said. “What finally tipped me off was a walk through my neighborhood. I saw the houses set back uniformly from the street.”

Once the Davises were aware of the setback requirements, the project was back on track. Thanks to a previous remodeling, which added 230 square feet to the house, the kitchen was adequate for their needs and didn’t need changing. The master bath, relocated to the front of the house, has French doors leading to the bedroom. There is a cathedral ceiling in the master bath, contributing to the light and airy feeling both Ken and Jette wanted.

Also contributing to this feeling are the light, neutral colors throughout the remodeled areas of the home. They make the relatively small structure look larger, Davis said.

“We wanted sisal floor-covering, something Jette was familiar with from Europe, but it would have been too rough on the children’s feet,” Davis said. “We finally went with vinyl flooring in the bath and carpeting in the other areas.”

Jeff Paul of J.P. Construction, Burbank, was not the lowest bidder of the four contractors the Davises interviewed, but he was chosen because of recommendations from friends whose houses Paul had remodeled, Ken Davis said.


“Choosing a contractor who is at once competent, reliable, honest and compatible is critical, because the contractor becomes part of your family during construction process,” he added.

“We depended on Jeff to fix things that some of the subcontractors might have missed and give us advice,” he said. Perhaps the best advice Paul gave them was to allow at least 20% over the estimate for extras and cost overruns, Davis said.

“It turned out that Jeff was right,” he said. “We decided to rebuild a wall that had been damaged by too many earthquakes and we extended the back bedroom wall a foot. We exceeded the original estimate by about 25%.”

The house is now worth nearly 10 times what Davis paid for it a dozen years ago. The latest expansion--there was a small one in the early 1980s--has added 650 square feet to the house. The look is that of a contemporary New England-style house, similar to many the Davises saw on their house-hunting trips.


Year Built: 1948.

Location: Reposa Lane, Altadena.

Approx. size: 1,650 sq. ft., three bedrooms.


Lot Size: 60 x 130 ft.

Approx. Remodeling Budget: $65,000.