"Small changes can make a big difference" is a rule of thumb for Brook Pattengill, an artist and designer who remodels houses for fun and profit.
"I stick to a simple formula, making only the changes that I know work well for me to make a home more attractive and inviting," said Pattengill, who has remodeled eight houses in recent years.
Pattengill lives in Sherman Oaks in a Dutch Colonial home that she's been remodeling for three years.
The things that matter to her in a home environment are "an attractive kitchen where I can experiment with new recipes, a luxurious bedroom where I can feel pampered, a cozy den to relax in and read, a workplace in which to paint and an attractive living room in which to entertain."
To her living room and dining area, Pattengill has added large mirrors and functional, oversized plantation shutters; in her bedroom she replaced a small bay window with French doors that now open into her patio.
To her den, which she themed to a Pennsylvania country look with a hand-stenciled border in a farm motif, Pattengill is adding serious beams, a term she uses to differentiate between real wood beams and the phony look-alikes available at home building outlets.
"They are not load-bearing beams, but lend a substantial feeling to a room and can be easily bolted into the rafters above the ceiling," she said.
In her small kitchen, Pattengill has removed the doors on the upper cabinets to create a feeling of openness and installed a shelf along the ceiling for storing baskets and other decorative objects.
And having visualized an island in her kitchen, which she could not afford, she created the additional storage and work area by placing her grandmother's Victorian marble-topped dresser in the center of the kitchen.
Exterior improvements to Pattengill's home include split-rail fencing, brick walks that replaced the cemented areas and a facing in Bouquet Canyon stone on the front of the house--a feature that Pattengill had always admired in the more expensive houses that were being built in Beverly Hills while she was growing up.
For the most part, Pattengill's renovation ideas are not pretentious, she claims. "They are rooted in my practical Midwestern background, which favors beauty but not at the expense of function or quality."
Other routine improvements in the homes Pattengill remodels consist of replacing baseboards, adding crown molding in all the rooms and repainting the interior, usually in a neutral cream shade with sky-blue ceilings, which, she said, create a feeling of "serenity."
Pattengill, a collector of blue-and-white china, ceramic roosters and hats, describes herself as a "nut on storage" and likes having a proper place for everything. To increase storage space, Pattengill frequently uses her "Cliff May solution."
May--a well-known designer of California ranch-type homes who is still working while in his 80s--is known for his "fabulous floor-to-ceiling shelving around doorways and windows," Pattengill explained.
By now, Pattengill has developed a successful remodeling routine, she said, and has assembled a crew of reliable subcontractors, including general contractor L. T. Briggs, who assists her on most of her projects.
"Before we ever get started on a new project, we develop a plan, a work schedule, and I keep a file on each project that contains all receipts, permits and any ideas clipped from design magazines that may be useful," she said.
"For the most part I stay away from major structural changes, but if I run into cramped spaces that need opening up, I either remove or open up a wall, or I put in skylights," she said.
"My first priority is to upgrade the electrical and plumbing systems in older houses, change the hardware and interior doors when necessary. Those are some of the changes that make a world of difference."
When buying a house to remodel, Pattengill searches in older neighborhoods "where trees have had a chance to mature. New trees are expensive and take years to grow," she noted. "I also look for houses with some identifiable style instead of a mishmash of periods. A house with some architectural integrity is easier to remodel."
The extent of remodeling kitchens and baths, while important, depends on each situation, Pattengill said.
"For the most part, I work around existing tile work in bathrooms and kitchens instead of gutting the entire space. Often, a border of wallpaper that is complementary to the tile work can pull it all together without major expense."
Pattengill views herself as a pioneer among women remodelers, recalling that when she first started in the 1960s, few single women were buying houses.
"A woman couldn't just go into a bank and get a loan--for whatever reason--without the consent of her husband. Being divorced at the time, it was even harder for me.
"That first experience taught me the need to either budget or desist. I also learned two sobering truths about remodeling: It always costs more than you think and the work always takes longer than you think."
PATTENGILL'S FAVORITE REMODEL IDEAS
Replace patio windows and sliding glass doors with multipaned French doors.
Use stencils as borders on painted walls, theme to room function.
Enhance a fireplace mantel with marble, rock or wood.
Create wall cutouts for light, airiness and display.
Build shallow wall magazine or plate rack.
Build storage around bay windows or doors with floor-to-ceiling shelves.
Install deep shelf mounted on window sills for planters.
Replace standard doors and hardware.
Groove, peg and revarnish hardwood floors.
Add crown molding, beams, wainscoting, chair railings to break bare expanses.
Design landscaping to include brick paths and use brick inserts on cement driveways.
Add shade and charm to patio areas with arbor of cross-rafters.