The tract home of the '60s and '70s is showing its age. House interiors once considered tasteful examples of middle-income living are now seen as fur balls of shag carpeting wrought in forest colors only Robin Hood could love.
Orange County designers are updating these homes with new color combinations, modern appliances and new fabrics.
"People are going for a lighter color scheme and a lighter feeling," says Elsa Rosene of Kasdan-Rosene Interior Design in Costa Mesa. "Everything has to be open."
Fortunately, by the late '60s, the basic architecture of the tract home had evolved into the design still being used today, says architect Walter Richardson of Richardson Nagy Martin in Newport Beach. These homes were two-story, high-ceilinged and relatively open--a far cry from the flat-roofed single story designs that prevailed in the '50s. For owners, tract homes of the later period need redecorating more than remodeling.
The price of redecorating for the '90s?
"A basic room, not (using) junk, will cost $10,000 to $15,000 to redecorate. You can go up from there," Rosene says.
Rosene has been working on three mid-priced tract homes in Lake Forest, all dating back to the '70s. A 2,000-square-foot house owned by Marine Corps Lt. Col. Mike Fagan has undergone extensive changes. When Rosene found it, the house had rust-colored shag carpet, beige and brown Italian ceramic tile in the entryway and an interior painted Navajo white with dark brown wood trim.
Rosene started by modernizing the downstairs, using a color scheme of taupes and light grays with art accents. She removed the Italian tile in the entry and replaced it with white marble. In the two-story living room, she installed taupe carpeting and added track lighting across the high ceiling. The custom-made furniture, which includes a love seat, day bed and two armless chairs, is in a "transitional style" between traditional and contemporary.
Over the love seat against the large wall, Rosene hung a three-panel Bormann abstract painting in teal blues, greens and reds that provides a focal point for the living room and adjacent dining room.
Above the floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the back yard, a 20-foot-long valance tops soft open-weave draperies and 2-inch whitewashed wood blinds. The valance runs the length of the living room and the dining room, and is continued in the family room.
In the dining room, Fagan's heirloom dining furniture sits under an antique solid brass chandelier that has been wired for electricity.
In the family room/kitchen area, the beige and brown linoleum was replaced with a flooring called "designer wood," which is oak-protected by several layers of clear vinyl that is heat set to the oak. Fagan chose a teak kitchen table in the Bauhaus style, with Breuer-style leather chairs. Track lighting was used over the table, while recessed lights were used in the family area.
Two large paintings on opposite walls help define the family room.
In the kitchen, the cabinetry is almond. Formica countertops were replaced with black granite, and the sinks was refitted with deeper Kohler models in black. The refrigerator was painted black.
The exterior of the house had been beige with dark trim. Rosene suggested a taupe beige with pure white trim. The homeowners' association approved the color scheme, and it has since been used on several other homes in the neighborhood, Rosene says.
The home's overall impact is one of masculine sophistication. Fagan's personal touches include a drawing of an F-4 Phantom reconnaissance plane that hangs on the staircase landing.
In the other Lake Forest homes on which Rosene has been working, one was redone for a couple with two daughters. The home was given a softer, updated country look, Rosene says, using mauves, celadon green, Wedgwood blue and whites, with soft drapes in the living room. The family room was done in a darker rose.
In the kitchen, Formica was replaced with ceramic tile. The cabinets, which had been greenish-brown, were painted white. In the bathrooms, the original linoleum gave way to ceramic tile.
Rosene has begun a third remodeling on a home owned by a couple from New York who wanted a sophisticated city look. The four-level house is being done in very contemporary silver gray and mauves.
"Lots of chrome and brass are used," Rosene says.
The new carpeting is a third-generation, two-yarn construction in which one yarn is straight and the other crimped. The straight yarn gives lift, while the crimped yarn keeps the other from matting down.
In the master bedroom, the owners wanted a large mirror on the wall behind the bed, but it would have meant covering a 14-foot-high wall. By adding a soffit with recessed lighting over the bed, Rosene limited the mirror to a more manageable 8-foot height.
An owner who is redecorating to sell the house will often make choices that will give the house broader appeal, says designer Lana Barth of Huntington Beach. During the past year, she has been refurbishing two Westminster tract homes.
"The potential sale guided (the work on) both houses," Barth says.
While her two clients are spending similar amounts of money on their remodelings, they are taking different approaches. The first project is a modest single story of 1,200 square feet, with three bedrooms and no family room. The owner, a single woman in her 60s, is the original owner of the house.
"My client chose to put most of her budget into redoing the kitchen with up-to-date appliances," Barth says.
The original kitchen was fairly small and typical of the era in which it was built. The house may have been a model electric home when it was new in the 1960s, but most of the appliances didn't work when she got there, Barth says.
Considering resale, the owner chose Amana and General Electric appliances, high-quality lines with good reputations, but a step below the top end.
Most older houses aren't built to accommodate today's appliances, Barth points out. Preparing the area for the modern appliances, including any changes necessary to meet building codes, can push up labor costs. In this home, Barth had to make an extended search for the proper fan hood to use over the stove.
The kitchen had dark cabinets that were lightened with whitewash. The three different kinds of flooring that came together in the kitchen were replaced with parquet flooring.
The entire interior was painted off-white because the owner was still undecided about selling the house. The master bedroom and master bath were wallpapered.
Barth's second project was a 2,500-square-foot, two-story stucco tract home with wood trim that was built around 1970. While the budget was close to that of her first project, the owners chose to redesign a larger area.
Barth started with the color concept. Because the owners wanted to keep the original rust carpet, she brought in colors from the peach family, and built a color scheme of peaches and blues.
In the long, narrow family room, shelving and cabinetry were added. The new furniture was done in soft white with peach and blue touches.
A bar was installed in the family room.
"This was unusual because most people are taking out these bars," Barth notes.
Finally, Barth brought in an artist to talk with the couple. He painted a seascape based on a setting they liked in Laguna Beach.
"It really personalized the home for them," she says.