The Little 'Pink House' Grows Up

or more than 40 years, the modest one-story Torrance tract home of Alice Rice was known to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren as "the pink house on the corner."

And it still is. But with a few changes.

Today, the house has $170,000 in improvements, including a second story, a remodeled kitchen, several bay windows and a total of 2,299 square feet of space.

And "Grandma," as everyone calls the 81-year-old Rice, shares the home with her granddaughter, Terri Meier, 33, a hospital consultant, and Meier's family: husband, Ron, 35, who works for a flooring company; son, Gavin, 13; and daughter, Rebecca, 9.

"You need a bigger house for a bigger family,"

Rice said about the second-story addition to her Torrance home, which placed three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small office on top of the original three-bedroom house.

Of course, the house has sheltered several generations since Rice and her late husband, Lawrence, bought it new in 1953. The couple raised their daughter, Sharon, there. Later, Rice baby-sat Sharon's four children, including Terri, at the house, and later still baby-sat her great-grandchildren there.

"If it wasn't for my grandma, I don't know what I would have done," Meier said. "I had my son on a Tuesday, and Grandma started taking care of him on that Friday."

The need for the addition arose three years ago when Rice had her arthritic knees replaced, temporarily cutting down on her mobility and permanently on her ability to drive. She needed live-in help and either would have had to move in with someone or get someone to live with her.

But moving out of her pink house and friendly neighborhood of nearly half a century was not a happy option. "My family's all around me," Rice said. "Where would I go?"

And bringing Rice into Meier's 1,000-square-foot Gardena house did not sound promising.

Finally, the family hit on a solution: Sell Meier's house, take out a second mortgage on Rice's house and add the second story.

"So," said Rice, relaxing in the cozy living room with her granddaughter and great-grandchildren, "I got my kids with me."

To begin the remodeling process, Terri Meier decided what she wanted: a second story that "didn't look like a box on top of the house. It had to have style."

Plus, she wanted easy-care surfaces: "Just give me dark carpeting, tile floors I can mop, doorjambs that don't show the fingerprints, and that's all I need," she said.

And finally, Rice wanted the house to remain pink.

To find a contractor, Meier bought a remodeling magazine that listed the top contractors in the country. In the South Bay, Apex Builders of Long Beach was the only entry. After an inquiry to a consumer reporting agency revealed that Apex was "virtually complaint-free," Meier gave the company a call.

"In my mind, they were reputable," she said.

At the first meeting, Meier met with Dottie Back, who estimates jobs for Apex, draws up plans, hires subcontractors to do the work and supervises the project from beginning to end. Both Meier and Back felt positive about the first meeting: "You can tell right away if it's going to work out," Meier said.

Said Back: "Terri was the ideal person to work with. She knew what she wanted and was able to get that across to me." Back asked if Meier had a budget in mind. She did. "That impressed me," Back said. "Terri was realistic. She wasn't trying to get a $100,000 job for $40,000."

After the meeting at Meier's house, where Back got a sense of Meier's antique-oak style, Back drew up the plans. Meier was happy with virtually everything.

The tricky part for the contractor was to satisfy the building codes for a second story, which require that a licensed engineer determine how much the original foundation and first-floor walls need to be reinforced to carry the extra weight. This was accomplished at the Meier/Rice house by pouring several 3-square-foot-wide, 18-inch-deep cement blocks underneath the house. These supported a number of extra 4-by-4 studs, which were inserted into the existing walls, to support the weight of a new second story.

As luck would have it for design purposes, the original floor plan--living room straight ahead from the front door, bedrooms beyond that, kitchen/dining room to the right--contained a perfect setup for the new oak-railed stairwell, which is now in the space formerly occupied by the entryway coat closet and a bedroom closet that butted up to it. A new closet for that bedroom was created under the stairwell.

During the four months of construction, Rice moved into the Meiers' house while it was on the market. When the Meier house sold two months before the remodel was finished, the whole troop moved over to Meier's mother's house, bringing four generations together under one small roof. "It was interesting, to say the least," Meier said.

In the remodeling of Rice's house, the dated kitchen was refurbished with new oak cabinets and a center island. A wall was removed between the dining room and a side door to improve the traffic flow. Both bathrooms were remodeled and the three-quarter bath was enlarged to a full bath. And in most rooms, dark green carpeting covers the floors.

However, there were only slight changes to Rice's downstairs corner bedroom of 44 years, where she has rested amid walls of framed family photos. "I'm in the same room I was always in," she explained.

The upstairs addition consists of two bright bedrooms and a bathroom for the kids--Rebecca's room has a big bay window--and a roomy master suite for the couple, complete with a fireplace, tiled bathroom, claw-foot tub and a small office for Terri Meier.

The house--once filled with Rice's modest, stark furniture of the 1950s and '60s--is now bursting with the antique charm of Meier's floral sofas, Tiffany-style lamps and oak everything. Some of Meier's treasures were castoffs from her grandmother, now come full circle.

While most people who remodel are conscious of the cost versus the resale value, Meier said this was not a big consideration. "I didn't think about that," she said. "We'll probably never sell the house. It'll probably always stay in the family."

According to Back, one reason the remodel succeeded was that Meier was able to make concessions. For instance, by placing the master-bedroom fireplace directly in line with the original chimney, instead of situating it several feet away where she wanted it, Meier saved several thousand dollars.

To help visually tie the addition in with the existing house, matching white shutters were added upstairs. The added bay window in the living room tied in with the two new bay windows upstairs. In addition, the new roof has various levels, as did the original roof, of a similar slope and gray color.

And perhaps most importantly, the remodeled house is pink. "It was Grandma's house," Meier said. "She wanted it to always be pink."

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Kathy Price-Robinson is a freelance writer who has written about remodeling for 8 years. She can be reached at KathyPrice@aol.com

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The Project Add three bedrooms and two baths in a second story on a 1953 Torrance tract house, modernize the kitchen and downstairs bathrooms, add a bay window downstairs.

Size:

Before remodel: 1,072 square feet

After remodel: 2,299 square feet

(The maximum allowed by the city: 2,300 feet.)

Builder/Designer:

Apex Builders, Long Beach / Site supervisor, Dottie Back

Cost: $170,000

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Want to Add Up? Check Out the Codes If you dream of putting a second story on your house, here's a piece of advice for you:

"The first thing you do is go down to the building department and check out the current rules," says Dalton James, owner of Apex Builders in Long Beach. "Don't spend a lot of money on designs and plans and find out they've changed the rules on you in the past three months."

Indeed, few areas of city building codes are more rule-laden than those involving second-story additions. In Long Beach, for instance, setback requirements from the rear property line are far greater for a second story than for a first. And on a detached garage, the roof can go no higher than 14 feet, effectively ruling out a top floor.

The reasons are many: First, the ratio of square foot of building per square foot of land is a concern for any town. And most cities don't want you to create separate, rentable units.

Then there's the issue of blocking views and sunlight from your neighbors' homes to consider. And, of course, the ever-present threat of earthquakes encourages building departments to require more and more reinforcements.

"It seems like every time there's an earthquake," James said, "the price of a second story goes up."

According to James and other builders, the price tag on constructing a second story is about 25% more than for a ground-floor building. Extra costs can come from:

* Engineering by a licensed engineer to determine exactly how much the first floor must be reinforced to hold up the proposed second story.

* Shear panels (1/2-inch to 3/4-inch plywood) that must be installed inside first-story walls to strengthen them. Often that means taking off the existing stucco or siding, installing the panels and then redoing the stucco or reapplying the siding.

* Adding large cement footings in the foundation.

* Setting up scaffolding so workers can get to the second story.

* Increased labor costs (i.e. it costs more to stack drywall for a second story).

To check out the rules in your area, James recommended taking a few snapshots of your house or making a drawing of the lot and house, and heading down to the building department.

"Tell them what you want to do," he suggested and then ask: "Is there anything we should be aware of?"

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