Kathy Price-Robinson is a freelance writer who has written about remodeling for eight years

The first time Dr. Bill Arroyo drove through a peaceful, wooded neighborhood in Sherman Oaks, he knew one thing: “I want to live here.”

Never mind that he already owned a house higher up in the hills, a location often considered more desirable than those nearer the flatlands.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Nov. 02, 1997 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 2, 1997 Home Edition Real Estate Part K Page 2 Real Estate Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
In the Oct. 26 “Pardon Our Dust” remodeler’s tale (“Splendor in the Oaks”), the name of the construction company was misspelled. It is Sandstarr Construction in Palmdale.

The verdant neighborhood captured his imagination with its winding streets and large California ranch homes, but mostly he liked the native trees from which the city got its name--massive, sturdy oaks.

Ten years ago, Arroyo’s dream came true when he bought a 1940s ranch house in the neighborhood. The house and the driveway on the gently sloped property are shaded by a spectacular multi-trunk oak, surely more than a century old, with limbs larger than lesser trees’ trunks.


“That’s what sold me on the property,” said Arroyo, a psychiatrist and professor at USC Medical Center. “On hot days, I swear my house is the coolest place in the valley.” During the move, Arroyo recalled, delivery trucks couldn’t fit under the limbs that reach over the driveway, forcing movers to carry furniture up the drive. “I’d never cut them,” Arroyo said, running his hand along a thick branch.

Home’s Shortcomings Became Apparent

Once in the house, though, Arroyo noticed the home’s shortcomings. For instance, the kitchen was a dark and narrow space. This didn’t suit Arroyo, who likes company. “You couldn’t fit more than eight people in there,” he said.

And while the kitchen sink faced the backyard with its dog-trampled lawn and an ivy-covered bank, a service porch at the front of the house faced the oak tree. “The washer and dryer had the best view,” Arroyo said.


Another issue was a dark, narrow hallway leading from the kitchen to the bedrooms at the other end of the long house. Although the hallway had a window, it gave little light because a previous owner had added a bedroom about 6 feet from the house. This not only blocked sunlight, it left an awkward outdoor corridor there.

“It was a dark, dreary, depressing space,” said Martin Gelber, a Santa Monica architect brought in four years ago to correct the problems.

In putting together his remodeling team, Arroyo chose professionals whose work he knew. Gelber, past president of the Los Angeles chapter of the American Institute of Architects and an architecture professor at Pierce College, had designed a successful remodel for friends of Arroyo.

Plus, Gelber was inspired by the property: “It was one of the most beautiful sites I’ve ever worked on.”


Likewise, Arroyo was familiar with the work of contractor Ted DiLucchio of Sanstarr Construction in Palmdale.

Deciding on the kitchen design was fairly simple, but it was the problem with the dark hallway and the awkward outdoor corridor that had long stumped Arroyo and his designers.

Atrium Would Transform Hallway

Finally, Gelber hit on an intriguing idea: Join the original hallway with the outdoor corridor, top the whole thing with a skylight and call it an atrium.


And so with the design set, and an original estimate of about $65,000, the contractor set out to:

* Build the atrium space to serve as the improved hallway into the kitchen. Gelber chose to top the atrium with a product called Kalwall, which is two layers of plastic with an air space in between that creates a delicate glow evocative of rice paper.

* Add a set of French doors to open the atrium to the backyard.

* Add a wood deck to cover the backyard, eliminating lawn problems.


* Remove the service porch from the front of the house and extend the kitchen into that space. Add a bay window.

* Tear out the old kitchen cabinets and redo the walls to accommodate new cabinets. Resurface the ceiling and install recessed lights to replace florescent tubes.

* Remove the dark tile floor in the kitchen and replace it with wood to match the rest of the house.

* Enlarge the kitchen in the back to include a breakfast bay. Add French doors and French casement windows opening to the new deck.


* Replace the roof on the whole house.

After the preparation work was done, Arroyo arranged for installation of the granite counters, as well as the upscale Siematic kitchen cabinets from Germany. With their gold-plated handles and raised white panels, the cabinet doors match the home’s original doors.

During construction, Arroyo added features and materials that drove up the price of the job and added to the time it took to complete. For instance, he decided on a certain hard-to-locate type of shakes for the roof. He also decided to have the wood floors in the rest of the house routed with deep grooves and fitted with plugs to resemble antique floors.

In the end, it cost about $75,000 for the kitchen, deck and atrium and $50,000 for the cabinets and counters.


Although Arroyo is happy with the results, he still winces at memories of relying on bathroom sinks and a microwave oven for more than six months. “It’s always twice as long as they say it will be,” he said. “I will never remodel another kitchen. I couldn’t do it again.”

DiLucchio is familiar with the sentiments of remodeling homeowners. “Having no kitchen during the remodel, it’s tough. It’s hard on them.”

But now that the hammering is history, Arroyo is happy with his “new” house. “It’s just so much nicer to be at home.” He’s all smiles as he explains how, at a large gathering, his guests flow from the kitchen to the deck to the atrium and back through the living room.

Great House for Parties


“I’ve had more than 200 people here,” he said. “My mother had her 75th birthday here. And now she’s threatening to have her 80th here.”

Nieces and nephews are also fans of the house, Arroyo said. “They keep asking, ‘When is the next party? Are we doing Christmas at your house?’ ”

In fact, Arroyo has a new hobby--driving around his neighborhood on weekends to check out open houses. “In the range of [houses priced from] $700,000 to $1.2 million,” he found, “there’s no kitchen like this.”

And if Arroyo ever relocates, he has a plan in place: “When I move,” he quipped, “I’m taking this kitchen with me.”


Kathy Price-Robinson is a freelance writer who has written about remodeling for eight years. She can be reached by e-mail at


Project: Remodel kitchen, correct dreary outdoor corridor, add deck.

Architect: Martin Gelber, Santa Monica


Contractor: Ted DiLucchio, Palmdale

Cost: $125,000