As you approach the two-story Craftsman-style home of Patti Struthers and Chris McQuaide--with its warm cedar shakes, jade green trim, copper rain gutters and blooming annuals--you can't help thinking: "Charming. Totally charming."
And that was the couple's intent when they remodeled their 1947 home. "I wanted to make it the best house it could be. We wanted to make it awesome," Struthers said. "I wanted people to go 'Wow.' "
But the house didn't start out in the "wow" category. In fact, when the San Clemente house was built more than 50 years ago, charm was out of fashion. The house was a one-story stucco affair with aluminum windows that probably earned adjectives like modern, sleek, tidy and maybe even elegant.
And though the original owners had kept the home in
pristine condition for 50 years, McQuaide and Struthers were in the mood for another kind of house when they bought the home last year.
"We could see it had potential for remodeling," Struthers said. "Well, Chris could see the potential more than me. I said: 'What?' "
But Struthers could see the home's best quality, its quarter-acre lot in a neighborhood so desirable that the homes are sold before they are ever listed, where sellers and buyers rely on the "friend of a friend" method of marketing.
McQuaide's vision for the house came from his years as a building and remodeling contractor, where he satisfies his clients' tastes but rarely fulfills his own fancies.
"You have all these ideas. But you do what they want you to do," he explained. "They want it their way."
For this house, he crafted unique oak stair banisters, built all the window casings and door moldings, and installed one of his signature tongue-and-groove wood ceilings.
He shared the decision-making with his wife. "I like to design and he likes to build," Struthers said, prompting McQuaide to confess: "I take orders really well."
When deciding on the style of the remodel, the couple were limited by San Clemente's strict building codes, which state that any home within 300 yards of a 1920s Spanish-style home built by San Clemente founder Ole Hanson must be built or remodeled in a similar Spanish style.
But in flipping through books of beautiful homes, the couple came across a photo of a gorgeous Craftsman-style home with warm cedar shakes, jade green trim and copper rain gutters. "That's it," they both exclaimed.
Presenting the photograph to the architectural review board, the couple offered this proposal: What if we remodel our home in the Arts and Crafts style of the 1920s, which emerged in the same era that the Ole Hanson homes were built in? The board said yes.
To remodel the home, McQuaide gave it his full attention, working seven days a week, 10 hours a day, for three months. "It was so fun," he said, "it didn't seem like a lot of work."
Meanwhile, Struthers, a stay-at-home mom of Jamie, 15, and Kaitlin, 11, became the chief researcher. She visited the Greene-and-Greene-designed Gamble House in Pasadena, tracked down Mission-style cabinets, period reproduction lighting (found at Historic Lighting in Monrovia), light-colored granite counters and, to satisfy her passion, anything with dolphins on it--including bathroom tile with dolphin motifs.
To begin, McQuaide took much of the house down to the studs, installed plywood to the walls to conform with new codes for earthquake safety, and added new drywall inside and shakes outside. Architect David Mear was hired to do the drawings and to engineer the home properly.
While the remodeled home looks radically different from the original, it has virtually the same floor plan. To the right of the entryway is the living room, with its distinctive bay window and two bedrooms. To the left, facing the frontyard, are the dining room and kitchen.
However, while the left rear portion of the house, adjacent to the kitchen, once contained the master bedroom and bath, those were torn out to make room for an airy, window-infused family room with French doors leading to the grassy backyard. "I like open spaces," McQuaide said. "I like light," Struthers added.
Plus, a family room attached to the kitchen allows for bonding: Mom's in the kitchen cooking, the kids are at the counter studying, and Dad's on the couch clicking the TV remote. "So we're all together," Struthers said.
A happy surprise came during the remodel when McQuaide sandblasted white stucco off the living room fireplace, along with the lower, exterior portion of the bay window, and discovered facades of light-colored rock, which fit in perfectly with the emerging Craftsman home.
Another happy circumstance was the excellent condition of the wood floors, which in some homes of this age have been sanded so many times there's nothing left. Here, though, there was plenty of wood to refinish.
Besides the aesthetic enhancements and the second-story addition, some of the biggest changes in the house came from the new Milgard windows, accented with mullions, which are wood-clad on the inside, vinyl-clad on the outside and guaranteed for life. "Anything on the ocean with a lifetime guarantee is a plus," McQuaide said. "And there's no painting," Struthers added. "That's also a plus."
Throughout the house, McQuaide and Struthers settled easily on some design choices and disagreed on others. For instance, they both dislike brick but like travertine, a type of rough marble, which they installed on the front porch. On the other hand, Struthers has planted passion vines near the porch posts, hoping they'll one day cover the trellis, while McQuaide hopes the vines stop short of that. You get the feeling the vines will prevail.
But McQuaide's desire for the copper rain gutters, at $14 a foot, won out over more practical, standard gutters, which cost $3 a foot. "I thought it was a silly thing to spend money on," Struthers recalls. But the gutters turned out to be a good choice, having been noticed and complimented by many.
Perhaps the most charming spot in the home is just inside the front door, where McQuaide's artistic wood staircase to the second floor is accented by a Mission-style table topped with a lamp with an amber shade that casts a sumptuous glow.
The Arts and Crafts character carries on in the kitchen, where dark, dated cabinets with raised-panel doors and orange counters were replaced with light, Mission-style cabinets and counters of an unusual light-green granite, which Struthers searched far to find.
"They actually have granite brokers," she said, explaining that it took the R.K. Morris Co. three weeks to find the kind of granite she wanted.
The cabinets, at $9,000, were also a find, from HomeBase, while quotes on cabinets from eight other sources came in as high as $18,000. To save money, the couple used the perfectly good appliances that were in the home.
To bring the kitchen into today's reality, the corner window--which once faced the ocean across a vacant lot, but whose view was blocked some years ago by a big pink house--was repositioned to face the front garden.
In terms of marital bliss, the second floor is where it's at, and includes an office, sitting room and bedroom, all under the protective canopy of McQuaide's pine ceiling. "It's pretty much adults only up here, which I like," Struthers said.
In the master bathroom, the couple sacrificed a bathtub (which would give the house better resale value), in favor of storage space, which they desperately needed. As for clothes, McQuaide joked, "We have two closets--hers and hers. I have a small drawer somewhere."
Some mornings, the couple take mugs of coffee to the deck off their office. Over the roofs of bluff-top homes, the couple peer out at Dana Point and, during migration season, California gray whales. A nearby rock, covered with barking seals, is a favorite kayaking destination.
Even though they regularly receive offers to buy their home, they insist they crafted it specifically for their family and their needs.
"I don't think we're going to sell this one," McQuaide said.
"No. This is a keeper," Struthers agreed, then added after a pause: "Unless we find one on the bluffs."
Kathy Price-Robinson is a freelance writer who has written about remodeling for eight years. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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David Mear, architect with Mear Blackwood, San Clemente. (714) 492-8295.
Chris McQuaide Renovations & Remodels, San Clemente. (714) 498-2326.
Historic Lighting, Monrovia. (626) 303-4899.
R.K. Morris Co., granite brokers, fabricators and installers, San Juan Capistrano. (714) 248-0770.
The Project: Gut, remodel and add second story to 1947 San Clemente home.
Contractor: Chris McQuaide.
Duration: Three months.
Cost: $150,000, not including McQuaide's labor, which he estimates at seven days a week, 10 hours a day.