Extended Family Room
Don’t tell Elaine Rabuchin you can never go home again. She not only went home, she also tore the place down.
She and her husband built a bigger and better house--a four-bedroom, four-bath 2,800-square-foot contemporary Craftsman--in its place.
Such was the fate of the 1940s-era two-bedroom, one-bath Pacific Palisades bungalow where Elaine Rabuchin, 46, and two older siblings were raised in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Her mother, Eleanor Walkey, lived in the tidy house more than 50 years, remaining there alone after her husband died in 1976.
But, Walkey, now 82, began having health problems a few years ago, making living alone “scary,” her daughter said. And the house developed maladies of its own: worn-out plumbing and termite infestation. It appeared that Walkey could no longer live there alone.
“Mom, you have to think about your care,” Rabuchin had said. Mindful of her mother’s dislike of nursing homes, she promised: “I will never put you in one of those places.”
Several years ago, a solution was found: Walkey would move in with the Rabuchins and their three children--twins Emily and Molly, 19, and son Beny, 20.
But because the Rabuchins’ house, also in Pacific Palisades, wouldn’t allow Walkey any private space, they decided to sell their house, tear Walkey’s down and build a bigger house on the small lot, with a separate apartment for Walkey.
She would therefore be surrounded by family and yet be able to live in her same neighborhood, close to her friends and familiar shops, and even keep the same phone number. Only the house would be different.
Deciding on the Craftsman theme was easy, but settling on the details took some time. The Rabuchins drove around Pasadena, snapping photos of authentic Craftsman homes.
With the help of B.A.K. Design in Santa Monica, the Rabuchins decided on an exterior of olive green shakes and white trim. The second story would be set back to give the house more character, and there would be charming gable roofs over doors and windows. A big front porch was a given.
Inside, a traditional arrangement would place the living room to the right, the dining room to the left and the bedrooms upstairs.
Tradition would fall away at the back of the house, though, where the Rabuchins wanted to combine the kitchen and a family room into a great room.
“Old Craftsman homes didn’t have family rooms,” said John Rabuchin, 49, a building contractor who built his new house.
And those old homes certainly didn’t feature sliding doors that lead from the family room to a separate apartment for an aging parent. To give Walkey a private entrance, her apartment would open through French doors to the backyard.
Originally, John wanted a three-car garage topped by an office. But the architectural review board in Pacific Palisades wouldn’t allow that much structure on the lot. In the end, the “footprints” of both the garage-office and the house had to be scaled down.
“In retrospect, it was a good thing,” Rabuchin decided. “It fits in well with the neighborhood.”
In February 1998, after the plans were approved, demolition began.
“And then it rained,” Rabuchin said, recalling several months of El Nino-influenced storms that caused a bulldozer on the site to sink into the “muddy mess.”
During demolition, one dining room wall was left standing, allowing the project to be considered a major remodel rather than new construction.
Besides saving thousands of dollars in permit fees, remodeling let the Rabuchins retain the original four-foot setback on one side of the house. (They were required to adhere to a modern 6-foot setback on the other side.)
Though Rabuchin and her mother were sad to see their family home destroyed, it was the digging up of cherished plants that caused the most grief. “That was one of the hardest things,” Rabuchin recalled.
They were able to leave in place a large Chinese elm tree that Rabuchin remembers from her childhood, and many of Walkey’s prized rose bushes were dug up and put into large clay pots.
During construction, John Rabuchin kept costs down by calling in favors from the various subcontractors he uses on other jobs. It cost $150,000 to build the house, but it would have cost double that amount if he had built the same house for a client.
Still, keeping costs down was not the overriding focus of the project. Rather, the family wanted the feeling of a bygone era and such modern conveniences as a central vacuum system.
“The house looks old,” John Rabuchin said, “but it has everything you need.” Extra money was spent for custom windows with squared-off mullions--the strips of wood that separate small panes of glass within the frame--matching authentic Craftsman styling. (For stock windows, the wood used for the mullions is rounded off.)
In the kitchen, dark granite counters coordinate with dark green tile back splashes. The custom cabinets feature doors inset into the cabinet frames, an old-fashioned building technique. The upper cabinet doors have glass inserts.
Breaking from the traditional dark rosewood or mahogany for the cabinets, they opted instead for white.
“We wanted the house to be light,” Elaine Rabuchin said.
As the house neared completion in December 1998, the family had to decide on interior wall colors and selected light green walls with white trim for most rooms. Daughter Molly chose green for her room and Emily chose a dark blue. Both rooms have cozy window seats.
In her apartment, Walkey is surrounded by her favorite pieces of furniture from her old house, along with years of mementos. The small patio outside her door is filled with thriving potted plants.
Once the house was finished, and a white picket fence went up in front, looky-loos started noticing the quaint “old” house, stopping to take pictures from their cars. A few curious passersby have been caught peeking into the windows that flank the front door.
For all the Rabuchins’ planning, they are not entirely happy with their new home.
Elaine Rabuchin said she would not again place her mother’s apartment adjacent to the family room but in a quieter location, perhaps next to the dining room or off the garage. Though Walkey has never complained, her daughter knows that families with teenagers are noisy.
“It’s still difficult. She lived alone for 25 years,” Rabuchin said. “But you work though it.”
All told, though, the house is serving its purpose well.
“She’s with family,” Rabuchin said of her mother. “And that’s good.”
Kathy Price-Robinson is a freelance writer who has written about remodeling for 10 years. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Project: Tear down two-bedroom 1940s tract house and build 2,800-square-foot contemporary Craftsman.
Architects: B.A.K. Architects, Santa Monica, (310) 315-9595.
Contractor: John Rabuchin, Rabuchin Construction, Pacific Palisades, (310) 459-8215.
Duration: 11 months.
Cost: $150,000 (not including contractor-builder’s services or favors from subs).