A Retake for ‘20s Home

Share via

What would motivate a couple to buy an old house and launch a six-month, $100,000-plus remodel? Why not just find a house that met their needs in the first place?

“It was an emotional decision,” said Sydney Harvey, who in 1998 bought a two-story, 1924 Monterey Revival-style house with her husband, Rick Greenwood. “It was love at first sight when we walked through the door.”

The couple had set out looking for a house with a big yard to accommodate their “mongrel horde” of three dogs. But what made the sale was the home’s star power.


Silent-film star Harold Lloyd had once owned the house in Whitley Heights, a historic Hollywood neighborhood where Carole Lombard, Rudolf Valentino, Charlie Chaplin and Marie Dressler also lived. The residential neighborhood was cut in half in the 1950s to make way for the Hollywood Freeway, and most houses in its path were razed.

The owners at the time found a new site for the house in what had been a Whitley Heights park. Said Greenwood: “They liked it so much, they took the trouble to move it.”

He and Harvey liked it, too--the arched doorways and windows, hardwood floors, bathrooms lined with antique tile and spacious balconies. However, the home’s shortcomings, Harvey said, “were soon apparent.”

While the 1950s move provided the house with a modern foundation and upgraded electrical and plumbing systems, the kitchen remained an inadequate cubbyhole for a house of more than 2,000 square feet.

Tiled on the floor, walls and ceiling, it was barely able to contain a dishwasher, microwave oven and large-capacity refrigerator. There was scarcely 4 feet of space between the refrigerator on one wall and the stove on the opposite wall--and that was with none of the appliances’ doors open.

“It was unbelievable,” said Harvey, who enjoys cooking with her husband of 27 years. “Even in apartments, you have better kitchens.”


Adding on to the kitchen would have been expensive and difficult. The couple had envisioned a remodeling budget of $25,000 for the kitchen, a bathroom and other work. And because Whitley Heights is on the National Register of Historic Places and included in a city Historic Preservation Overlay Zone, a neighborhood association must approve any exterior changes.

To enlarge the kitchen, the couple decided to steal some space from two adjacent areas: a long, narrow pantry and a laundry room, which would become a sunny, bright yellow breakfast room. Extra cabinets would help offset the loss of the pantry, while the washer and dryer would be moved to an upstairs closet.

For help with the kitchen, Harvey and Greenwood, who are adjunct faculty members at UCLA, took their ideas to a kitchen planner at Ikea. To retain the 1920s flavor of the house, the couple chose white cabinets that looked like old-fashioned Cape Cod wainscoting, but which were made of a no-paint-needed laminate placed over metal.

For appliances, they chose a beefy Viking stove with a stainless-steel top and white base. The stainless trash compactor and white dishwasher and microwave blended well with the white cabinets and stainless drawer and door pulls.

The couple also planned a bathroom remodel for the upstairs and a rebuilding of the living room fireplace that had an out-of-place used-brick facade.

An architect-contractor who was recommended to the couple said the remodel was too small for his company, but he referred them to a father-and-son construction crew, who accepted the job. Although they did high-quality work, progress was slow.


This--coupled with additions decided upon by the couple and the unforeseen challenges that always arise in old-house remodels--caused the original estimate of six weeks for the project to grow into six months and the budget to balloon to $100,000.

The kitchen’s bright green tile was a problem from the beginning. Most owners of historic homes are loath to tear out original tile, as were this couple. But when work got underway, the tile started breaking up and falling, some of it hanging by its chicken-wire backing.

“It was a disaster waiting to happen,” Harvey said. In the end, they took all the tile off the ceiling (which allowed for recessed lighting) and most of the wall tile (which was replaced with new green tile of similar color and size). The tile counter, originally barely 4 feet on each side of the sink, was replaced with an easy-care butcher block.

For the floor, the couple decided to retain the original brown and tan tile. They also chose to keep a nook created by a medicine cabinet that was set between the kitchen’s two windows. Greenwood had a glass artist paint and install an original artwork in the spot. “We turned a negative into a positive.”

After the kitchen was done, the crew started in on the fireplace. Though it was flanked with two graceful, arched windows, the old brick mantel “was the ugliest thing we’d ever seen,” Harvey said. To bring the fireplace up to a level of elegance to match the house, an interior designer studied books on Monterey Revival architecture to create a refined wood-and-stucco design, which the crew built.

The upstairs bathroom remodel caused the couple their only real frustration when, because of a misunderstanding, the yellow tile that Harvey had wanted was replaced with a mauve shade, which threw off her decorating plans.


Though the job cost nearly four times more and took four times longer than anticipated, the couple are philosophical about it.

“At first, you’re surprised when things go wrong,” said Greenwood, who has remodeled several homes with his wife over the last three decades. “Now I just expect things to go wrong.”

For Harvey, remodeling an old home also brought great rewards. “We have a house with the charm and feel of 1920s California but [with] conveniences that 1920 never knew existed.”


Source Book

Project: Remodel kitchen, bathroom and fireplace of 1924 Monterey Revival home in the historic Whitley Heights area of Hollywood.

Designer: Studio C, Studio City, (818) 762-7874

Kitchen Cabinets: Ikea, Burbank, (818) 841-3500

Glass artwork: Rafael Gevorkian, Los Angeles, (323) 222-4001

Duration: Six months

Cost: $105,200


Where the Money Went

Kitchen/breakfast room--$49,000

Master bathroom--$28,000

Doors, windows--$17,000

Exterior fencing and wall--$5,200

Laundry area--$6,000 (including appliances)


(Figures are approximate.)


Kathy Price-Robinson is a freelancer who has written about remodeling for the past 11 years. She can be reached at