Newlyweds Laurie and Phillip La Plante set out to buy and remodel their first home with different visions: She leans toward traditional, he likes modern; she warms to wood, he's into industrial metal.
Incredibly, after a massive remodel and second-story addition to their 1959 Newport Beach bungalow, they both got what they wanted.
The two-story house has the exterior lap siding and white trim reminiscent of an old-fashioned home. Yet it has a two-story entry hall set at a diagonal and the porch overhang is stainless steel suspended by metal rods. Inside, the stairwell is an elegant mix of maple steps and steel balustrades.
To achieve this meeting of the minds and tastes, Laurie "had to buy into" a lot of his modernistic ideas, said Phillip, 39, a commercial developer and investor. Said Laurie, 32, who owns a business that maintains indoor plants for companies, "We [had to] give and take."
The unlikely melding of two contrasting styles was helped by the fact that the house was rich in rustic materials (such as open beams and exposed wood ceilings) and yet had ahead-of-its-time design, including post-and-beam construction and a wall of windows overlooking the backyard.
The house was designed by A. Quincy Jones, an architect who worked with mid-century tract-house developer Joseph Eichler. Houses in this private Lido Sands neighborhood are typically described as "Eichler-esque."
It was during a bike ride in early 1999, just months before their wedding, that Phillip and Laurie spied the house with a "for sale" sign out front. They wanted to live in Newport Beach, where he grew up and she has lived since 1986, and planned to spend about $450,000 for a house that needed a little fixing up.
"It needs carpet and paint," a real estate agent told them when they called the phone number on the sign. Laurie recalled thinking: "This is great for us."
But inside, the couple found a house in "horrible" shape with broken windows, a water-stained ceiling and "junk everywhere."
While Laurie was hesitant at first to take on the house, never thinking a fixer-upper meant anything "this major," the couple decided the location just a few hundred feet from the ocean, and less than a mile from both their families, would make a major remodel worthwhile.
Plus, the family-friendly environment of the Lido Sands, with its private park and pool, was appealing to the couple, who were planning to have children.
"I'm over fraternity parties," Phillip said. "I want to move on in my life, to raise a family." A daughter, Seychelle, was born earlier this year.
To design the remodel, the couple turned to architect Richard Finkel, whom Phillip has worked with on commercial projects.
Finkel had a great appreciation for Jones' open post-and-beam design, which he called "revolutionary ... for its time," and he was determined to maintain its integrity.
According to zoning rules, the lot could hold a 4,000-square-foot house, but, as Laurie said, "We don't need that." Instead, the original 1,200 square feet was increased to 2,700, including the second story, and built on virtually the same footprint.
The biggest architectural challenge was tying together the garage, at the front of the property, with the three-bedroom house, directly behind it and separated by a breezeway. Phillip, who studied architecture at UCLA, came up with the idea to construct a two-story entry tower in the breezeway to link the two structures. But it was Finkel's inspiration to set the tower at a dramatic angle.
The tower would act as a center point to the house, with the living areas to the left of the front door, two offices straight ahead and two bedrooms upstairs.
Phillip liked the idea of rooms radiating off the central tower. That eliminated the need for long hallways, which he considers "a waste of time."
At first the couple considered contracting all the trades required for the remodel, but they ended up hiring a contractor for the "rough" work--framing, plumbing, electrical, drywall, etc.--after they found that the subcontractors gave better prices to the contractor than to the homeowner.
During the course of the seven-month remodel, which was finished in July 2000, the original house was virtually rebuilt, except for the slab foundation, building studs and wood ceiling.
The drywall was replaced, as was the exterior cladding, which was a combination of siding and plaster. All the plumbing and electrical systems were replaced and high-capacity wiring was installed so the couple could connect their computers and run cable music throughout the house. Solid foam insulation was added under the new roof, adding immensely to the comfort of the house, which had been alternately too hot or too cold.
Of the three original bedrooms, only one was retained, and it became Phillip's office.
The two downstairs bedrooms were eliminated to expand the tiny kitchen (a typical shortcoming in Eichler and Eichler-esque homes) and create an adjacent dining room.
While Phillip admits that it's best to avoid "change orders" during construction, the couple did make some changes as the project went along. It was, as Finkel put it, "a process of discovery."
For instance, the plans called for the tongue-and-groove wood ceiling to be painted white. But after the old finish was sandblasted off and the raw wood shone through, Laurie said: "Hey, wait, we like this."
The concrete block fireplace was another original feature whose appeal was lost under layers of paint. When its craggy surface was again exposed, the couple dropped their plans to cover it up.
When the rough construction was done, Laurie and Phillip contracted the finish work--granite counters, travertine floors, tumbled marble backsplash, custom cabinets, plumbing fixtures, hand-painted lighting fixtures, sisal carpeting, stair railings, etc.
Laurie takes credit for solving another design quandary--tying together the kitchen and adjacent dining room. She wanted more than a counter separating the two rooms, but less than a solid wall. The sloping ceiling made hanging cabinets above the counter too awkward until Laurie suggested suspending them from stainless steel rods.
The rods were inspired by the handles on the Sub-Zero stainless steel refrigerator and the stainless steel ovens and by the pulls on the wood cabinets.
The rods also tie in to the wood-and-glass front door, designed by Phillip, which has steel rods for handles. These match the rods holding up the overhang.
Laurie also implemented her ideas in the upstairs hallway, where Finkel designed an alcove with shelves for a book collection and reading room. But, instead of books, Laurie filled the alcove with the washer and dryer rather than putting them in the garage.
Although the couple ended up investing more in the house than they had planned--about $260,000 for the remodel on top of the $400,000 purchase price--the house was recently appraised at about $900,000.
As Phillip pointed out, new construction for a custom house in Southern California typically costs $125 a square foot, but this virtually new house cost $90 a square foot.
After a year in the house, Laurie is still amazed at the blessings of her life.
"I can't believe that we got married, had a baby and live in this house at the beach," she said. "I feel very fortunate."
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Project: Remodel and add second story to 1950s "Eichler-esque" home
Architect: Richard Finkel, Bundy Finkel Architects, Santa Ana Heights, (714) 850-7575
General contractor: Dave Deskovick, Preferred Development, Huntington Beach, (714) 504-2444
Duration: Seven months
Cost: About $260,000
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Where the Money Went
Windows, exterior doors--10,480
Finish carpentry labor--2,500
Glass block windows--450
Total cost--$261,605(Note: Does not include such indirect costs as school fees, plan check fees and permit fees.)
Kathy Price-Robinson writes about remodeling. She can be reached at email@example.com.