Disappointed that she could not add on to her newly bought Sherman Oaks home without costly foundation work, Angela Beach decided to update it and resell it quickly for a profit.
"Let's just flip it," the interior designer said to her husband, Jeff. Moving the family into an apartment while she looked for a more suitable house, she set out to transform the four-bedroom home with its '70s decor into a tranquil, Zen-like retreat that she hoped would soon draw buyers.
Three months and $100,000 later, however, the renovated house was so attractive that the couple decided to keep it and move in themselves even though the house has one less bedroom than they wanted.
The change of mind came shortly after they put the house on the market in August 2001. Angela was seven months' pregnant, her father had just died and, despite looking every day for months, she had not found another house to buy.
During the second open house at the renovated home, the couple dropped by, sat inconspicuously near the new koi pond and listened to potential buyers comment on how good the house felt. Angela and Jeff looked at each other. Why are we selling this house? they asked.
"I was brokenhearted," Angela recalled. "I needed a home. My babies needed a home." Finally, Jeff said: "Maybe we should stay."
Pregnancy had started the couple on a search for a home larger than the two-bedroom, 1,500-square-foot starter they had owned for six years in Sherman Oaks. The contemporary house with an open floor plan was a good size for them and their dog Zuma. But the house was full after daughter Brianna was born and would have been crowded with a new baby.
To find a larger house that Angela could fix up to their taste, the couple called Re/Max real estate agents Ray Ross and Moe Abourched. The team wanted to show the Beaches a 3,000-square-foot two-story, four-bedroom home on a hillside lot that had languished on the market for a year previously but which was no longer listed. The owner, who had raised her four sons in the house, was planning on refurbishing it before listing it again. Ross told her he had a client who wanted a home to work on.
Still, Jeff, a film producer, was appalled when he first saw the house. It was boxy, with an unusual mansard roof and wide overhangs, an orange front door, orange walls and lots of wood paneling. It was very dark inside. "No way," he said.
But Angela saw potential in the home, which was built in 1959 and designed by Francis Hoffman, a noted designer in Miami's South Beach. Angela wanted to add more windows, reconfigure the staircase and add two bedrooms to accommodate guests and an art studio. Preliminary soils tests indicated the additions would be possible, so they bought.
After spending $30,000 on architectural plans, however, the couple was shocked when the final soils tests, delivered months later than promised, revealed that the home's entire foundation would need shoring up to meet today's stricter earthquake codes before the additions could be made. That would require dozens of pillars dug 25 feet down to bedrock -- possible but prohibitively expensive.
According to Greg Silver, a soils engineer from Rancho Santa Margarita and a board member of the California Geotechnical Engineers Assn., a thorough soils test usually takes at least three weeks, and buyers should wait to see the results before closing on a property. This is especially important for properties built in the '50s and '60s in the Santa Monica Mountains, where fill dirt may have been brought in without strict permitting.
In retrospect, Angela said, "if I had any advice to give on geology, it would be to not plan to do anything until you have that full report in your hand."
Once the decision was made to renovate and resell the house for a profit, Angela set out to do the work within a couple of months on a budget of $60,000.
Acting as general contractor, she hired subcontractors and also relied on workers from the North Hollywood location of L.A.'s Day Laborer Program.
One of her first tasks was scraping off the dated cottage cheese ceilings, but the texture turned out to be built into the plaster. So Angela covered it up with a quarter-inch drywall instead.
To lighten the dark house, she added a large picture window in the living room and three skylights in various rooms. Aluminum doors leading from the living room to the back patio were replaced with wood sliders, and the offending orange front door was replaced by a frosted glass one. All the folding closet doors were replaced with similar glass doors, frosted inexpensively by an auto glass company.
In the living room, she added can ceiling lights and transformed the large, dated hood above the fireplace, open to the living room and dining room, into a modern-looking version. To add an upscale touch, she installed multicolored square-foot slate floor tiles she bought for $1.25 each at Western National Granite & Marble in North Hollywood.
When the hands-on labor caused problems with her pregnancy, Angela hired contractor Paul North to finish the job.
In the kitchen, they added granite counters but kept the cabinets. "Everyone always wants granite," she said. As an interior designer, Angela first finds low prices online, then visits stone yards to pick out the slabs. Even when she can't get a professional discount, she can find granite for as little as $11 a square foot, with an additional $10 a square foot to measure and cut it. "You can always talk these guys down," she said. "Always."
While the final price of the renovation rose to $100,000, partly because Angela had to cut back on her involvement, she estimated a similar remodel would cost double that amount. She attributed her savings to such bargains as the $1,000 teak sinks she found for less than $100 at Contractors' Warehouse in North Hollywood.
"Los Angeles is one of the largest cities in the world," she said. "You can get anything you want here and at any price. You just have to look."
When the couple decided to keep the house, Angela called in a feng shui expert who suggested not using the dining room for eating, as it is considered bad luck to see the table from the front door. The dining room now functions as a wide hallway into the kitchen, where Angela prefers to eat anyway.
A mirror was installed over the front door to ward off any bad energy coming from the street, and a fountain was installed near the door. Inside and out, meditating Buddha statues lend a contemplative aura.
The family moved in in September 2001, and Tyler was born the following month. "The soap opera is over," Angela said of their change of plans. "Now it is our amazing, happy home."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Project: Renovate 1959 Sherman Oaks home
Designer: Angela Beach, Beachwood Designs, Sherman Oaks, (818) 907-8983.
Contractor: Paul North, North Coast Construction, (310) 390-9950.
Real estate agents: Moe Abourched, (818) 789-7408, and Ray Ross, (818) 789-7408, Re/Max on the Boulevard, Sherman Oaks.
Labor: Day Laborer Program, North Hollywood, (818) 503-9006.
Teak sinks: Contractors' Warehouse, North Hollywood, (818) 764-8292, www.contractorswarehousecom/northhollywood.html
Granite counters, slate flooring: Western National Granite & Marble, North Hollywood, (818) 255-0000
Duration: 2 1/2 months
-- Kathy Price-Robinson
On the web
For a 360-degree virtual tour of the Beaches' house or previous remodels, visit
Kathy Price-Robinson is a freelance writer who has written about remodeling for 13 years. She can be reached at www.kathyprice.com.