In the five years since Felix Neals and Arleen Flores-Neals bought their first house, they have adopted a remodeling approach compatible with their contrasting personalities.
Slow and steady progress satisfies him, while adding Latin-infused artistic touches suits her creative style.
Ask them about the more than $18,000 in work they've done on their 1950s two-bedroom tract house in Redondo Beach and it's like talking about two entirely different remodels.
"We asked a lot of questions," said Neals, a computer consultant who grew up in New Jersey. "It was an educational experience."
"It's been an art project," countered Puerto Rico-born Flores-Neals, who works as a nurse in a doctor's office. "We just go with the flow."
The first major project in their whole-house remodel was a makeover of the home's bathroom in 2001. The existing white toilet, tub and pedestal sink, Neals said, made it look like a stock bathroom. The couple wanted something unique, and they hired Los Angeles-based Bradco Kitchens & Baths, for whom Neals had done consulting work.
They opted for a black toilet and tub, and a bowl sink sitting atop a dramatic ledge. Through Bradco, they discovered a tile maker who allowed them to design their own tiles, which run in a band around the bathroom's turquoise-hued walls. A large framed photo of Neals snorkeling among tropical fish provides another colorful accent.
With the $8,000 bathroom remodel complete, the pair were ready to move on to another upgrade using the same company.
"We tried them out on that project," Neals said, "and when things went the way we wanted, we decided to expand the scope of work."
Next up: Custom cherry-wood cabinets were made for the home's second bedroom, which the couple use as a den. They hired a craftsman recommended by Bradco and, when those cabinets turned out well, also had French doors installed to open the master bedroom to the backyard.
This flowed into a transformation of their backyard, beginning in 2002. From a tidy but bland combo of concrete and grass, the couple has coaxed a tropical retreat.
The yard makeover has been mostly Neals' doing.
"I'm Mr. Outside," he said. "She's Ms. Inside."
Embarking on a series of projects stretching into 2003, he built a wood trellis with his father-in-law and planted dozens of shrubs, succulents, palms, trees and flowering perennials.
Along the side of the property, Neals dug up the grass and replaced it with a dry creek that he designed using rocks hand-selected from a stone yard. Central to the area is a recirculating jade fountain where water flows down the rocks, through a screen hidden by pebbles, and into an underground reservoir.
"That was my vision," Neals said, "to have the water without the messiness of the pond."
With the hard scape in place, Flores-Neals set about adorning the patio. From a local nursery, she bought a $1,000 wrought-iron set marked down to $100 because it was rusted, and she's always on the lookout for small garden ceramics. She collects and displays crosses on one wall of the house facing the garden. A custom-made wrought-iron stand holds dozens of religious candles.
The couple use the completed backyard as their dining room.
Neals next planted colorful shrubs in front of the house and along the sidewalk. Flores-Neals wanted a wrought-iron fence, to match the Latin themes of the house, but decided instead on a white picket one to blend with the neighborhood.
Finally, last year, the couple tackled the kitchen. Although the room had already been upgraded previously with elegant stone floors and counters, the white cabinets just didn't have the gusto the pair wanted. For $5,000, they had the cabinets refaced in a burnished cherry color and added new doors with glass inserts. The glass allows colorful dishes to shine and, Neals pointed out, makes the small kitchen appear a bit bigger.
With five years' worth of projects behind them, the couple now plan to relax and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
"We've done 20 years of work in five years," Flores-Neals said. "We're done."
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Project: Whole-house remodel and garden makeover
Location: Redondo Beach
Duration: five years
Kitchen cabinet refacing: $5,000
Bathroom remodel: $8,000
Den cabinetry: $1,500
Bedroom French door: $2,500
Total cost: About $18,250
Kathy Price-Robinson can be reached at www.kathyprice.com. If you would like to have your remodel considered for use in Pardon Our Dust, please send before and after images and a brief description of the project to Real Estate Editor, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.