It’s her sanctuary of simplicity

Special to The Times

Susan Rose’s one-bedroom, one-bathroom Eagle Rock house was built the year Franklin D. Roosevelt launched the New Deal.

Seven decades later, the 800-square-foot house has its own new deal with the addition of a second bedroom and bathroom.

Though the 1933 home’s no-frills architecture reflects the austerity of the Depression era, the new bedroom has a similar feeling.

Its tall, bare walls, soaring ceiling and simple stained-glass cross reflect Rose’s longing for a simple, spiritual life.


“I always wanted to live in a church,” said Rose, 43, who doesn’t consider herself religious but is drawn to the symbolism. “So I decided to just build one.”

The new bathroom, built in a turret, also feels like sacred space with a cathedral ceiling, curved walls, tumbled stone floor and leaded-glass windows.

“This is the best room in the house,” she said. “It should have been a meditation chapel.”

Rose’s path to homeownership came almost by chance in 1999 when she was renting a two-bedroom Craftsman cottage in Pasadena’s Bungalow Heaven neighborhood. One weekend, she went to see the house that was advertised in the newspaper as “the castle on the hill.”


“I wasn’t even meaning to look,” said Rose, a part-time editor and consultant for the record industry. “My naps were more important at the time than homeownership.”

But the house captured her imagination with its river-rock steps, arched front door and expansive views across a wooded dell toward Occidental College. She was charmed by the fact that the house had been owned by a succession of single women. And she was especially taken with the $165,000 price tag, well below the median of $239,000 that year for the community.

Although a one-bedroom house would not meet the needs of many buyers, Rose figured it would work for her, especially considering that the mortgage payment of $934, after a $33,000 down payment, would not be a huge leap from the $725 a month she had been paying in rent.

After she bought the house, Rose discovered she could still afford to make some improvements. As her equity grew, lenders plied her with offers of loans at low interest rates.


“Once you own a house,” she said, “money becomes available and cheap.”

As is the case with many remodeling projects, hers started out more modestly than it ended up. At first, Rose was going to extend the laundry room off the kitchen to make an office. But because the room would encroach on city-required setbacks, she decided to add a bedroom off the back of the house to take advantage of the view and turn the original bedroom into her office.

Originally she planned to build a simple boxy room for $15,000. But once she got into the design process, she realized, “you can’t just tack a box on. It has to look right.”

Eventually, the cost of the project grew to $60,000 and included 300 square feet of new space and major improvements to the existing house such as a new roof and stucco, an upgrade of the electrical and plumbing systems and the addition of central heat and a humidifier.


“And the next thing you know,” she said, “you’ve got a castle.”

Rose also got a bigger mortgage payment. She took out a second mortgage to pay for the remodel and then refinanced, combining the first and second into one mortgage with payments of $1,242 a month.

The addition, designed by a friend, called for the bedroom to be added on to the end of the living room, where French doors on both sides of the fireplace would lead into the new room rather than to the outside.

The back of the fireplace would become a design feature inside the bedroom, highlighted in a color to contrast with the walls. A rustic French door with two sidelights would lead from the bedroom to a new patio outside.


With the plans drawn, Rose sought estimates from three contractors. She chose Arturo Villarreal, who submitted the middle bid and was recommended by an acquaintance.

The 11 months the job took to complete allowed Rose plenty of time to contemplate colors and materials.

For the interior walls, she chose Venetian plaster. The bedroom is a light cobalt blue and the bathroom a buttery antique yellow.

In the bedroom, wooden beams with heavy black-iron brackets help accentuate the high ceiling.


For the bathroom, Rose chose a reproduction pedestal bathtub and an early-period sink and toilet by Kohler. For floor tile she chose tumbled slate and installed it herself using a borrowed tile saw. Leaded-glass windows were custom-designed for the room.

For final touches, Rose found items on EBay that had either a castle motif, such as the rustic metal hanging sconces, or a church connection -- the daybed in the living room was once a nun’s bed. In fact, Rose bought so many items online that she refers to her home as “the house that EBay built.”

After remodeling the house, Rose bought a fixer-upper investment in Highland Park that she is now restoring for resale. Ultimately, she’d like to buy old churches and convert them into residences or business space.

“I’ve been looking on EBay for properties,” she said, pointing out that there were six churches for sale recently. One that caught her eye was a 7,000-square-foot church listed for $30,000.


“People drop $30,000 on a car,” Rose said. “Why not buy a church in Kansas?”



Source book


Project: Add 300 square feet in a new bedroom and bathroom; upgrade electrical and plumbing; add central heat and a humidifier.

Cost: $60,000

Duration: 11 months

Location: Eagle Rock


Contractor: Works of Art, Arturo Villarreal, Los Angeles, (323) 223-8383

Leaded glass windows: R.D. Gibbs & Co., Glendale, (818) 249-1509

Kathy Price-Robinson has written about remodeling for 15 years. She can be reached at 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.