Lori Petitti was horrified when her husband, Scott Sakamoto, made an offer on a gloomy vacation home in Lake Arrowhead.
"I almost divorced him," recalled Petitti, a television producer. "I said, 'No way.' I hated this house."
And who wouldn't? The dismal 1940s cabin suffered from a poor floor plan, and Petitti felt claustrophobic in the dark kitchen with its brown tile, brown Formica counter tops, brown appliances, brown shag carpeting and "the smell of too much air freshener."
Sakamoto, a motion-picture camera operator, acknowledged all that was true.
But he had visions of modernizing the $250,000 cabin and, most important, expanding its views of the alpine lake that stretches out below it and the setting sun, which drops over the North Shore, directly across the lake.
"He said, 'Trust me,' and I did," Petitti said. At the end of a three-month, $127,000 remodel, she decided to keep the house and the spouse. "Now it's the most lovely and comfortable house ever."
The biggest challenge for Sakamoto was brightening and enlarging the lake-facing kitchen. The kitchen's lone window was barely 3 feet tall, not exactly an elegant frame for the blue views, and the kitchen's ceiling with exposed beams was oppressively low. Because there was a second-floor bedroom directly above the kitchen, bumping up the ceiling or adding skylights wasn't an option.
Then Sakamoto had an epiphany: Why not knock out the bedroom above the kitchen altogether? That would allow for a 16-foot ceiling in the kitchen and wall space for a tall, oversized picture window.
It also would relieve the gloom upstairs if the dark hallway to the other two bedrooms were opened up and turned into a "bridge" that looked down on the kitchen and out to the lake through the new window.
The plan to sacrifice one of the cabin's bedrooms made sense, Petitti said, because the house would still have three bedrooms for resale value, and they didn't need more than two guest rooms.
Excited about his idea, Sakamoto approached Ken Anderson, whom he considered one of the most respected contractors in the Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear areas. Anderson is known for building and remodeling high-end homes in the 4,000-to-6,000-square-foot range, and Petitti doubted he would take on their musty, 1,200-square-foot cabin. "I was embarrassed," she said.
But Anderson liked Sakamoto's ideas and took the couple on a tour of mountain homes he had built. There they saw alder cabinets and hardwood floors they liked for their own remodel. "That's how we shopped," Sakamoto said.
Unfortunately, Sakamoto was called out of the country to work on a movie just as the work was starting. Petitti, the reluctant remodeler, became the homeowner in charge.
While the three-month remodel was in process, Petitti drove from their Santa Monica home every weekend to take photos, and she left disposable cameras for workers to document the work during the week. By e-mailing photos to her husband, she was able to get his input on various decisions that needed to be made.
"I went from not wanting to be involved to being really involved," Petitti said. "I really enjoyed it."
On location in Montreal, Sakamoto sketched the layout for the kitchen cabinets, the electrical outlets and heater vents.
It was Petitti's job to shop for appliances, and she argued with Sakamoto to get the white Viking stove she wanted, rather than the stainless-steel stove he wanted. "I was adamant about it," she said.
For his part, Sakamoto felt strongly about a low-voltage, cable-type lighting system strung across the kitchen, even though the contractor asked several times if he wanted a socket in the ceiling for a lighting fixture. Sakamoto, who liked the aesthetics of the lighting system, did not. "That's what I was adamant about," he said.
He also wanted the stove's stainless-steel exhaust flue to be exposed all the way to the second-floor ceiling, rather than boxed in and hidden. He did have to settle for a square flue rather than the round one he had envisioned.
Sakamoto flew back to the States on a holiday weekend to help Petitti choose the granite for their counters: Juparana Vyara from India, with swirling veins of blacks, browns and pinkish tans.
The project -- which also included new hardwood floors downstairs, carpeting upstairs, a new stone fireplace surround and all new windows -- was completed on time and on budget.
Since the remodel, summer weekends at the cabin have taken on a regular routine: Mornings are spent skiing on the lake while the water is glassy; afternoons mean jogging the trail around the lake or watching sailboat races; and evenings bring time on the deck.
Winter weekends, the couple hike local mountains too hot to tackle in summer, snowshoe on the jogging trail and warm themselves at the hearth of their updated fireplace.
The cabin, 99 miles from the couple's Santa Monica residence, has become a favorite gathering place for them and four other friends with second homes in the same neighborhood.
"On Saturday nights, this is the place," Petitti said. "We feel like we've been on vacation in a weekend."
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.
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At a glance
Project: Update a 1940s cabin.
Location: Lake Arrowhead
Designer: Scott Sakamoto
Contractor: Ken Anderson Construction (License No. 334614), Big Bear Lake, (909) 337-7282.
Duration: three months