DIY craftsmen build a Craftsman

Imagine that you’ve been renovating your ranch house for two years when you realize that you’d rather be building the home of your dreams, a two-story Craftsman of your own design.

Imagine that you decide to go for it — to gut and rebuild — and so you move into a converted garage for two years.

Imagine that your wife, meanwhile, is home-schooling two young daughters and expecting baby No. 3.

Imagine that you have no formal training, but with your father lending a heroic hand and your mother running your graphic arts business from a nearby shed, you take on 80% of the construction work yourself.


Imagine that you are Don Kick and his wife, Natalie.

“We were naïve,” Don said, bemused by the thought of it all. “I think that’s what saved us.”

Naïve then, relieved now. The Granada Hills couple are nearly finished with their new 2,800-square-foot Craftsman house, and what’s remarkable isn’t just that they survived the ultimate do-it-yourself project but that the results are beyond respectable. From the porch’s rustic boulder walls to the kitchen’s custom cabinetry to the second-floor sleeping porch used as their daughters’ alfresco playroom, the Kicks’ three-bedroom, three-bath house has a level of finish that surpasses its DIY inspiration.

The project six years in the making started with a simple enough task: Move the garage to the back of their 150-foot-deep lot.

“We knew we were going to be living there for a while, so we wanted it to look like a real home,” Natalie said.

Don and his retired father, Ray Kick, began transforming the two-car garage into a stylish, albeit small temporary home by laying a hardwood floor and building custom cabinetry. New Craftsman-style windows and a new front door were trimmed out. The exterior was spiffed up with new siding, roof shingles and a fresh coat of paint.

Next came the renovation of a small shed in the backyard to accommodate Don’s graphic arts business. In order to work full time on construction, Don enlisted his mother, Karen, to oversee day-to-day operations. Space-efficient cabinetry built by Don and Ray provided Karen with a comfortable office.

A three-car garage on the property had already been turned into a woodshop for renovations on the ranch house. It was equipped with a table saw, jointer, band saw, disc sander and drill press, among other machinery. Father and son matched the exterior of the woodshop and of the shed-office with that of the temporary living quarters.

These projects alone took three years to complete. By 2007, the Kicks were ready for the next step: Move out of the main house and begin demolition.

“It took three days to tear down our house and about three years to build it back up,” Don said, laughing. And though he declined to say how much was spent on construction, he did add: “We had the vision but not the pocketbook, so we had to figure out ways to do it for less.”

Certain jobs were turned over to subcontractors because Don and Ray lacked the necessary machinery, skills or desire. Pouring the concrete footings and the foundation, along with hanging the drywall, were outsourced. Because the tons of river rocks were too heavy for Don to move easily, he hired others to lift and cement them into place.

Some jobs that father and son did themselves took longer or were less satisfying than they had expected.

“It seems like we did framing for a year,” Don said with a sigh. “And the plumbing was the least amount of fun. But you just have to keep plowing ahead with it.”

Ray, who used to own an auto repair shop and is known as a mechanical wizard, did all of the electrical work. He also had taught woodworking skills to Don as a boy.

Throughout the project, their motto was, “Make it simple. Make it beautiful. Make it your best.”

And they did. There is little sense of weekend warriors at work, especially when it comes to the quality and sheer abundance of woodwork. The Douglas fir throughout the house had been salvaged from an old bakery in downtown Los Angeles by the Reclaimer in Sylmar, and Don bought the whole lot. He and his father hand-crafted all the walls, the trim, the stairs and the extensive built-in benches and cabinets.

One problem: The Kicks had no idea how to finish all that wood.

Then Brian Miller showed up at the door. Miller, a professional wood finisher whose portfolio included the Greene & Greene Blacker House in Pasadena, had grown up one block away. He was cruising through the old neighborhood and was so impressed by the Kicks’ house, he stopped to talk and eventually volunteered his services.

After two years of construction, the main house’s three bedrooms, two of its bathrooms and the laundry room — all on the first floor — were done, enabling the family to move in. It took another year to finish the downstairs, which also includes the kitchen, living room, dining room and playroom. Now Don and Ray are nearing completion of the upstairs, which has a great room and the third bathroom.

At long last, the family can laugh at all they have gone through. When Don thinks back to the start of construction and says he had no idea just how hard it would be, his parents respond in unison, “Oh, we knew what they were in for!”

Even neighbors who endured years of construction noise seem pleased.

“Those saws were always going in the back, but it was nice because it was the sound of improvement, and it means somebody’s working with their hands,” said neighbor Mike Duncan, himself a handyman. “Not a lot of people do that anymore.”

Those saws will continue. Natalie has a long list of furniture she’d like husband and father-in-law to make, Don said. She has been making curtains, bedspreads and pillows too — all hand-embroidered with a Craftsman motif.

Because they have spent so many years living in a construction zone, daughters Rachel, 10, Sydney, 8, and Allie, 2, have caught the building bug as well. On the large covered porch upstairs, they have created a miniature town out of scrap lumber from the woodshop. It consists of more than 25 structures, including a bank, a jail, a corral and a Goodwill shop — all of a diminutive size that’s fitting for a family that squeezed into a 441-square-foot converted garage for two years.

Looking back, how did they make do?

“We watched a lot of ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ and it was like we were living back in those times,” Natalie said. “We kept pointing out to the girls how much easier we had it because of all the modern conveniences.”

Even so, Don said that as much as he loves his house, “we’d never do it again if we knew what we had to go through.”

Natalie, who on Feb. 26 delivered their fourth daughter, Autumn Faith, disagreed.

“It’s just like childbirth,” Natalie said of remodeling. “You forget the pain.”