Bill and Anita Morris were pretty skeptical the first time they walked through their 1910 bungalow in Pasadena, California. Although the house boasted plenty of original details—from shingle siding and a quarter-sawn oak front door to box-beam ceilings and a built-in buffet in the dining room—it needed plenty of work, too. Most of the woodwork had been painted white, and the kitchen and bathroom had been remuddled by previous owners. Never having restored a house before, the Morrises weren’t quite sure they were up to the task of bringing back its period character.
Enter David Goldberg. A local real-estate agent, he tackles home restorations in his spare time, having caught the old-house bug at an early age while watching his parents re-create an English manor house in Bel Air. Over the past two decades, he’s consulted on and restored countless vintage homes in the Los Angeles area. Familiar with David’s background, Bill and Anita’s agent suggested that the couple meet with him to talk through what restoring the house would entail.
“Often people are afraid of houses that need work,” says David, “but after I consult with them, they’ll feel confident that they can do the work.” Tapping into David’s expertise did the trick for Bill and Anita, too; they purchased the home and handed over the design reins to David and fellow designer John Douglas.
Bringing It Back
Although many original details remained, “cosmetically, the house was very run down,” David says. The exterior shingle cladding was a dull gray set against white trim; it was repainted in a mossy green, accented with warm brown and brick red. “The painting made a huge difference in the visual appeal of the house,” says Anita.
Inside, all of the original doors were still intact, with their original hardware, but both the doors and the hardware had been painted white. John and David dismantled the doors and had them stripped and stained; the hardware also was stripped, replated, and polished.
One glaring omission from the home’s interior was a fireplace surround framed by built-in, glass-fronted bookcases, a common feature in many bungalows of the era. Referencing other houses in the neighborhood, David and John designed a period-accurate replacement, staining it to match other woodwork in the house and facing the firebox with reproduction Batchelder tile. “As a real-estate agent, I go in houses every week and take photographs or remember details,” David says. “All you have to do is copy things.”
Because virtually nothing original was left in the kitchen or master bathroom, they were gutted and completely redesigned. John and David also converted a large closet into a small ensuite bathroom for the guest bedroom. For these new spaces, “We were interested in doing things that were in the spirit of the period,” says Anita, “without being period correct.” The revamped kitchen, for instance, features a mix of Shaker-style cabinets, granite countertops, a stainless steel Wolf range, and an art-tile backsplash. “Here in Pasadena, there are resources for everything,” says David. “You can get reproduction tile, pedestal sinks—it’s really easy to redo a kitchen or a bath.”
The small pool in the back yard—a must-have for Bill and Anita—presented a bit more of a challenge for David and John. “We had almost no land to work with, but were able to slam the carport up against the property line, which gave us just enough room to squeeze in a tiny pool,” says David. A decorative tile panel running along the back of the pool gives it a bit of Arts & Crafts flair. “They wanted it to feel almost like a fountain or a pond,” John says.
The Bottom Line
Keeping the project within budget was a key concern for Bill and Anita—but they didn’t want to skimp on the details. “They always went for quality,” says John, “but they didn’t necessarily spend top dollar.” This meant David and John had to get creative in their approach.
Case in point: the light fixtures. For the main areas of the house, John and David selected beautifully restored vintage lights from Revival Antiques, a local store that’s often David’s go-to source for lighting on restoration projects. In less visible areas, however, they relied on reproduction fixtures from Rejuvenation and Schoolhouse Electric. “The fixtures are accurate reproductions, and they’re relatively inexpensive—$100 versus $1,500 for a vintage light,” says David.
They also decided not to strip the white paint off of the box beams and trim in the living room, den, and dining room, choosing to concentrate instead on refurbishing the built-in buffet and china cabinets. “Stripping things in place is really difficult and expensive,” David says. “When you’re trying to do an accurate restoration, it can really add up.”
Fortunately for the Morrises, the house had enough original character that they were able to enhance it without breaking the bank. “When you have a nice look to begin with and mix in inexpensive things,” says John, “it just looks wonderful.”Published in: Old-House Journal February/March 2012