By Thomas Shess | Photos by Larny Mack
A prior owner had added a 180-square-foot enclosed sun porch to the rear of the 2,000-square-foot house. Besides that small addition, the house was original. “Love at first sight!” Susan remembers; “the Spanish features were all here: stucco, recessed arched windows, wrought iron, hand-hewn beams, Spanish decorative tiles on the fireplace and stair risers, and quarter-sawn oak flooring.”
The old house needed some minor improvements to bring it to contemporary comfort. Initially, two small bedrooms upstairs shared a bath in the hall. But “we wanted a master bedroom with its own bath,” Susan says, “and we needed to update and, we hoped, expand the kitchen.” The original kitchen was very small, with the refrigerator kept on the service porch, where the old icebox had been.
Susan and Len also wanted to preserve the Spanish-style house for the future, by way of gaining a historic designation for it. So they needed a rare architect—someone who would understand the integrity of the period house, follow historical guidelines, and yet make functional improvements.
Their history-minded broker Linda Marrone recommended Ione Stiegler, FAIA, of IS Architecture. Her firm has renovated many historic houses in La Jolla and the San Diego area. With a penchant for historic preservation, “Ione had a reputation for sensitivity to period detail,” Susan says; “she’s a kindred spirit.”
Stiegler accepted the challenge. “We had wonderful design meetings and looked at lots of ‘inspiration’ photos,” says the architect. “It helped that Susan had remodeled buildings in the past, had a good grasp of the process, and knew what things she wanted to oversee personally.”
Smiling, Susan Comden counters, “That’s nice of Ione to say, but the project, from our first handshake, was her baby.”
Right away, they faced their first hurdle. Although this house is eight houses removed from the ocean, due to strict coastal regulations, at purchase the property was held to the same reviews as an oceanfront home. They had to apply for a Coastal Development permit, which often takes a lot of time to process. But no neighbors objected to the design, and the permit was granted quickly.
Adding just five feet between the original kitchen and existing garage, Stiegler and associate architect Joseph Reid reconfigured the space. “Most houses of the 1920s and ’30s have kitchens we consider too small,” Stiegler says. “We live in our kitchens today.”
The clients and architects also decided to slightly expand the downstairs bath, add a separate laundry room, enlarge the upstairs master suite—adding a fireplace and master bath—and upgrade the sunroom addition with beamed ceilings and arched doors to the patio.
“It was important to respect the original builder’s formal areas, living and dining rooms,” Stiegler says. “Too many owners today want to tear down all the walls to create an open living concept that is not in keeping with a historic house.The original formal areas in the house were left as-built, paying respect to the intentions of the builder and honoring conventions of the period.
For the expanded kitchen and informal dining area, we did design an open concept. We also minimally enlarged the opening between the living room and the rebuilt rear porch, for better flow.”
Most old homes don’t have an en suite master bed and bath. Stiegler used the old larger bedroom for a new master bath; with an addition over the kitchen, she added a master bedroom complete with a fireplace and an ocean-facing balcony.
Susan Comden says that no one realizes the house had an addition. It’s at the rear and seamless. “We completely hid the new massing behind the existing house,” Stiegler says. “In keeping with the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Preservation, we complemented but did not exactly copy the original: the eave lines are slightly different on the addition.” That becomes apparent when it’s noted that the original house has a deep, stuccoed cornice, while the addition has wood corbels. The renovation added only 400 square feet, bringing the total to 2,580. The home’s scale has not changed.
Even with an addition, the architects were able to get historic designation for the house. Its official name for the record, after the original owners, is the Harold and Maude Brown House. The homeowners have also received the Historic Preservation Award from the San Diego Historic Resources Board.
A new master suite was added over the original kitchen and new bumpout to connect to the garage. The authentic-looking fireplace is set with collected Batchelder tiles. In the master bath, located in space that used to be the master bedroom, both the green backsplash and cap tiles, and the exotic design at the base of walls, are contemporary reproductions of California tile.