Product Tip: La Habra
Color Pack for interior plaster.
Organizing Tip: Buy
a binder to collect renovation articles, pictures, color samples, lists, ideas, notes, deadlines, budget, etc.
Shopping Tip: Par
Paint (1801 Sunset Blvd. phone: 213-413-4950). for a helpful and patient staff.
Contractor Tip: Marco Romani for wood staining and restoration.
|Paint free river rocks.
Know Your House
Explore your house's history by pulling permits and determining its original architectural style, which could be difficult to
tell after some bad remodeling jobs. This background will help guide you in deciding
what changes, materials, fixtures will complement your old house. It will also make it easier as you seek out books, online
resources and experts related to your home's history.
Don't Be Shy-Ask
Now that you know the age and
style of your home, seek out the owners of similar properties for advice on their renovations and recommendations on stores,
services and workers. You will find most are willing to talk. "It's like joining
a club, like AA. You just share your experiences."
Start with the Basics
Focus first on making necessary repairs to the foundation, roof,
plumbing and electrical systems before other major projects.
Break It Up
A major renovations can take years
depending on your time and budget. So, plan on breaking up the project into pieces with its own budget.
Pick A Theme
There should be a common color,
material or theme that runs and unifies the entire house. The dark wood moldings
plays this crucial link in Cesar's house.
New vs. Old
When ever possible, retain and
repair original fixtures, even minor items such as heating vent covers and door locks, to
maintain the house' vintage atmosphere. Seek out salvage items, but this
can mean spending more time shopping at salvage yards in search of the right size
Historic Echo Park
Work in Progress
Craftsman Revival on Alvarado Street
|Click on image for Alvarado House slideshow.
Craftsman-bungalow Cesar Sanchez has been restoring over three years is not perfect, and that's the way he likes it.
The refinished wood columns in the living room still bear a deep gash from a previous resident’s
ill-fated attempt at remodeling. In the dining room, the original mirror in the built-in china cabinet is cracked . A doorway in kitchen sags slightly, evidence
of a foundation that has settled over nearly a century.
could have had the damaged columns and mirror replaced with new versions and the door way fitted with a new molding. But in
Cesar's view, these imperfections are part of what gives the brown and tan bungalow on Alvarado Street its historic character
and personality. It's part of the home's history.
all adds to the character of the house,'' Cesar said. "It leaves a beautiful patina.
I don't want to make it look manufactured."
is one of five nearly century-old homes that Cesar, his sister, Alina Sanchez, and, father, Cesar Sanchez, Sr., have restored
on Alvarado between Montana and Scott avenues. This clusters of homes have created a mini-historic district along what is
a busy stretch of road across the street from a Rite-Aid drug store.
|Cesar and crew try to remove paint from the rocks.
house, which he used as an office before recently renting out, was the last to be restored and in the worst shape. It certainly
tested the experience that Cesar and his family had gained in restoring other old houses in Silverlake and Echo Park.
For starters, the foundation was so badly damaged that part of the housing was leaning. The plaster walls inside were badly cracked and new walls
had been built to cut the house up into small rooms and separate living spaces. The plumbing and electrical wiring had not
been updated in decades and there was extensive wood rot in the kitchen and bathroom, which would have to be gutted.
there was the porch. The river rocks
and boulders that once gave it a rustic charm were still there but had been painted over with a coat of blue that Cesar said
reminded him of Downy fabric softener.
on its last legs," Cesar said of his most recent project.
have looked like a tear down to most owners but Cesar saw plenty of potential beneath layers of paint and grime. Most of the
original door and windows moldings remained as did a sliding pocket door, beamed ceilings, built-in china cabinets and benches
and wainscoting. The exterior wood was in good shape and covered in its natural stain.
The cozy home had a nice floor plan and the den and living room created
a large space in front. Despite heavy traffic on Alvarado, the house was quiet inside.
Where to start? Instead of focusing on aesthetic improvements, Cesar instead worked on taking care of the basics. In this
case that meant fixing the foundation to stabilize the house, installing new electrical and plumbing systems and repairing
coat of paint first off would have made for a dramatic change and a quick psychic payoff but was not practical. "It would have been a waste to spend all that money" if the foundation shifted or the roof leaked, he said.
Cesar and his workers turned his attention to stripping layer after layer of paint from Douglas fir moldings, built-in cabinets
and wainscoting (wood paneling that covers only the lower portion of a wall). Stripping
wood is perhaps what can make restoring
Craftsman-style home an
is more expensive because there is more woodwork to strip, paint and stain," he said.
was stripped down to the original dark, reddish brown stain, which Cesar reproduced as closely as he could and applied to
other wood surfaces. The result is that rich, dark ribbons of wood now flow through
nearly every room in the house. "It's the color that united the whole house," he
|Dining room cabinets before.
plaster walls were so badly cracked and damaged that they could not be patched. The most common solution here is to replace
the plaster with inexpensive wall-board but he opted instead to hire an expert
in plaster walls. This was a more expensive option than drywall but he said that
plaster walls have a unique texture and look that dry wall cannot match. Cesar
mixed in a colored tint to the plaster, eliminating the cost and time needed to prepare,
prime and paint the walls.
Indeed, the walls glow softly and are marked with the faint swirls left behind by a trowel.
That's OK with Cesar because it reveals the process behind building the
home and reflects the Craftsman tradition of using natural materials.
"It creates a unique, one of a kind product," he said. "The process of building and restoring
these homes is as important as the finished product."
He tried to clean up as many of the original fixtures as possible, from door locks to metal heating vent
duct covers. He also searched for salvage pieces, such as doors, and selected new pieces that complemented the surroundings.
The new chandelier in the dining room, for example, has a rustic, metal finish in keeping with the Craftsman style.
Home renovations notoriously run over budget and time, but Cesar was able to enjoy a few surprises that saved some money. He remembers removing large sheets of
plywood from the living room wall and hoping the wood windows would still be there. They were, large picture windows with
the original wavy glass, and double-hung windows withweights (which help lift the windows up and down) still attached.
|Dining room cabinets after
But perhaps one of the most daunting and frustrating challenges that awaited Cesar was out front and in full view-the Downy
blue river rock porch. The trick was to remove layers of paint without marring the rock surface. He tried gallons of Jasco
(a powerful paint remover) and armed himself with brushes to scrub off the blue. It was a time consuming and costly and the
results were far from pleasing-the paint had penetrated into the unreachable pores of the rock.
Cesar knew, would get the paint out but it would also pit the surface of the rock and loosen the mortar. He looked into using
a high-pressured stream of crushed walnuts (which is less abrasive than sandblasting) to remove paint. But after several failed
attempts to contact and hire an expert in this technique, Cesar reluctantly decided to sandblast to finish the job.
did remove the paint, along with some of the mortar and rocks, leaving Cesar to literally pick up the missing pieces. "I had to go in and choose my favorite rocks to fill in the empty spaces," he
not what Cesar has planned. But these types of compromises and set backs are common for those who have renovated old houses.
stressful at times...to achieve what you envisioned," Cesar said. "So when you spend so much time, work and money and it does
not look like how you pictured it, then you feel a little bit down."
as a whole, Cesar's ongoing restoration of the house has proved rewarding. That river rock porch, once an eyesore, is now
a welcoming and rustic reminder of a previous era.
main thing that I wanted to do was to restore it to the true spirit of the house and reflect the original intentions of its
builders," Cesar said.
--This story appeared in the Summer
2007 issue of the EPHS News.