Thursday, April 1, 2010

Family Home Renovation.

My dad has wanted to renovate our family home as long as I can remember. It was small and charming, but the kitchen was in the front, and while it’s nice to be able to see kids scampering out front, it was a bit of an eyesore when we were preparing food or eating.

At first the plan was just to renovate the kitchen, which was in dire need of a facelift. And then we wanted to move the kitchen to the side of the house. And then we wanted to move the kitchen to the back of the house.

Fast forward 7 years and my parents finally decided to keep the kitchen in roughly the same area, add a brand new garage in front of the kitchen, and turn the old garage into a new living room. Unlike most extensions that get added onto the back of the house, we decided to add onto the front. I figured it’s not often you get to reinvent the fa├žade of a house, so it better be nice.

I’m not a expert at designing traditional house exteriors, so I spent weeks looking at thousands of images online and in books. I even drove through San Mateo, Hillsborough, Berkeley, and Pacific Heights with my camera, taking pictures of beautiful houses. I'm sure I looked like a stalker. Or one of those undercover agents on "Cheaters." 

I was in California from October – December ’09 working on what turned out to be a SUPER HUGE MEGA renovation.  

This is the state the house was in when my parents called me for help. At that point my dad had already gutted the entire house, putting in new plumbing, electrical, sewer lines, and lots of other things that I don't know the terminology for.  The shape of the house changed, so the whole roof is new. My parents endured two massive floods when they were hit by unexpected rain storms, pending the completion of the new roof.

The entire house was behind a green construction fence for many, many months. During this entire process, my parents were still living IN the house.

Both bathrooms in the house were demolished with plans to turn them into one larger bathroom. The kitchen was gutted, and a makeshift "kitchen" was set up in the back yard. It consisted of a sink with no hot water, a plywood countertop, and a propane camping stove. My dad parked our trusty 1980's RV in our side yard, and they called it home for over 6 months. The RV is surprisingly spacious and comfortable for 2 people. When I came home, I stayed in my childhood room and because there was no front door and no garage door yet, the whole house was like an ice box. We probably had raccoons cruising the premises at night.

Seeing them lay the new driveway was probably one of the most interesting aspects of this entire process. They compacted the soil, put sand, rebar, then poured concrete that came gushing out of a tube connected to a big truck.

Concrete has amazing self-leveling qualities. It comes out of the tube rocky and chunky, but smoothes out quickly and easily . I could probably watch people level concrete all day. Once all the concrete is poured, they skim over the top with this HUGE curved spatula thing that gives it an almost perfect finish. Then they carve in the lines for water drainage and scrape the surface with texture in a scallop pattern.

I wanted to break up the concrete, so I decided to do the border of the driveway as well as the curved path to the front door with concrete pavers. These ones are stained then tumbled for an aged effect. I got them from Peninsula Building Materials in Redwood City. If you ever need rocks, go there. Ask for Nick, he's so helpful.

The majority of our house was physically built by 3 brothers, Ezekiel, Diego, and Hector. Even though I'm familiar with some aspects of design and building, I didn't fully realize that houses are built BY HAND. Sure, we have some machinery like electrically powered saws and drills, but all the minute details are executed by hand, exactly as they were hundreds of years ago. There aren't really many short cuts and everything is a custom job. Now I am even more in awe at people who do this and do it well.

I carefully considered every detail of the exterior of the house. This moulding around the door alone took me an entire day to fully design because I wanted the proportions to be perfect. I went to Home Depot, cut scraps of 15 different pieces of planks, trim, and moulding, then mixed and matched them until i felt like the lintel looked balanced.


  1. I think your parents called you out because they trust your eye for good designs! And by now, they are enjoying their beautiful house. I think it is good that you did some research and looked for photos online. Doing such will give you a clear picture of the look of the house.

  2. I guess facelift is not only for humans, but for houses as well! LOL! Anyway, this was great move for your parents because renovating their homes will surely increase not only the value of the house, but its life expectancy as well. I know you had a long journey renovating the house, but with your creative mind, I bet everything turned out well.

    Lue Madson