Admittedly, it's no secret to those who know me - I'm a serial renovator (and proud of it). Until our previous home in Piedmont, Cliff and I hadn't lived in a house for more than four years. We'd typically buy a "fixer" and once "fixed," would turn around and sell it in order to purchase the next and pay off the liens. (They haven't yet invented the 12-step program for remodelers, but when they do, no doubt my husband will be signing me up!)
Until we bought our home on Littlewood . . . With Littlewood I had expectations that Cliff and I would grow old together there, host weddings under the gazebo, and eventually invite grandchildren to play hide-and-seek in the redwoods (not that I'm in a hurry, boys). No matter, life has a funny way of inserting itself and changing the game plan - often when we least expect it!
Our current home (also a "fixer" at the point of purchase) now accommodates Cliff's mother, Zee, who at the age of 91 has certainly slowed down, but shows no signs of waving the white flag any time soon. She's living independently in the garden apartment below and still catching cabs to shop at Trader Joe's on Lakeshore Avenue. No, it isn't the estate we left behind, but it's an elegant solution to today's current challenges and I am exceedingly grateful for it. It's also a beautiful home (if I do say so myself) so there's really no hardship here. (Come see the the transformation during the CSL Kitchen & Home Tour, April 28 & 29).
Life - and homes - are constantly evolving as our needs change, requiring us to adapt and adjust in order to stay in the game. (That's the nature of the journey.) As I'm often reminding my children who worry that "life is passing them by" (in their 20s no less!), the road isn't always easy, nor swift, nor is it necessarily crystal clear, but it IS about making choices . . . (Don't stay too long on the sidelines.)
At last Sunday's open at my listing at 1436 Trestle Glen, I met a man (with a sweet tooth) who stated that his folks had bought the house in 1965 and had lived there until he left for college in 1977. "There were only 2 bedrooms and one bathroom at the time . . . and that space downstairs, we built as a rumpus room with our dad," he proudly said while grabbing a cookie (or two), "I don't even recognize the place now," he continued with both approval and nostalgia in his voice.
An hour later, a curious family came in that had purchased Trestle Glen as newlyweds before selling it a few years later when their child was just a toddler. She told me how they'd regretted passing it along to a young man and his family who unfortunately subdivided the house, making nearly every room a bedroom in order to rent them out. (Evidently, that was the home's low point.) She was much happier to see it now in its new incarnation.
In turn, that Seller sold it to Buyers that set the house on its right path once more, turning the rumpus room into a cozy media room and adjoining guest suite. My Sellers bought it in 2015 and improved it further still, adding a full bathroom and updating the kitchen in the last year and a half. They hadn't expected to move to North Carolina so abruptly, but a new job and a chance to be near family were too good to pass up, so now the house is available once more. To no one's surprise, it's getting rave reviews. (1436TrestleGlen.com)
As this story illustrates, not all changes are created equal. Sometimes bad choices are made (as in turning every room into a bedroom), OR too many walls are removed in pursuit of an open floor plan (a little division is a good thing), OR when flashy finishes are better suited for a discotheque, than in a traditional family house on a shady tree-lined street. (Metallic tile? "Warning Will Robinson," it's NOT going to stand the test of time.) Sometimes, we're better off leaving well enough alone.
Still, make whatever questionable choices you want IF you plan on staying in the house until you expire (or until someone drags you out)! In fact, if that's your game plan, you're welcome to be as eccentric as your dollars will carry you. BUT if this home (like most homes) will eventually propel you to the next life transition, you may want to think twice about the choices you make before making radical changes. You may even want to bring in a design professional to help you avoid costly mistakes! (That's a hint.)
Early this week, I entered a house that truly dumbfounded me. Two years ago it had been a coveted and historical Brown Shingle in the center of town with beautifully appointed rooms. Unfortunately, it's newest adaptation resulted in the removal of much of the formal architecture for an overly-large (yes, it is possible to be TOO open), modern kitchen with bright orange tile. Instead of a kitchen island, there's a veritable continent! Gone was the entry, the formal dining room and the stately fireplace mantle.Yikes! What happened here?!? The house has been almost entirely stripped of its charm . . . along with most of its walls.
Or put another way: "when bad choices happen to good houses." In my opinion, what these folks did is not only beyond sad, it's practically criminal (but tell us how you really feel, Julie). Moreover, from where I sit, the considerable amount of money the Sellers spent to "upgrade" this house certainly devalued it, which I'm sure wasn't their intention.
Which means that when we make design choices, they really should move the house forward, not set it back. While even good design will always be 'era- specific' to a certain extent, we can still seek to make choices that are far more timeless in nature; choices that live well in today's modern world, but still fit the house's architectural style and intent, without ignoring its core values.
Remember, wallpaper, paint colors and lighting are easily changed as styles dictate, but place the stairwell or the windows in the wrong location and it's going to affect how the entire house lays out and that's not so easily correctable. What's more, bad choices tend to cost every bit as much as good ones, so why do them? (This is where a clever architect is worth his/her weight in gold.)
What's the moral of the story?
The choices we make often set the groundwork for what's to come . . . so CHOOSE WISELY!
Okay that's my lecture for the week; I've got some weeding to do. Even smaller gardens that may never host a wedding require attention. (I'll settle for my niece's reception, thank you very much.)
How can I help you?
Check out my Instagram at: piedmontrealtorgirl
Julie Gardner, has been writing The Perspective for 15 years and has published more than 500 essays. She is also a frequent contributor to the Sound Off column in the Real Estate section of The San Francisco Chronicle.