As Betty Frazier approached her 80th birthday, no one would have thought twice if she had decided to downsize her living arrangements. Instead, the Leisure World resident did the opposite, opting to sell her one-bedroom place, move up to a two-bedroom, two-bathroom unit she bought in the same Laguna Woods community and embark on an all-encompassing, five-month, $45,000 remodel. "I took off like a sail in the wind," said Betty, who used part of her savings to finance the project. By the time the remodel was complete, Betty was so pumped up, she decided to go back to work as an interior designer after an eight-year retirement.
It was concern for her future that motivated the change. Betty thought the 19 steps leading to her old second-floor unit would be a problem — someday. Plus, should she ever need live-in help, a second bedroom would come in handy.
But the two-bedroom place Betty bought, built in the 1970s, did not look particularly inviting with its bland walls, grimy carpeting and overall lack of pizazz. With a modest budget and queen-size dreams, she set out to change all that.
“I was the general in charge,” said Betty, who has tackled several remodels during her lifetime.
To find a contractor, she asked around, got referrals and interviewed several, but none felt right. One told her the kitchen redo alone would eat up $25,000 of her budget. “I thanked him and showed him the front door.”
Her solution arrived one day when handyman Herb Rashon, recommended by friends, stopped by.
“When I opened my front door, here stood a young man,” Betty recalled, “very good-looking, very neat-looking, and I thought: ‘My heavens, he isn’t even dry behind the ears yet.’ But did he prove me wrong.”
Betty felt an immediate kinship with the thirtysomething Rashon, who has since moved back East.
“It’s not the price tag,” she said of the most important criterion for selecting a contractor. “It’s the camaraderie between you.”
As the job went along, Betty said, their catchphrase became: Whatever Betty can dream up, Herbie can make happen.
With Rashon and two helpers, the first goal was gutting and redoing the dreary kitchen with its tired tile counters, darkened grout and plastic dropped ceiling. It felt gloomy, even in the daytime, because the two windows over the sink looked out on a covered breezeway.
Using $12,000 of her budget, Betty had the kitchen fitted with a giant skylight that bathes the room in a natural glow, raised-panel cabinets, black Corian countertops and black-and-white appliances. To accessorize, she found pewter drawer and cabinet pulls in hen and rooster shapes and laid down a red-checked rug with a rooster motif that she got from a friend.
For the kitchen windows, she made roller shades in a raspberry-colored pattern and topped each with a red valance. Having a sewing machine is a necessity for Betty. “Couldn’t live without one,” she said.
The next big job was reconfiguring the master-bedroom suite. In the original floor plan, there was a 4-foot-square hallway with doors to a tiny closet, the cramped bathroom and the bedroom. By tearing out that hallway and the closet, Betty created enough space for a very large and luxurious bathroom.
After spending hours dreaming up the floor plan for her new master bathroom, she got word from Leisure World that moving the location of the bathtub or toilet would require architectural drawings and permission from the association. “Forget that,” she said.
Going back to the original placement of these fixtures, Betty had her handyman build a cozy nook around the tub. She replaced the standard vanity with an antique-looking buffet with black marble top and used space next to the tub for a stackable washer and dryer, as well as storage shelves precisely configured to her needs, all behind mirrored sliding doors.
For the bathroom floor and the wall around the tub, Betty got a deal on leftover tile from a friend in the construction industry and made several car trips to pick it up and haul it home.
“I did a lot of running around,” she said, recalling her searches through consignment shops, thrift stores and, in one instance, a big trash container — where she found a framed print.
When a friend asked Betty if she worried about getting lost on her forays, Betty explained that getting lost is how she finds otherwise unknown shops.
To make up for the lost closet, she sacrificed 2 feet along the length of one wall in her large bedroom for a new 15-foot-wide closet. She added pale green carpeting and painted the walls a raspberry that picks up the hues in the crape myrtle tree outside.
“I love this color, this raspberry, it’s so restful,” she said. “I sleep good here.”
The final stages were paint, crown moldings and wide-plank wood floors in the living room, kitchen, dining room and hallway. Most walls are a light mustard, and one living room wall is a deep red.
“I became bolder than I have been in a while,” she said.
Although Betty lived in the condo for the five months of the remodel, she suggested moving out if you can. To keep her sanity when the dust, noise and confusion got to her, she spent hours at the local Barnes & Noble with a latte and home design magazines. “It calmed me down,” she said.
With her career starting back up, Betty hopes she learns to pace herself and not get carried away.
But it’s hard to break lifelong habits, suggested by this quote embroidered on a towel in her renovated condo: “Life’s journey is not to arrive safely in the grave in a well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting: ‘Holy cow! What a ride!’ ”
At a glance
Project: Condo remodel
Area: Laguna Woods
Duration: Five months
Skylights: Skylight Specialties, Newport Beach, (949) 645-8645
Wood floors: Payless Carpet & Flooring, Lake Forest, (949) 454-9977
Fabric and design: Upholstery Creations, Laguna Hills, (949) 588-8817