When Patricia Morrow and her two children finally outgrew their two-bedroom North Hollywood home, it was obvious that something had to be done.
I was sleeping in my daughter’s room and my son was in the other room,” said Morrow, who had bought the house with her then-husband in 1970, pre-parenthood. “It was obvious there was no room for Mom.”
But moving to a larger house was never an option for Morrow and her children, Mary and James.
“I wanted my kids to say, ‘This is the house Mom brought me home to from the hospital,'” she said. “I wanted them to be near neighbors who would say, ‘My, James, you’re sure getting big.'”
Plus there was the divorce to consider. “You don’t want to displace the kids any more than you have to,” said Morrow, a management recruiter. And she didn’t want to walk away from the two ash trees on the side of the house that she had watched mature.
Also, she liked the increasingly mixed ethnicity of her neighborhood, which she said is “the neighborhood of the future.”
So, it seemed, adding on to the 1950s bungalow was the only recourse. Trouble was, “I’d only heard horror stories about remodeling,” Morrow said.
Still, she pressed on. To increase her chances of success, she turned to her friend Ralph Mechur, a Santa Monica-based architect she had met when both worked for the Los Angeles Olympic Organizing Committee. Mechur designed kiosks and other items for the Olympics; he also designs homes.
Morrow also wanted to use the services of Joe Morris Construction in Studio City, which Joe ran with his son, Jeff. (Joe has since retired.) Morrow heard about the pair from a colleague at the office who knew their work well.
In creating her own design-and-build team, Morrow did not have to put a design out to bid to unknown contractors. In her mind, trying to get the lowest bid means “leaky windows and materials that won’t hold up under kids’ feet.”
With the talent lined up, Mechur said: “Let’s all get together and talk.”
At the first meeting, Morrow spelled out her budget, $100,000, and her dreams: add a second story with two more bedrooms and another bathroom, enlarge the family room, put in hardwood floors and create a homey, country feeling. In fact, she wanted a wide porch all around the house.
After hearing her desires, Mechur came up with this idea to take advantage of the large corner lot: change the front of the house to the side, facing the other street, thereby placing the steps to the front porch between the two beloved trees.
But that created two problems: One, the trees were too close for a porch overhang, and two, a second story would interfere with the tops of the trees.
Jeff Morris came up with the idea of notching the porch roof where it met the trees to make it look like the porch was there first and the trees grew into it. He also thought of moving the second story back from the porch, which also created more of a farmhouse look.
In subsequent meetings, Mechur’s design ideas were matched with the Morrises’ construction knowledge. In fact, the process was so harmonious that Morrow never realized, until friends informed her, that there is often friction between an architect and the builder.
“I thought architects and contractors always got along. And I trusted both of these people. They weren’t trying to hold me up,” Morrow said.
Plus, she admitted, her own easygoing attitude and acceptance of adversity probably helped.
“Why would anyone think you can get the best out of people by complaining?” she asked. “It’s not brain surgery. It’s a house. I’m not smart about these things, but it makes common sense.”
After the remodel was complete, it appeared that Morrow’s strategies for success paid off.
“So many people stop to tell us that they lived in a house just like ours in the Midwest,” she said. “Or they tell us you never see houses with this kind of front porch anymore. Nobody believes it’s a ‘new’ house.”