If you want more space than a vintage bungalow can yield, you don’t have to mow it down and build a big stucco box in its place. You can add a sensitively designed second story — set back from the front of the house — to preserve the home’s historic ambiance. And you can avoid the wrath of neighbors.
That’s what Stefan Hammerschmidt did with this 1924 Venice home. He got the large kitchen he wanted and the upstairs master suite, but did it all without trashing a piece of California heritage.
To bring out the best in framers, roofers, electricians, plumbers, cabinet makers, painters and other workers, Hammerschmidt fed them such home-cooked Austrian meals as pork roast with mashed potatoes, Wienerschnitzel with parsley potatoes and veal roulade stuffed with mushrooms and caramelized onions.
“I cooked lunch for the whole construction crew every Friday for seven months,” said Hammerschmidt, who earlier this year completed the $290,000 remodel and second-story addition on his vintage Venice bungalow. “They just loved my Wienerschnitzel,” said Hammerschmidt, who cooked for three or four people, or for as many as 14, depending on who was on the job that day. Meals included a main dish, one or two side dishes, and, “of course, dessert.”
In Austria, Hammerschmidt explained, “It is tradition for the homeowner to cook for the construction crew almost every day.”
The Friday feasts, which Hammerschmidt prepared in the tiny Marina del Rey studio where he lived during the seven-month remodel, were simply an extension of his food-centered past. He owned and managed a regional inn and restaurant in his native country for 10 years.
But in the mid-1990s, Hammerschmidt came to the United States with the goal of becoming a landscape architect, moved into an apartment on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica and began studies at UCLA.
During his years in the apartment, Hammerschmidt watched Montana turn ritzy and saw Santa Monica home prices soar, which nixed any hope that he could own a home there.
But as he worked on several residential landscape projects in Venice, he was captivated by the area’s “funky, eclectic, dynamic” character.
Hammerschmidt found the charming but pint-sized Craftsman bungalow he would eventually buy when the owner of his apartment building, who lived in Venice, mentioned that his 86-year-old neighbor was thinking of selling.
As it turns out, Hammerschmidt and the owner of the bungalow had a lot in common: an Austrian heritage and a love of gardening.
“I might be selling,” Hammerschmidt recalled the man saying. “Would you be cutting down the fruit trees?”
“No, I like them,” said Hammerschmidt, who would not only keep the trees, but would later harvest the fruit to make dozens of jars of apricot and pineapple guava jam.
After he bought the house, Hammerschmidt lived in it for a while to get a feel for how to remodel it. He liked “the bones” of the house, the columned front porch and the six-light Craftsman windows. But he didn’t like the cramped feeling and minuscule kitchen.
Hammerschmidt interviewed five architects, observing their responses to the house and garden. Three of them suggested tearing down the house and at least one suggested all but eliminating the garden space to build a bigger house. They were eliminated from the running.
In Hammerschmidt’s mind, the “big stucco boxes” that are increasingly replacing old bungalows in Venice are “soulless.” Still, he said, “these older homes aren’t practical by today’s standards.” They lack storage space. Bedrooms tend to be small and dark. And foundations are often rickety.
“But that doesn’t mean [old houses] have to disappear entirely,” he said. “They are part of our city’s rich heritage.”
He finally hired Payson Denny Architects, whose work on another Craftsman remodel he discovered while canvassing Venice’s walk streets, where homes on small lots back up onto alleys and face pedestrian walkways rather than streets.
Ken Payson and his wife lived on a Venice walk street for 13 years before moving to Santa Fe, N.M., but they still maintain an active practice on the Westside through e-mail, phone, faxes and regular visits.
Hammerschmidt had some remodeling experience from Austria and, according to Payson, knew more about remodeling than 99% of his clients.
“He was stern and very skeptical that Peg and I could tell him anything he didn’t know,” Payson said. “We weren’t going to push him around.”
The homeowner warmed to the architects, however, and took advantage of their skills. Together, the three designed a remodel that kept the bungalow facade and charm, but added openness, light, space and storage, including a second story.
The original house was organized in the traditional bungalow fashion–living room, dining room and kitchen on one side, two bedrooms and a bath on the other–but was too small to include a hallway. The front bedroom opened directly into the living room, and the back bedroom into the kitchen, with the bathroom set in between.
For the redesign, the doorway into the front bedroom was widened and the room was transformed into a library/guest room with a luxury bathroom attached.
The flat ceiling of the bathroom was pushed up into the sloping roofline, and a large skylight added. Wainscot bead board, 1-inch hexagonal floor tiles and period fixtures maintain the 1920s ambience.
The back bedroom was eliminated and the kitchen built in its place. Hammerschmidt opted for taupe-painted custom-made cabi-nets around the perimeter, and an island of unpainted alder and cherry. “I didn’t want everything to match.”
He chose marble countertops over granite because “marble is warmer.” Appliances include a Viking stove, Kenmore Elite refrigerator, Bosch dishwasher and a Sub-Zero wine cooler with separate compartments (and temperatures) for red and white wines.
While the old house had a hardwood floor, it was thinned beyond salvation by years of sanding and was replaced with red oak slats throughout, including the kitchen.
To pay homage to the original breakfast nook with its two facing benches, Hammerschmidt had a bench built along the wall in the dining room, which now occupies the space of the old kitchen. A dining room/kitchen combination was important to the owner, as it reflects homes in Austria where guests gather in the kitchen as though it were a living room.
“They want to see what’s going on,” Hammerschmidt said. “They want to see what’s cooking.”
As with all second-story additions, the big question was: Where does the staircase go? Taking part of the already small living room was considered, as was the space in the back-to-back closets of the original bedrooms.
Eventually, it was built in a bump-out off the side of the dining room, and was styled in a traditional manner with white rails and oak treads.
The space upstairs–encompassing the master bedroom, walk-in closet, office and master bathroom–is a cheerful blend of space and light, combined with lavish moldings and six-light Craftsman windows reproduced to match the originals in the home. Three office windows face the morning sun, as does a bedroom window. Said Hammerschmidt: “I have to see the sun rising.”
In the bathroom design, Hammerschmidt exerted his strong creative energy (also evident in the garden). “It was my baby,” he said. He again chose natural wood cabinets and marble counters, but added flair with a floor of Indonesian river pebbles, in the bathroom and the glass shower. Under his bare feet, he said, “it feels like a massage.”
Plus, the pebbles are a fitting pathway to a view of the garden, reached through a set of French doors and a deck. This evokes a bathroom “back home” where he could step out and dry off in the sun.
Throughout the design and construction of his remodel, the garden outside influenced Hammerschmidt’s decisions. The windows downstairs, for instance, will remain natural wood on the inside. When he looks through them to the Queen’s vine, rosemary, Japanese maple, fruit trees, euphorbia and ferns out front, “it looks like a painting.”
In the dining room, guests enjoy a pleasant view from the dining table. Guests at one end of the table can see the living room fireplace and out the front windows. Those at the other end see out the rear French doors to an immaculate lawn, shades of green and silver Mediterranean plants and an oblong reflecting pool, with the whole composition backed by what he calls “a theatrical screen of bamboo.”
While Hammerschmidt said he is very happy with the remodel, he didn’t realized how draining it would be to complete it. He was on the job most days from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and was able to point out some errors–like a ceiling beam an inch too low–and get them fixed before the job progressed too far to make a correction impractical.
Now that the remodel is done–save for a few lighting fixtures and the Italian bar stools that are yet to arrive–Hammerschmidt enjoys how easy it is to entertain.
“Dinners on Saturday nights with friends in my open kitchen,” he said, “garden in view, crackling fire in the background. Austria doesn’t seem so far away.”
At a Glance:
Project: Remodel and add second story to 1924 Craftsman bungalow
Homeowner: Stefan Hammerschmidt
Builder: Bo L. Jennings, general building contractor, License No. 735782, Glendale, (818) 389-9377
Engineer: David Shimi, Shimi Engineering, San Diego, (858) 638-7821
Tile: Gina Forestieri, Rhomboid Sax, Los Angeles, (310) 550-0170
Marble: Walker Zanger, Los Angeles, (310) 659-1234
Hardwood floors: Wolfgang Klingenhofer, Wolfgang’s Floors, Beverly Hills, (310) 775-7141
Landscape design: Stefan Hammerschmidt Garden Planning & Maintenance, Venice, (310) 578-5012, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Duration: Seven months