Even though Roger Beckman had dated Ann Baber for more than a decade, he didn’t discover her hidden talents until she started remodeling her 1970s Culver City, Calif., condo.
Her first task was Herculean: stripping the dark brown finish off her kitchen cabinets, followed by sanding, whitewashing and applying three coats of sealer.
“I didn’t know what I was getting into,” admitted Anne, a commercial real estate broker. “It was a horrible, horrible job. It was a miracle I finished. Roger was amazed at my tenacity.”
But that was only the beginning. Energized, she built a room divider, took out her built-in stove and substituted a free-standing model and updated her bathroom.
“I was amazed,” Roger said. “She did work I’d never do. She has a natural talent. Put a trowel in her hand and wow. I found out she’s a great plasterer.”
Encouraged by Anne’s talent, Roger asked her if she’d like to look at a small 1950s fixer-upper he’d found through a newspaper ad.
“It’s trashed,” he told her. But the price, at the bottom of the market, was almost too low to pass up.
Bolstered by her skills, Baber was not scared off by the 912-square-foot home’s charmless chain-link fence, dirt yard, awkward floor plan, cracked plaster, malfunctioning appliances, cigarette-burned windowsills or dark, depressing paneling.
“Good bones,” she declared and christened it “The Tiny.”
The Tiny was in a good location for Baber, who sells apartment buildings in the area, as well as for Beckman, who owns apartment building in the area. Ultimately, it was Anne’s remodeling success with her condo that decided the deal.
“Well, hell,” Roger had said, “with these skills, let’s do it.”
And Roger came to the project with his own assets.
“He has every tool in the world,” Anne explains. And when Roger branded himself “not much of a craftsman,” Anne disagrees. “You are too, honey.”
Escrow closed in late spring, and after investing about $40,000 and hundreds of hours of sweat equity, Anne moved into The Tiny the following January.
The first goal for Anne was to change the location of the front door, which originally directed foot traffic into the house by way of a diagonal path across the small living room.
“It made the living room feel like a hallway,” Anne said.
In place of the front door, the couple built a fireplace. Now the entrance opens into the dining room, with the living room and fireplace to the left, and the kitchen beyond that. Off the dining room, a hallway with build-in cupboards leads to two bedrooms and a bathroom.
While the interior floors were covered with worn, green carpeting when the couple bought the house, they were happy to discover that carpeting had apparently always covered the oak floors, which needed only light refinishing.
After removing the paneling and scraping off three layers of wallpaper, Baber chose a pale peach color for the walls, and a slightly paler shade for the ceilings. For the doors, windows and thick fireplace moldings and mantel, she whose white.
In the kitchen the couple ripped out the old brown painted cabinets, blue-tiled counter and back splash and replaced them with crisp white cabinets and ivory-colored Formica countertops.
Once the house was livable and then some, the couple turned their attention to the front yard. Down came the chain-link fence, with the help of a jackhammer to bust up the post footings, and up went a white picket fence with a lattice arch over the gate.
The new plastered fireplace was covered with brick veneer, was the original cement walkway.
“I wanted a winding sidewalk,” Baber said, “but you don’t do winding at The Tiny.
And the dirt yard, amended and nurtured, is a profusion of thick green lawn and vines and, depending on the season, roses, gladioli, impatiens, violas, chrysanthemums and other flowering bulb and plants.
The sparkling house and garden have transformed not only their own plot, but also the overall feeling of the street. When a neighbor noticed Anne showing the house off to me, the neighbor sounded worried as she said, “You’re not moving, are you?”
The couple are not moving and, in fact, have plans to eventually add a second –story master bedroom. For Anne, the sooner the better. “Now that we’re getting done, I’m sad,” she said. “Now what’ll I do?”
Project: Whole-house remodel
Duration: 8 months