When Kathleen Schaaf and her younger brother Kevin bought a 1923 duplex together, their outdated kitchens — one downstairs, the other directly above it — were identical in one respect:
“It was time to gut both of them,” Kevin Schaaf said.
There the similarities ended.
Kevin, a flight attendant, moved into the lower unit of the duplex shortly after escrow closed and redid his kitchen with a few friends in a whirlwind six-week marathon involving Ikea cabinets, Home Depot granite and appliances won through Ebay auctions.
His take on quick decisions and experimental design is simple: “Hey, if you don’t like it, tear it out and start over.”
But Kathleen, the proprietor of a vintage clothing store, approached her kitchen remodel with a studied, patient diligence, choosing each material, texture and color with utmost care, from the custom cabinets fashioned by a craftsman to the just-right-shade-of-green linoleum she found on the Internet after an exhaustive search.
In fact, it took two years of slow, steady progress fixing up her two-bedroom unit before she even moved in. “I’m so persnickety,” she said. On the other hand, “Kevin’s more instant gratification.”
According to Kevin, it was his idea several years ago to buy a duplex with his sister.
He owned a townhouse in Bixby Knolls, but wanted to move closer to the ocean. Kathleen also needed a change as she had lived in an apartment behind a dry cleaners in Long Beach since her college years. After she bought the dry cleaner building to open her clothing store, Meow, she remained in the apartment, a few steps behind the store and over a garage.
She calls the property “The Compound.” Kevin calls it “her comfort zone.”
In time, Kathleen decided she deserved better. “I could stay there forever, but I don’t want to be there when I’m 65 with my cats.”
The duplex the siblings bought is two blocks from the ocean in Long Beach and was only the second property they looked at. Kevin was ready to buy immediately, but Kathleen insisted on checking out other duplexes first.
Maintenance on the Spanish-style duplex had been neglected and the building was partially hidden by an overgrown cypress tree. Kathleen said she was struck by the empty beer cans strewn along the driveway, while Kevin was elated with the three garages in back to house his vintage cars — an Edsel and a 1967 Newport convertible.
Deciding who got which unit was not difficult. Kathleen wanted the top apartment with its barrel ceiling, French windows and wood floors, but Kevin said: “I got a better plan.” That’s because the bottom apartment was added onto in 1991, giving him 1,700 square feet as opposed to Kathleen’s 1,100 square feet, and the den and extra bedroom come in handy when his friends stay to paint, garden or decorate.
“He has so many nice fiends who want to help him,” Kathleen noted. “I have to pay people.”
After taking his kitchen down to the studs, Kevin went to Ikea and worked with a designer to figure the layout for his wood cabinets. He chose upper cabinets with glass doors and several open shelf units to display his collection of vintage pink appliances and 12-piece setting of Franciscan Starburst dinnerware from the 1950s. A friend moved in for a few weeks to help him install the cabinets.
The pride of Kevin’s kitchen is his 1940s to early 1950s-era chrome top O’Keefe and Merritt stove for which he paid $600 after a last-minute bidding war on Ebay. “I had to have it,” he said, even though he had to drive down to San Diego to pick it up. He sold his own stove on Ebay to a buyer from Torrance.
He got his Kenmore Elite stainless refrigerator for half price, because it had a dent, at a Sears outlet store. He found his trash compactor on Ebay for $100, and bought a floor model dishwasher at Lowe’s. “I shopped,” he said.
For the counters, Kevin wanted tile. But while at Home Depot to pick up the backer board, he saw a granite display and immediately changed his plans. For $2,500 he got all the counters installed with bullnose edges and a cutout for the sink.
He and another friend applied an unusual design of broken tile in a pattern that resembles mountain ranges for the backsplash. “We made it up as we went along,” he said. He painted the walls green, but toned them down and added texture with a bronze wash. The floors got large tiles that look like stone.
To remodel his kitchen quickly, Kevin used some vacation time and took advantage of his three-days-on, four-days-off work schedule.
Kathleen, on the other hand, operates her business seven days a week and travels often to look for vintage clothes in estate sales, warehouses and attics.
To start her project, she hired Lake Forest cabinet maker Matt Morrow, who had designed and constructed some innovative display cases and sleek retro design elements for her store that bring to mind the “Jetsons” television show.
Morrow considers himself an artist and said he works well with Kathleen’s wry, unconventional, eccentric mindset. “She needs to be around people like herself,” Morrow said, “and there’s not many of us.”
Kathleen especially liked the demolition process where she got out a lot of aggression by tearing up plaster and tossing it in a dumpster.
For design inspiration, Kathleen found a vintage View Finder with 3-D images 1950s and 1960s kitchens and bathrooms.
Shopping for materials and products was slowed by the fact that she didn’t even know where the local big-box and home-furnishing stores were located. She never had a house to furnish before, and always tended toward vintage goods. “I’m not the best 21st Century girl,” she said.
After much discussion and planning, Morrow built the upper cabinets of light wood with bubbly glass inserts. The bottom cabinets are laminated with the same gray dotted Formica that was used in her shop. Her windows are custom made with a brushed aluminum and opaque bubble glass.
She chose small green tile with black corners for the counters, and the green linoleum for the floor. Every product and material she chose had to be felt and examined.
“She has to touch everything,” Morrow said. “That’s Kathleen.”
Unlike her brother, Kathleen chose all new appliances, including a stainless steel GE Profile stove and refrigerator, a Franke sink and a Frigidaire dishwasher. “I’ve never had a dishwasher before,” she said.
Because she considers herself “the condiment queen,” she had an ironing board nook near the stove turned into shelves to hold spice bottles and jars.
To bring the plumbing and electrical systems up to current standards, she hired a licensed subcontractors.
After a while, Kathleen thought the kitchen was looking too coordinated so she installed a lamp that resembles a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket. Final touches for Kathleen’s kitchen were her Fiestaware collection and the small red appliances she has been collecting. In the end, her kitchen turned out to be a blend of designs and colors and textures from the 1930s to the 1960s.
In the end, Kathleen’s kitchen turned out to be a blend of designs and colors and textures from the 1930s to the 1960s. But Kevin’s kitchen, despite the vintage stove, took on a more contemporary look with the stainless steel and granite. Only later did he realize it might have been inspired by a television show.
“Have you ever seen Will and Grace?” Kevin said. “This is their kitchen.”