WHITTIER — Dennis and Patty Thomas, owners of this year's Whittier Design House, want everyone to know they are not getting a free ride.
The Thomases, who own the house being restored by the Whittier Historical Society, have spent about $200,000--repairing earthquake damage, some of it covered by earthquake insurance. They installed new oak floors, a new foundation and redesigned the kitchen.
After tours of the home conclude May 21, the furniture decorating the house will be sold and the Thomases will be left with the paint and wallpaper on the walls, a new kitchen--and some hard feelings.
Lived in a Hotel
"They want it to look good for their functions, then get out," Patty Thomas said of the Historical Society. "We want it to be successful for them, but we would like a little bit of consideration for what we've been through."
Earthquake damage forced the Thomases and their 6-year-old son out of the home in October, 1987. For three months, the family lived at the Whittier Hilton while work was completed on a one-bedroom guest house behind their Painter Avenue home. Most of their furnishings remain in storage.
The Thomases planned to live in the guest house a few months while basic earthquake repairs were completed, then return to the main house. But signing a contract to allow their home to become the Design House meant they would stay in the guest house until June 9.
The couple admit they underestimated the hardship involved in the project.
Without a Kitchen
For more than a year, the Thomases have been without a kitchen, cooking meals in a microwave or on a barbecue and washing dishes in the bathroom. (City ordinances prohibit kitchens in guest houses.) Play areas for their son were restricted by the work crews. Meanwhile, they continued to make mortgage payments on the house.
But the last straw came this week, when the Historical Society told the Thomases they would have to pay $40 a plate to attend tonight's opening dinner on the terrace visible from their guest house living room.
"That's a slap in the face," said Dennis Thomas.
Virginia Boles, chairwoman of the Design House project, said everyone, even Boles herself, is paying to attend the opening night dinner.
"The name of this project is to raise as many funds as we can for the Historical Society," Boles said. "We thought we had an understanding with them about this."
Proximity a Factor
Unlike the owners of two other houses restored by the society, the Thomases lived on the premises while construction was under way. Boles said the proximity added to the tension. "The most advantageous situation for everyone would be if the homeowner wasn't here," she said.
Boles said she understands the frustration expressed by the Thomases, but added that the contract signed by the couple spelled out the terms of the deal.
"Granted, maybe I haven't put the money into the house that the homeowner has, but the homeowner was willing to do this," she said. "What's to be left here will be wonderful for them."
In retrospect, Patty Thomas said the family should have moved back into the house and tackled earthquake repairs a little at a time.
"I wouldn't do this again," she said. "Ever."