That's what our house was when my husband and I bought it three years ago.
Cute is real estatespeak for "small." And our house is. Just a hair over 1,000 square feet, with two smallish bedrooms, one smallish bath and a former one-car attached garage that was long ago converted into a decent office space.
You know the type: little 1940 stucco tract house, the "affordable housing" of its day. When we bought it for what seemed like an astronomical $175,000, it was the kind of house you walk into and say, "Nice little house, but the kitchen has got to go." Within a year, go it did.
Now we have a nifty kitchen in a house that is still cute as in \o7 small, \f7 but not very cute as in \o7 cute. \f7 We also have a baby (very cute), and would like to have another. Which has brought us to the same conclusion that every other young couple in the universe seems to have reached: We have to build more space.
Now, as luck would have it, this old house is on what real estate agents call a buildable lot. That means it has a big back yard. But yards are not at a premium the way buildable space is.
So we went to an architect, "Frank" (not his real name). We explained that we wanted to add a master bedroom and bath, enlarge the living room and generally make the place suitable for yuppie habitation.
Frank seems like a very competent architect, and a nice guy. But there is a fundamental difference between his vision and ours. We look at our house and say, "What can we do with this house?" Frank looks at our house and says, "What can we do on this lot?"
His answers, consequently, are a bit grander in scale than ours. We readjusted our thinking to take a grander view.
Enter the financial institution.
On the trendy Westside, housing prices are . . . well, let's call them what they are. \o7 Obscene. \f7 OK? Anyway, along came a bank and appraised our cute Mar Vista house with the nice kitchen at an incredible $360,000. I'll skip the math, but the result is that we easily qualified for a $100,000 home improvement loan. Easily. Would we like to set up a credit line for an additional $20,000? No problem.
No one seems concerned about how we are going to make the payments with a combined income that essentially hasn't risen since we bought the house.
But I digress.
Frank offered a choice of three floor plans he called generic: The bedrooms go here, the bathrooms go there. We mixed and matched features of the three, and Frank revised the drawings. We kicked it around, and Frank again revised the drawings. Maybe it was my imagination, but the plan seemed to get grander with each revision of the drawings.
The figure Frank tossed out for remodeling a house and putting in nice finishing touches was $100 a square foot. To mis-paraphrase someone who is dead, a few square feet here, a few square feet there, and pretty soon you are talking about real money.
At last we all agreed on a floor plan, and Frank began working on elevations, which are drawings of what we will actually see.
We mulled the first interior and exterior elevations. Were they interesting or were they weird? Elegantly simple or cold and austere? Innovative or disjointed? Answer: We hit our first major disagreement.
At first, it had been easy. We could sit with Frank and tell him we want our house to be airy and bright, with a warm, family feeling and imaginative, charming touches. We would lob out abstractions, he would offer ideas, and we could vote "Yes," "No" or "Yes But."
But the time came when we had to make concrete choices.
In a series of delicate and sometimes tense negotiations, we won concessions from him, such as wood siding instead of masses of uninterrupted stucco on the front of the house, glass blocks in the bathroom (I am not about to spend $100,000 on a home remodel that does not include glass blocks) and French doors in the master bedroom. In return, we agreed to drop our demands for a skylight and an arch-shaped window. Frank dislikes all of the above.
At the end, we were shaking hands and smiling. We will soon release a joint communique to contractors.
The world looks different to us now.
We used to drive past houses and think: "Nice house." We used to walk into friends' homes and think: "cozy place." And let it go at that. No more.
Now, every house is a collection of discrete, identifiable elements. We see roof lines and eaves, landscaping, window placement, siding and brick work. We study the setback, we ponder whether the add-on was built with a permit. We frown at the tacky walled-in patios that pass for family rooms. We check out color schemes and evaluate curb appeal.
Indoors, we have begun to notice floor plans: Are they logical and functional? Do they work with household traffic patterns? We eye window treatments, door frames, flooring.