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Couple Takes on an Old House and a Wedding . . . Why Not a Tour Too?

June 28, 1992|SUZANNE COOPER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Cooper is free-lance artist and writer living in West Adams

'You say potayto and I say potahto, you say tomato and I say--'forget it, this kitchen is going to be whi"

Thus far, my husband, Frank, and I have had only two knock-down, drag-out, let's-call-the-whole-thing-off battles. The words have been different, but the theme is the same: Did you marry me or did you marry this house?

When my favorite dancing partner and I got engaged, I had no idea we would become homeowners before the wedding. Since both of us love the Craftsman style and we had friends in the "historic West Adams" area, we started looking at bungalows "just to find out what was available." We fell in love with the houses and the neighborhood.

The bungalow we decided on was in an Japanese-Swiss style, with a peaked roof like the prow of a ship. We were impressed that the house had all its original woodwork, including built-in bookcases, china cabinet, desk and window seats, all painted over but intact. It also had hardwood floors under the carpets and most of the stained glass still in the windows.

We scraped up the money for a down payment, relying heavily on a wonderful wedding gift (thanks, Mom and Dad), bought the house and rolled up our sleeves.

The month before the wedding was spent scraping, plastering, painting, plumbing, rewiring, pulling up carpeting, and getting the water heater out of the middle of the kitchen. Oh, and moving, having my wedding dress fitted, debating with my mother about how much food is enough and arranging all the details of the ceremony.

The big day arrived and the groom spent the morning installing a shower for our clawfoot bathtub. And he wondered why I burst into tears because he didn't think the kitchen should be painted white?

The wedding went off as scheduled and we were in the middle of stripping paint happily ever after when a friend suggested we put our house on a walking tour to raise money to plant trees in the neighborhood.

In the early part of the century, Los Angeles was the spiritual home of the bungalow craze that swept the country. The small, affordable houses, intrinsically tied to the Arts and Crafts movement, were found all over the city. Many have fallen victim to modernization, and West Adams is one of the few to still have 12 square blocks where bungalows predominate. Our tour would feature eight homes.

Creating a tour, as well as readying a house for one, is hard work. Adding all the meetings necessary to an already full schedule taxed us to the limit. My most important role turned out to be focusing the group, usually accomplished by squawking at regular intervals, "I have to be at work at 6:30 in the morning! Let's get on with it!" After a while, every one else got into the spirit of things and "Suzanne says focus!" almost always got us all back on track.

With the specter of the tour looming over us our restoration efforts switched into high gear again.

Most bungalows were originally painted in dark forest greens and rich earth tones. In 1910 our living room was the most fashionable shade of green with the adjoining dining room done in a deep mulberry with yellow ocher ceilings. Very dramatic, but a bit gloomy for today's tastes. We've preserved the colors for future historians, but I think we'll opt to live with lighter shades.

Working on an old house is an acid test for a marriage but, overall, Frank and I have found we work together comfortably. He likes to blaze ahead and do the big projects, and I follow and finish the details. Only occasionally does my perfectionism clash with his deadlines. I told him it was unrealistic to try get all of the woodwork stripped and stained before the tour. He proved me wrong, with nearly three weeks to spare.

With the woodwork done, that left us with only scraping, plastering, painting, stenciling, and finding and installing a new light fixture. We chose a paint color in record time, mostly because Frank wisely said, "You decide."

A friend inspired me to try sponging the walls and I figured, "Why not? If it's ugly I can always paint over it." I used the original purple and yellow, so thoroughly blended into a cream base that they are almost not recognizable. The result looks vaguely like parchment.

The brick and concrete of the fireplace proved impossible to strip without sandblasting (not recommended for one's living room) so we decided to fake it. Frank bought some of the paint that is supposed to give a granite-like finish and sprayed the bricks "Pueblo Sunset" and the concrete "Santa Fe Sand."

It looked better than shiny white, but not very realistic, so I got out my handy sponge and dirtied it up with red and black and green paint. I even added artistic smoke stains. It came out so amazingly well that I had to stop the woman we hired to help us clean from scrubbing it down.

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