or more than 40 years, the modest one-story Torrance tract home of Alice Rice was known to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren as "the pink house on the corner."
And it still is. But with a few changes.
Today, the house has $170,000 in improvements, including a second story, a remodeled kitchen, several bay windows and a total of 2,299 square feet of space.
And "Grandma," as everyone calls the 81-year-old Rice, shares the home with her granddaughter, Terri Meier, 33, a hospital consultant, and Meier's family: husband, Ron, 35, who works for a flooring company; son, Gavin, 13; and daughter, Rebecca, 9.
"You need a bigger house for a bigger family,"
Rice said about the second-story addition to her Torrance home, which placed three bedrooms, two bathrooms and a small office on top of the original three-bedroom house.
Of course, the house has sheltered several generations since Rice and her late husband, Lawrence, bought it new in 1953. The couple raised their daughter, Sharon, there. Later, Rice baby-sat Sharon's four children, including Terri, at the house, and later still baby-sat her great-grandchildren there.
"If it wasn't for my grandma, I don't know what I would have done," Meier said. "I had my son on a Tuesday, and Grandma started taking care of him on that Friday."
The need for the addition arose three years ago when Rice had her arthritic knees replaced, temporarily cutting down on her mobility and permanently on her ability to drive. She needed live-in help and either would have had to move in with someone or get someone to live with her.
But moving out of her pink house and friendly neighborhood of nearly half a century was not a happy option. "My family's all around me," Rice said. "Where would I go?"
And bringing Rice into Meier's 1,000-square-foot Gardena house did not sound promising.
Finally, the family hit on a solution: Sell Meier's house, take out a second mortgage on Rice's house and add the second story.
"So," said Rice, relaxing in the cozy living room with her granddaughter and great-grandchildren, "I got my kids with me."
To begin the remodeling process, Terri Meier decided what she wanted: a second story that "didn't look like a box on top of the house. It had to have style."
Plus, she wanted easy-care surfaces: "Just give me dark carpeting, tile floors I can mop, doorjambs that don't show the fingerprints, and that's all I need," she said.
And finally, Rice wanted the house to remain pink.
To find a contractor, Meier bought a remodeling magazine that listed the top contractors in the country. In the South Bay, Apex Builders of Long Beach was the only entry. After an inquiry to a consumer reporting agency revealed that Apex was "virtually complaint-free," Meier gave the company a call.
"In my mind, they were reputable," she said.
At the first meeting, Meier met with Dottie Back, who estimates jobs for Apex, draws up plans, hires subcontractors to do the work and supervises the project from beginning to end. Both Meier and Back felt positive about the first meeting: "You can tell right away if it's going to work out," Meier said.
Said Back: "Terri was the ideal person to work with. She knew what she wanted and was able to get that across to me." Back asked if Meier had a budget in mind. She did. "That impressed me," Back said. "Terri was realistic. She wasn't trying to get a $100,000 job for $40,000."
After the meeting at Meier's house, where Back got a sense of Meier's antique-oak style, Back drew up the plans. Meier was happy with virtually everything.
The tricky part for the contractor was to satisfy the building codes for a second story, which require that a licensed engineer determine how much the original foundation and first-floor walls need to be reinforced to carry the extra weight. This was accomplished at the Meier/Rice house by pouring several 3-square-foot-wide, 18-inch-deep cement blocks underneath the house. These supported a number of extra 4-by-4 studs, which were inserted into the existing walls, to support the weight of a new second story.
As luck would have it for design purposes, the original floor plan--living room straight ahead from the front door, bedrooms beyond that, kitchen/dining room to the right--contained a perfect setup for the new oak-railed stairwell, which is now in the space formerly occupied by the entryway coat closet and a bedroom closet that butted up to it. A new closet for that bedroom was created under the stairwell.
During the four months of construction, Rice moved into the Meiers' house while it was on the market. When the Meier house sold two months before the remodel was finished, the whole troop moved over to Meier's mother's house, bringing four generations together under one small roof. "It was interesting, to say the least," Meier said.