When Michael and Carrie Reynolds got married in 1989, they had two goals: (a) settle in Laguna Beach and (b) live in a nice house. But without enough money to do both, the Reynoldses approached their dream in steps, buying a falling-down 1920s cottage with plans to build something more livable on the lot when they had the money.
And their plan worked. The couple completed a major remodel and two-story addition to their home last year.
But the early years of the marriage, living in what they called "the shack," are still vivid in their minds.
"They sold it to us as a tear-down," said Michael, 43, an architect who has designed mid-rise office buildings as well as homes. "That meant they took no responsibility for the house. They basically sold us the lot."
When Michael told the real estate agent he intended to live in the ramshackle house "as is" for a few years, the agent asked: "Does your wife know about this? What a woman."
And when friends found out about the purchase, and Carrie's willingness to live there, they told him: "You don't know how lucky you are." Finally he exclaimed: "Hey! What about me? I'm going through the same thing."
Life in the house was eventful. In the kitchen, possums crawled up through the rotted floor boards to forage the dog's food. In the rest of the house, half an inch of sand had filtered through the green shag carpeting, which had been laid over orange shag carpeting, which had been laid over the termite-ravaged floor.
But from the beginning, Carrie, a 35-year-old marketing consultant, was enchanted with the wooden cottage, which sits just off Pacific Coast Highway. "We'll never tear it down," she thought.
However, Michael, who has a penchant for sturdy construction and interesting design, was initially inclined to flatten the structure and build something new. After a while in the house, though, he started asking himself: "Well, what can I do with it?"
The considerations were many. First, the lot is relatively small at 40 feet by 120 feet. But it's zoned R-2, which would allow the couple to build a rental unit to help pay the mortgage.
On the other hand, local design rules require that a significant amount of the property be left open for yards and gardens. On top of that, although homes in the area are allowed two stories by the city's planning and zoning department, the house also had to pass muster with the local design review board, which says that new construction cannot block a neighbor's view of the ocean. In this case, that meant that if the Reynoldses wanted to add a second story, its roof line had to be 8 feet lower than normal.
While contemplating the design of the addition-remodel, Michael said, he wanted "to maintain the character of the cottage, at the same time contributing to today's eclectic community identity." As he started sketching an angular, industrial-like addition to the cottage, Carrie was baffled.
"I was, like, polished concrete floors? Are you sure?" It was the interior transition from the old to new that was especially hard to visualize. "It's going to go up?" she said. "And be a different color?"
She had so many doubts and suggestions that her husband finally said: "Look, I don't go to your office and tell you how to do marketing."
Eventually, she acquiesced and left the design to him. "As a lay person," she realized, "you just have to trust."
Said Michael: "An architect's job is to push and to bring people along. The dictionary defines architecture as the meeting of science and art. I was trying to throw art at the project."
Apparently, he succeeded. The plans for the proposed remodel-addition won a 1993 "On the Boards" award from the Laguna Architectural Guild. And when the project was completed three years later, it won an honorable mention from the Orange County chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
The final design left all the original structure intact, complete with old, wavy glass in the windows, while an enclosed sun room that had been added decades earlier was eliminated. The outdoor shower also had to go.
The original house includes a living room, a kitchen, a dining room and a bathroom. The two-story addition at the rear includes a den and family room on the bottom and a master bedroom and bath on top.
Because of the height restrictions on the addition, the bottom story was dug into the ground 3 feet, and the ceiling joists on both stories were left exposed, instead of being covered with drywall, for a feeling of height. This also saved money. The joists are similar to the roof rafters in the original house, which were left exposed when the ceiling was removed. (Even Michael calls the design "bizarre.")
Behind the addition and connected to it, a small rental unit was built over a new garage. Outside the long, narrow structure, a grassy courtyard is shielded from the alley by the stairway leading to the rental.
When construction began in 1993, the couple camped out in the living room and showered at a neighbor's house.