It's easy to understand why Donna and George Moussalli bought their Palos Verdes Peninsula tract home, even though they hated the front of the house. Truth be told, they barely even noticed it.
"We walked around the back and there was a pool and this little walkway that led down to a whole orchard with avocados and oranges," Donna recalled. "We were like, 'Wow. This is great.' "
And because the couple had moved from a small condominium, the larger house satisfied the couple's needs for space and a place to keep a dog. (Their chow, Stogie, just celebrated his first birthday.)
During their first year of single-family homeownership, in 1996, the couple's remodeling efforts were centered on adding marble and slate to all floors except the bedrooms, as well as a few other projects.
Eventually, though, the couple turned their focus to the front of the house:
A patch of lawn, some geraniums in the corner, an Australian tree fern that had grown just high enough to block the living room picture window, a sidewalk leading from the driveway to the front door and, worst of all for Donna, "a horrible, stupid arch" to mark the entrance.
"I can't believe we bought this house," the couple said to themselves. "Did we buy this?"
Obviously, it was time for another remodeling project, so in 1997 the couple hired architect Nagi Bakhoum to come up with some good ideas, and his father, building contractor Refaat Bakhoum, to bring those ideas into reality. The couple set the budget at $15,000.
The Bakhoums had designed and built the Moussallis' restaurant, Aoli, in Torrance, a few years earlier and were familiar with the couple's tastes. (The Moussallis also own the Sixth Street Bistro in San Pedro.)
Plus, the Bakhoums and George Moussalli are all from Egypt and were able to revert to their native Arabic when English became limited. But not too often, said Donna, whose native language is English. "I needed to know what was going on."
In the design process, some elements grew from the couple's desires and some from Nagi Bakhoum's skill and training. When discussing design details, the couple say over and over again: "Nagi thought of it."
For the couple, losing the arch was paramount, as was adding a fountain and creating a Mediterranean look. They found an old, arched door to replace the original, somewhat tasteless brown-and-tan door that was probably considered chic in 1970.
Among Bakhoum's aesthetic contributions were a massive wooden trellis supported by six stately columns, accented with tiny lights in the bases. He also suggested replacing the charmless picture window with a more interesting bay window.
The architect and the homeowners agreed that the walkway from the driveway to the front door had to go. Bakhoum told the couple: "You're not supposed to enter your house through the driveway."
To cure that problem, a wide walkway was built up the middle of the yard that leads visitors from the sidewalk, around a three-tiered, flower-ringed fountain and on to the front door. The sidewalk was covered with slate the couple bought cheap from a liquidating tile store.
To bring lights out to the sidewalk--another hope for the remodel--two tile-topped posts were built at the head of the walkway to hold not only lamps but the mailbox and "cool" house numbers the couple discovered at an antiques-reproduction shop.
Bakhoum also suggested that the front door, which was inset 6 feet from the front of the house, be moved out, giving the once-cramped foyer the 6 extra feet it needed to feel spacious.
For the final touches, the exterior of the house was repainted, eliminating all touches of 1970s brown. The frontyard was re-landscaped with low shrubs lining the walkway, graceful queen palms and passion vines that will one day wind around the columns and up along the trellis.
"It feels so good," Donna said. "It's perfect. It really is."
Kathy Price-Robinson is a freelance writer who has written about remodeling for eight years. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.