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Updating of 1929 French Tudor Only Builds on Its Charm


Thirty years ago, when David and Carolyn Kipp were newly married, they liked to drive around, look at old homes and dream about someday buying one, fixing it up and living happily ever after.

One house in Claremont--a 1929 Tudor accented with French windows and steeply pitched roofs and surrounded by acres of lemon groves--caught the couple's imagination.

"Someday," said David, a toolmaker, "we'll live in a house like that."

In 1996, that day came.

Bolstered with three decades of personal and business success--raising a son and a daughter and creating a $27-million, 200-employee manufacturing company--the couple decided to find the home of their dreams. Recalling the Claremont Tudor, which they had passed by once or twice in the ensuing 30 years, they set out to find it.

By then, the lemon groves had been replaced with upscale homes set on several acres each; the Tudor was in decline, having sat vacant for several years. But a sweet sight greeted the Kipps: a "For Sale" sign in the front yard.

They looked at each other and said: "It's fate."

After escrow closed, the Kipps searched about for a remodeling contractor. Their goals were to retain the Tudor's sense of history and charm while elevating its quality (i.e. replacing original hollow-core doors with custom-made solid oak doors) to a level it had never known.

Plus, and perhaps this was the main point, David longed to build a large workshop-garage to enjoy more tinkering time, which the demands of his company had gradually taken away.

"I want to work with my hands again," said David, whose projects tend toward street rods and Craftsman furniture. "I have to have a shop so I can make things."

In talks with acquaintances and building professionals, one design-build firm came up again and again: Hartman Baldwin in Claremont.

"They're the best," Carolyn and David were told, with always the same caveat : "But they're the most expensive."

Saving money, however, wasn't David's biggest concern. Indeed, the yearlong renovation in 1996 and 1997 ended up costing the Kipps $900,000, a price they don't begrudge.

Ending up with an impeccable remodel to satisfy David's "Type A" personality was a major issue. After asking Hartman Baldwin to look over the house and sketch some ideas, David hired the firm with this agreement: You give me a superb renovation, and I'll write big checks without complaint.

"He wanted someone else to be responsible," recalled Maureen Cunningham, the project manager who worked on the design with Devon Hartman, the firm's co-owner. "David didn't want to have a lot of headaches. That was a big deal to him."

In the beginning, the biggest question was the positioning of David's workshop-garage.

At first, he imagined that it would be set apart from the two-story house. But the design team came up with an idea to give the workshop a complete Tudor treatment--rock facings, timber trim, steeply pitched roof lines--and attach it to the house in such a way that satisfied another of the couple's desires: to make it look like one big, balanced home.

Once the design was agreed upon, building was begun by construction supervisor Jim Johnson and overseen by Bill Baldwin, the firm's other co-owner.

"There was no finger pointing," David said, explaining that contracting one reputable company to accomplish both the design and the construction brings harmony, eliminating the customary friction between architect and builder.

The renovation begins at the street, where a low rock wall, made of locally quarried stone, matches others along the road. During heavy construction, the mortarless wall eventually crumbled into rock piles. When the project was finished, the rocks were simply restacked by stonemasons--without mortar, to maintain the wall's original form. That attitude permeated the project: Keep the original details intact whenever possible.

The circular driveway, a massive arch of green concrete, did not, however, exude any charm.

"It looked ugly as heck," said David, who imagined a cobblestone driveway in its place. That idea was nixed when the stonemason, Daven Gray, pointed out that cobblestone would compete with the home's stone facade.

In the end, the concrete was taken out, broken up into irregular slabs and reinstalled with grout to present a subtle, flagstone-like appearance. And, David said, "It didn't go to the landfill."

On the front of the house, the designers and builders changed little, retaining the rock facade, roof lines and metal French windows. While the windows can't compete in efficiency with the dual-glazed windows of today, their value comes from their age.

"You can't buy windows like that anymore," David said, explaining that layers of paint had to be removed from the window latches to make them once again functional.

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