When Shaya and Grant Kirkpatrick stepped inside the nondescript Manhattan Beach tract house they would eventually buy, they thought it was the perfect fixer-upper--except for one thing.
The house seemed totally backward for their needs.
For instance, while Shaya, 35, dreamed of a kitchen-great room opening onto the backyard, this house was set up--in typical 1940s bungalow style--with the kitchen and living room facing the street. The original two bedrooms and a bath sat behind that.
Plus, in the 1950s, a homeowner had added a master bedroom and bathroom behind the two bedrooms, and to the rear of those a den, all reached via a long, narrow hallway that ran unimaginatively through the center of the house.
But the Kirkpatricks possess minds made flexible by their work--she's an interior designer, he's an architect--and saw that the rooms could be flipped around under the long pitched roof. The kitchen would be switched to the rear of the house, laid open to the den and, through a wall of glass doors and windows, the backyard.
Then the master bedroom could be relocated to the front of the house, where the living room once sat, with the master bathroom inserted into the original kitchen space.
Also, the garage was at the back of the property, again in typical 1940s style, with the driveway running right past the house, which is not what many 1990s couples want. Noting an alley behind the property, the Kirkpatricks realized they could essentially flip the garage around by transferring the garage door to the rear.
"We started sketching right away," Shaya said. "It was obvious to us. Our friends just started laughing. They couldn't see it."
"We call it the pancake house," said Grant, also 35. "The house that flipped over."
Taking on the challenge of flip-flopping a house was worthwhile for the couple, who wanted to live in the "tree section" of Manhattan Beach (so-called for its eucalyptus, acacia, palm and jacaranda population), and benefit from its low crime rate, easy walk to the downtown area, and excellent schools for sons Jack, 4, and Ryan, 1. Plus, it's not too far from Grant's Santa Monica office.
After purchasing the house in 1997 for $420,000, the couple decided to put about $100,000 into the remodel. The first step, of course, was to contemplate and completely plan the remodel before construction began.
According to Grant, homeowners have overblown expectations of what they can get for their money. Being in the business, the Kirkpatricks knew well the high cost of materials and labor.
Homeowners also tend not to plan the project thoroughly enough, Grant said, and this forces them to make decisions at the last minute--during construction, and under enormous stress and pressure. This was not what Grant and Shaya wanted.
Another goal was to experiment. For instance, because many of the couple's clients want dark kitchen cabinets and light floors, the couple at first specified just that--cherry-stained cabinets and light maple floors for the kitchen-great room. To try something new, however, they switched to white painted cabinets and laminate floors that look like dark wood.
The laminate floors, which are much more durable than wood, were chosen to stand up to the "rug rats' " Power Rangers toys. "That was one of our better moves," Grant said.
After three months of intensive planning, construction began. Again, the couple avoided a mistake homeowners often make--visiting the site every day to check on progress. "If the client stops by every day, that makes things crawl," Grant explained.
When construction was finished three months later, the family moved into its flip-flopped and updated house.
The front yard, once filled with patches of rangy grass, now has a deck and an English/California garden of lavender, rosemary, Mexican sage, tufted grasses and other plants that are green or purple or both.
The fairly large picture window that gave the original living room light was replaced by screened French doors that lead into the couple's new bedroom.
A new entry was created on the right side of the house, about halfway toward the back, which is reached along a wide path (the former driveway) made of broken concrete interspersed with woolly thyme.
It is here where the home's new identity shines bright, with an enormous white, wood ceiling and two walls of a rich, vibrant yellow. From the entry, the kitchen is to the left, the dining area is straight ahead, and the living room is to the right, with glass doors leading to the newly landscaped backyard.
While the home's original kitchen had yellow tile counters, this new kitchen's counters are made of a type of limestone that the Kirkpatricks like for its "monolithic" qualities.
For Grant, the great room has a Zen-like ambience with its solid-colored furniture and minimal clutter. "The more simple the materials and the cleaner the lines, the larger the room appears," he said. "It's less confusing."
After living in the flip-flopped house for more than a year, the couple and their kids plan on making it a long-term roost. "It's a fun place to live," Grant said.
Kathy Price-Robinson is a freelance writer who has reported about remodeling for nine years. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Project: Switch rooms around and remodel 1940s bungalow.
Architect: Grant Kirkpatrick, Kirkpatrick Associates Architects, Santa Monica, (310) 264-4800.
Interior Design: Grant and Shaya Kirkpatrick.
Contractor: Baldwin Construction, Palos Verdes Estates,
Duration: Three months.