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Pardon Our Dust / Remodelers' Tales

Stay Young--Remodel

As part of her secret for staying vibrant and healthy, a 79-year-old Corona del Mar condo owner decided to add a second bedroom and build a new kitchen.


Edie Farrell's new kitchen came into her life partly from need, partly from desire.

The idea for a new kitchen came about when Farrell, 79, decided to transform the kitchen of her one-bedroom condo into a second bedroom in case she or her husband, John Farrell, 81, fell ill and needed live-in help.

And that meant a new kitchen would have to be created where the dining room was, bordering the living room.

But it was also desire that drove Farrell, a retired real estate agent, toward her 1998 remodel.

"I enjoy it," she says of remodeling. And besides, it's part of her recipe for staying vibrant and healthy: "Do things. Remodel. Keep moving."

John Farrell, a retired manufacturing executive who has endured countless gutted homes and remodels during their 53-year marriage, calls her a "house-aholic."

"If I had it my way, we'd still be living in San Gabriel," says John Farrell, referring to the couple's first home. "I'm status quo. I'm content with what I have."

Though the desire for a second bedroom in their condo required the remodel, moving to a larger home was out of the question.

"This is as close to heaven as you can get," Edie Farrell says of her Corona del Mar bay-front condo, which she bought in 1975. Although the couple have owned and remodeled other homes over the years--including a ranch in Santa Barbara and a vacation home in the desert--they've enjoyed living on the bay most of all.

"We're done moving," Edie Farrell says.

To get started on her plans, she went to their son, Rob Farrell, a luxury-home builder at the time (he now works for a company that builds hospitals and schools).

Rob Farrell was familiar with what he calls his mother's remodeling "hobby." When he heard her scheme, he recalls laughing and saying: "Oh Mom, what are you doing now?" But he admitted that the plan had merit, and he agreed to design and build it for her.

As he would with any client, Rob Farrell sat down with her to carefully plan the project. This was a stretch for Edie Farrell, who likes to "get going and do it." But her son urged her to "do it right," which meant taking time to think the project through.

Tearing out the old kitchen and turning it into a garden-variety bedroom required little imagination. But designing the new kitchen took more thought.

Because the kitchen would be open to the living room, Edie Farrell wanted something that was "easy to look at." For her, that meant an Old World look with soft colors and textures. After two decades of looking at her dark wood cabinets, she was ready for something new.

She showed her son magazine ads for Smallbone, upper-end English handmade cabinets, so he would know what she was after.

But Rob Farrell already knew what his mother would like. "She's shown me all my life," he says. "She's not flamboyant. She's not nouveau riche. She's very traditional."

Both agreed on having an island, but they struggled with the material for the top. All choices had shortcomings. Granite was ruled out because Edie Farrell thought its hard, shiny surface would clash with the living room's used-brick fireplace, while Rob Farrell considers granite overused and trendy. Tile was considered, but Edie Farrell hates cleaning grout. Limestone was finally chosen for its warmth and elegance, even though it is soft and stains easily.

To provide a surface for messy food prep, the counters would get durable handmade tiles with the grout heavily sealed.

Rob Farrell sketched out the new kitchen in detail, including custom cabinets, costly upscale appliances and a tile floor. He figured the bedroom conversion and new kitchen would cost about $65,000.

As he presented his mom with the drawing, he thought: "She'll never do it. They'll never spend this kind of money."

"Great," Edie Farrell said. "Let's do it."

Demolition began in August 1998 and the project was finished that November. The couple remained in the condo during construction, placing their refrigerator on the patio, barbecuing a lot and washing dishes in the bathroom. They joined the nearby yacht club and dined there frequently.

Taking the old kitchen down to the studs took nine workers just two days. It was an emotional time for Edie Farrell, who had hired her son to remodel the kitchen in 1975.

"It was a beautiful kitchen," she says, recalling its beamed ceiling, dark wood cabinets and tile counters. Though she admits it was always too dark and too far removed from the living room, watching it being ripped out "was kind of like losing somebody. It was hard to see it go."

To extend water and sewer lines into the new kitchen area, channels were cut into the concrete slab before the new tile was laid. Huge sheets of plastic taped across the area kept dust out of the rest of the home.

The cabinets, which include 45 drawers throughout the kitchen, were built in a shop and then assembled on the site. A soft finish was critical to the overall look of the kitchen and took several weeks to complete. Brushed stainless cabinet pulls were then installed.

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