Austrian native Stefan Hammerschmidt used a simple strategy in remodeling his 1924 Craftsman bungalow: He cooked.
To bring out the best in framers, roofers, electricians, plumbers, cabinet makers, painters and other workers, Hammerschmidt fed them such home-cooked Austrian meals as pork roast with mashed potatoes, Wienerschnitzel with parsley potatoes and veal roulade stuffed with mushrooms and caramelized onions.
"I cooked lunch for the whole construction crew every Friday for seven months," said Hammerschmidt, who earlier this year completed the $290,000 remodel and second-story addition on his vintage Venice bungalow.
"They just loved my Wienerschnitzel," said Hammerschmidt, who cooked for three or four people, or for as many as 14, depending on who was on the job that day. Meals included a main dish, one or two side dishes, and, "of course, dessert."
In Austria, Hammerschmidt explained, "It is tradition for the homeowner to cook for the construction crew almost every day."
The Friday feasts, which Hammerschmidt prepared in the tiny Marina del Rey studio where he lived during the seven-month remodel, were simply an extension of his food-centered past. He owned and managed a regional inn and restaurant in his native country for 10 years.
But in the mid-1990s, Hammerschmidt came to the United States with the goal of becoming a landscape architect, moved into an apartment on Montana Avenue in Santa Monica and began studies at UCLA.
During his years in the apartment, Hammerschmidt watched Montana turn ritzy and saw Santa Monica home prices soar, which nixed any hope that he could own a home there.
But as he worked on several residential landscape projects in Venice, he was captivated by the area's "funky, eclectic, dynamic" character.
Hammerschmidt found the charming but pint-sized Craftsman bungalow he would eventually buy when the owner of his apartment building, who lived in Venice, mentioned that his 86-year-old neighbor was thinking of selling.
As it turns out, Hammerschmidt and the owner of the bungalow had a lot in common: an Austrian heritage and a love of gardening.
"I might be selling," Hammerschmidt recalled the man saying. "Would you be cutting down the fruit trees?"
"No, I like them," said Hammerschmidt, who would not only keep the trees, but would later harvest the fruit to make dozens of jars of apricot and pineapple guava jam.
After he bought the house for $290,000 in 1999, Hammerschmidt lived in it for a while to get a feel for how to remodel it. He liked "the bones" of the house, the columned front porch and the six-light Craftsman windows. But he didn't like the cramped feeling and minuscule kitchen.
Hammerschmidt interviewed five architects, observing their responses to the house and garden. Three of them suggested tearing down the house and at least one suggested all but eliminating the garden space to build a bigger house. They were eliminated from the running.
In Hammerschmidt's mind, the "big stucco boxes" that are increasingly replacing old bungalows in Venice are "soulless." Still, he said, "these older homes aren't practical by today's standards." They lack storage space. Bedrooms tend to be small and dark. And foundations are often rickety.
"But that doesn't mean [old houses] have to disappear entirely," he said. "They are part of our city's rich heritage."
He finally hired Payson Denny Architects, whose work on another Craftsman remodel he discovered while canvassing Venice's walk streets, where homes on small lots back up onto alleys and face pedestrian walkways rather than streets.
Ken Payson and his wife lived on a Venice walk street for 13 years before moving to Santa Fe, N.M., but they still maintain an active practice on the Westside through e-mail, phone, faxes and regular visits.
Hammerschmidt had some remodeling experience from Austria and, according to Payson, knew more about remodeling than 99% of his clients.
"He was stern and very skeptical that Peg and I could tell him anything he didn't know," Payson said. "We weren't going to push him around."
The homeowner warmed to the architects, however, and took advantage of their skills. Together, the three designed a remodel that kept the bungalow facade and charm, but added openness, light, space and storage, including a second story.
The original house was organized in the traditional bungalow fashion--living room, dining room and kitchen on one side, two bedrooms and a bath on the other--but was too small to include a hallway. The front bedroom opened directly into the living room, and the back bedroom into the kitchen, with the bathroom set in between.
For the redesign, the doorway into the front bedroom was widened and the room was transformed into a library/guest room with a luxury bathroom attached.
The flat ceiling of the bathroom was pushed up into the sloping roofline, and a large skylight added. Wainscot bead board, 1-inch hexagonal floor tiles and period fixtures maintain the 1920s ambience.