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A remodeling rite of passage

At 16, David Huber took it on himself to design a new kitchen for his long-suffering mom.

October 05, 2003|Kathy Price-Robinson | Special to The Times

For as long as he could remember, David Huber's mother wanted just one thing every Christmas: a new kitchen.

Linda Huber had cooked for her family for nearly 30 years in the Hawthorne home's compact kitchen, with its original cabinets and barely 4 feet of counter space. It was so tiny she could reach the stove, sink and refrigerator without taking a full step.

So at age 16, in the summer of 2002, between his sophomore and junior years of high school, David designed and built his mother her dream kitchen.

The large galley kitchen with maple cabinets, hardwood floor and long expanses of granite counters is "1,000 times better" than what she expected, Linda said. Her Christmas wish list these days? "I don't need anything now."

Of course, David's parents financed the new kitchen and the accompanying upgrade to the front of the house. And dad Norbert, a middle school math teacher, spent his summer vacation working on the kitchen as well. But all agree that David, who wants to be an architect, was the driving force.

"I give him all the credit," Norbert said. "I'm the worker."

The house was built in 1948 with two bedrooms and one bathroom in 900 square feet. Though small by today's standards, it was big enough for the couple in 1974 when they bought it. While Linda disliked the cramped, outdated kitchen from the beginning, adding another bedroom and bathroom were priorities as the family grew to include three children.

As a young boy, David showed an avid interest in design and construction. "His Legos were pretty elaborate," Linda recalled. On family car trips, David would critique architecture from the car window and denounce houses he considered "trashy."

In fifth grade, David's teacher gave his class an assignment to fabricate a garage in miniature scale out of cardboard. While most students turned in little more than plain boxes, David's creation included multiple roof slopes, operable doors and a swimming pool.

Still, when David proposed the remodel, Linda was hesitant to allow her teenage son to design her new kitchen.

"I was kind of afraid," she said, and suggested hiring an architect. But as David started putting his ideas on paper early last year and eventually made a scale model of the new space and front facade, Linda agreed. And she knew David and Norbert were competent craftsmen because they had designed and constructed a garage two years ago, successfully navigating the city's permitting and inspection process.

David's first idea had been to just gut the existing kitchen and put in new cabinets and counters. Linda didn't see the point. "It still would have been small."

The house is only 24 feet wide and on a narrow lot, so the most logical way to get more space was to extend the existing kitchen 5 feet toward the street. Extending the other side of the front of the house to match would create a dining room area where none had existed.

In late May 2002, with the plans taking shape, the family went shopping for cabinets at Lowe's. Linda found her tastes leaning toward a lighter wood and chose maple cabinets with a honey finish. The Hubers paid extra for cabinets that went all the way to the ceiling and ended up paying $1,000 more to have all-wood cabinets and drawers with no particleboard.

For counters, Linda thought tile would be too much work to keep clean, laminate not fancy enough and Corian nice but just as expensive as what she really wanted: granite. "When you live with a crummy kitchen for 30 years, you want what you want," she said, "within reason."

Demolition started in late June with Linda removing the frontyard landscaping. An unplanned $140 expense was incurred when falling debris broke a car windshield.

Next, forms were built to extend the foundation, and the city was called in to inspect the work before the concrete was poured. City inspectors helped guide the project at each step.

At the front of the house, David's plan called for three gables -- one for the kitchen, one for the entryway and one for the new dining area. "A lot of thought went into this," he said of the somewhat complex design.

Using siding, white trim and corbels, David managed to create a Craftsman look out of what had been a stucco box. As his mother recalled, "He didn't want it to look like any other house."

The remodel, which cost $31,000 and added 250 square feet to the home, also included other upgrades. The acoustical material was scraped from the living room ceiling, the hardwood floors were refinished, the house was re-stuccoed and the roof was replaced. David and Norbert did most of the work themselves but subcontracted the roofing, drywall finishing, stucco work, floor work and granite counter installation.

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