When Leanna Sun bought her Miracle Mile duplex in 1999, it seemed like a miracle. She was divorced and between jobs.
Sun was able to buy the 1923 property, however, with savings, financial help from her mother and brother, an impeccable credit rating and employment pending. And, because the property -- with a 700-square-foot one-bedroom unit to share with her daughter and a similar unit for her mother -- was dark and dumpy and had been on the market for more than a year, she was able to purchase it for just $289,000, slightly lower than the area's going rate at the time.
"It was luck," Sun said. "Nobody wanted it."
After five years of sharing a bedroom with her daughter, Camille, now 10, Sun was ready for a room of her own.
"I needed my own space," she said, recalling the crowded room strewn with Camille's toys. "I was at the point of losing my mind."
So earlier this year, using $40,000 from an equity loan, Sun added a bedroom, a bathroom and a sunny wooden deck.
Even before she talked to contractors about the remodel, she knew that adding another bedroom onto the back of her unit would be tricky.
One contractor said that the new bedroom would have to be accessed through the original, like train cars end to end. Another warned that the project would be extremely costly, which struck a nerve with Sun.
"I felt self-conscious about not being rich," recalled Sun, who now has two jobs -- as a legal secretary and working at a retail clothing store -- to make ends meet.
Then she got a referral for contractor Brian Koh, who, a friend promised, would change her life.
As soon as the Los Angeles-based licensed contractor walked in the front door, he had ideas about how to improve the unit. He suggested new windows for the dining room to replace the broken 1960s-era louvered windows and brighten up the space.
And when he saw the bedroom at the rear, it immediately occurred to him that if one side of the room was sacrificed for a hallway, Camille could have a small bedroom in the remaining space and Sun's new bedroom and bathroom could be built beyond that and accessed through the new hall.
"Sometimes you have an inspiration," said Koh, who was a civil engineer in Korea before he immigrated to the United States in 1977.
Sun was comfortable with Koh's ideas and vision. "I felt he really understood" what was needed, she said.
And she liked that Koh had his own crew of 14 workers. Using his workers, rather than relying on subcontractors, Koh said, allows him to have more control over the quality of the work and the schedule.
He suggested adding a modest bedroom and a bathroom and a walk-in closet, for a total of about 400 square feet. Sun was happy to see that his plan called for white oak floors and "not fake stuff."
To make the new bedroom seem larger, double French doors would open to the backyard. But the yard was small and ragged, and Sun thought she would just cement it over. Koh, however, came up with the idea of an arbor-covered deck and lawn area during his daily meetings with his foremen.
"Five minds are better than one," he said.
The project started in March and was completed 10 weeks later. Sun's mother pitched in by bringing the crew refreshments, while Sun tried not to micromanage.
She likened the experience to working with artists: "You've got to let them do their own thing."
But Sun did speak up when she saw that the deck was not surrounded with the railings she had envisioned. Koh explained to her that a foreman suggested putting a railing on just one side and creating steps leading from two sides of the deck and out to the backyard. The benefits of the stepped-down design finally dawned on Sun, who has some Chinese heritage. "That's Asian style."
The backyard itself was landscaped with a lawn and flowers, and the landscaper took the white fencing that once enclosed the area and leaned it against a back wall to serve as a trellis for bougainvillea.
The addition -- and the breathing room it has provided -- have made a tremendous difference in her life, Sun said, as well as her daughter's.
Camille got to pick the colors for her new room, and she chose her favorite blue. Her room has a table and chairs, a television and her own framed artwork. Sun furnished her own room with an antique bed, rugs and an armoire. Her closet has more room than she needs, and the wooden deck is outfitted with vintage iron and wicker chairs.
Sun, who follows the principles of feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of placement, has bolstered the corner of her house associated with money and power with flowers and other symbols to continue her good fortune.
"It just all came together beautifully," Sun said of the addition, crediting her contractor. "He gave me a lot of peace and tranquillity in my life."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Project: Bedroom, bathroom and deck addition to 1 1923 duplex in Miracle Mile.
Duration: 10 weeks
Contractor: A-Team Construction, Brian Koh, Los Angeles, (323) 727-5000.
Carpenter for arbor: Tripp Rezac, Los Angeles, (310) 462-5540.
Landscaper: Green Thumb Landscaping, Arturo Leon, Los Angeles, (323) 243-0670.
Kathy Price-Robinson is a freelance writer who has written about remodeling for 15 years. If you would like to have your remodel considered for use in Pardon Our Dust, please send before and after images and a brief description of the project to email@example.com, or mail them to Real Estate Editor, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012.