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Out of the past

A new generation of buyers seeks post-World War II homes frozen in time. Larger lots and a shot at their own remodeling fuel the trend.

June 13, 2004|Marnell Jameson | Special to The Times

Except for a room addition in 1962, Shelton and Helen Eaton left their Long Beach home largely the way it was when they became the home's first owners in 1952: same linoleum, same Formica, same pine cabinets.

Jim and Julie Bakken are glad they did. The Bakkens, who bought the 50-plus-year-old home in 2002, are bringing it into the 21st century while preserving the home's character.

"It was exactly what we were looking for," said Julie Bakken, 36. "We wanted this neighborhood, and we wanted a home where the owners had done very little remodeling. We wanted a good base that we could fix our way. You could tell this home had been cherished."

The Eatons, like many who remember the Great Depression, weren't big on extravagance, but kept their home in excellent repair. Over the years they'd replaced the roof, the windows and the plumbing. As for the rest, if it was serviceable, it stayed.

As people of that generation move on -- often to retirement or lower-maintenance housing -- a younger generation is moving in and refashioning homes that have been frozen in time to better suit their tastes and needs.

Unlike 30 to 40 years ago, homes today have to accommodate computers, telecommuters, home-based businesses, kids who need technical work alcoves, and blended or extended immigrant families, said Barry Berkus, architect and owner of B3 Architects in Santa Barbara, a firm that specializes in housing and urban planning.

"So much has changed since the 1950s in the way we ask our homes to serve our needs," said Berkus, who has been designing homes for 45 years and has studied this trend. "We have many different ages and more diversity living together, so homes need to accommodate that."

Younger buyers acquiring older homes, Berkus observed, tend to make the same kinds of changes: They update kitchens and baths, expand master bedrooms into master suites, add storage space, remodel garages, create rooms with flexibility -- such as great rooms to serve as living, dining and entertainment rooms -- and make the outdoors more inviting.

That covers what the Bakkens have in mind. The first-time buyers have added 600 square feet to the original 1,200-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath home. They expanded the master bedroom, added a closet for him and expanded one for her.

They enlarged the master bathroom, remodeling it with travertine, a spacious shower, maple cabinets and a vanity. In the second bathroom they added slate floor tile, a large bathtub with jets and antiqued white wainscoting. They added crown molding in every room, including the bathrooms, and created a laundry room by enclosing a small covered patio adjacent to the kitchen. The original owners had a washer and dryer in the one-car garage.

Much of the added square footage was used to create a great room. The former living room, which was more like a small parlor, is now a dining area off the kitchen with a fireplace where people can gather while dinner's cooking.

Underway is the conversion of the one-car garage into a 2 1/2-car garage -- space for two cars plus a workshop for Jim.

The kitchen will be next. For that remodel, the Bakkens plan to take out a wall to integrate the kitchen with the rest of the house. They will replace old counters with granite, and put in maple cabinets, an island, a bar seating area, slate floors and new appliances.

"I could see why people used to keep their kitchens hidden," Julie said. "They weren't too pretty to look at. But this one will be one you want to see."

To create indoor-outdoor flow, they replaced two picture windows in the former living room with a sliding door for access to the yard. In the side yard, they plan to cover the existing concrete patio with Mexican paver tiles and plants, and add an eating area. "The new space will feel a lot more lush," Julie said.

To keep costs down, Jim, 38, who did construction work in high school, is doing much of the remodeling himself. When completed, Julie estimates they will have put about $100,000 to $120,000 into the home, which they purchased for $286,000. A comparable home on a busier street in the established community, she said, just sold for $660,000.

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Don't change a thing

"A lot of buyers prefer to buy in an older neighborhood -- even if that means updating the property -- because they get more house on more land," said Doug Hamilton, a broker associate with First Team Real Estate, who in February represented Maxine Staump in the sale of her 43-year-old home in Orange.

Staump, 75, wanted to downsize. Her two children are long grown, and her husband died in 1991. While she had kept her home in good working condition, the decor was much the way it had been for the 33 years she lived there.

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