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Bungalow gets modern makeover inside

David Ritch opens up the interior with contemporary lines and furnishings while retaining the 1906 exterior.

December 12, 2009|By Debra Prinzing

Its exterior is classic California bungalow with beveled siding, wood-trimmed windows and a cheery gabled roof.

But inside the Venice house, owners David and Jennifer Ritch live with clean lines, an open floor plan and modern furnishings. Can the two styles -- cottage and contemporary -- coexist? How can 1906 California architecture meld with the design preferences of its 2009 occupants?

The Ritches asked themselves those questions when they decided not to demolish a 950-square-foot bungalow that the city of Los Angeles had already cited as a public eyesore.

"The house was worthless," David Ritch says. "I bought it based only on the land value."

A partner in 5D Studio, which specializes in contract furniture and graphic design, Ritch considers himself "a modernist, not a bungalow guy." He describes his wife, Jennifer Ritch, who worked in the film industry and is now studying nursing, as "a minimalist who doesn't want clutter."

When Ritch bought the decrepit house in 2005, the property came with the previous owner's architectural plans for a three-story, 3,000-square-foot contemporary cube similar to other homes in the neighborhood. "But it was a lot more house than I needed," Ritch says, especially considering the scale of the 30-by-85 foot lot.

Instead, Ritch decided to act as his own designer and create a fresh, new home that fit his budget and architectural aesthetic. He tried to save money by giving away the old bungalow on Craigslist to anyone who would haul it away. ("I thought someone else could use it," he says.)

The gimmick caught the attention of a local television newscast and led to lots of inquiries, but the $20,000 house-moving expense deterred prospective takers.

That led to Plan B: Keep the bungalow, but give it a modern makeover.

"Maintaining the original scale and character of the house was more in line with my design sensibilities," Ritch says. "Rather than adding another large home to the neighborhood, my challenge was to get three bedrooms and two baths into less than 1,100 square feet."

Designer Mark Saffell, Ritch's partner in 5D Studio, acknowledges that turning the old bungalow into a modern abode wasn't the easiest solution.

"I knew David could do it, though, because he treated the renovations as just another design problem," Saffell says. "The real challenge of the house was its size, and he played with that floor plan to make it feel larger than the actual square footage."

Ritch tackled the renovations with simple, space-saving ideas, not unlike his approach to designing office work stations and stackable, ergonomic chairs. His architecture and urban planning training also served him well, though he hired a contractor to handle the foundation and framing.

"To cut costs, I did most of the finish work and managed all the subcontractors myself," Ritch says. That kept the renovation budget to $220 per square foot.

Surprisingly, once the low ceiling and deep, overhanging porch were removed, the interior spaces felt open and uncluttered. Ritch bumped out the living and dining areas into the former porch space, enlarging the interiors by 150 square feet. Two original cottage windows now appear just below the ceiling's new ridge beam. Twin sets of French doors connect with the entry garden, a series of terraced decks enclosed by a privacy fence made of horizontal slats and beveled siding, emulating the cottage exterior. Because of its varied levels, the tiny courtyard can accommodate multiple features, including a fire bowl, seating area and fountain.

Indoors, a new 14-foot vaulted ceiling adds volume to the combined kitchen, dining and living areas. Ritch lightened up the surfaces with pickled oak flooring, rift oak veneer cabinetry, white walls and ceilings, and large skylights. A ladder serves as an architectural element and climbs to a carpeted treehouse-like loft, boosting family space by 120 square feet.

"It is a great way to get an extra room for kids' sleepovers," Ritch says.

The kitchen is tucked into an 8-by-8-foot area. Because it's exposed to the rest of the house, Ritch warmed it up with surfaces that echo furniture finishes; the hood, dishwasher and refrigerator are clad in the same oak that backs a living room bookcase. Cabinet doors and drawer fronts have hidden finger notches instead of hardware, giving the cooking space an unfussy, tailored look that's further enhanced by Caesarstone quartz countertops.

The living room centers on a new gas fireplace embellished with an anise flower stencil from the Venice-based wall graphics company Blik. Other lighthearted touches include a shadowbox coffee table that Jennifer Ritch filled with feathered boas, and a ceiling-to-floor bookcase made of 4-inch thick "floating" shelves. An Eames molded plywood chair and a Nelson Coconut chair provide seating along with a pit sofa modified to fit the small area.

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