Serendipity may not be the first word that comes to mind when considering a remodeling project. But no other word comes close to capturing the experience of Pasadena, Calif.-based HartmanBaldwin Design/Build on its renovation of a historic bungalow in Claremont, Calif., which won a 2010 Gold/Best in Show Master Design Award from Qualified Remodeler in its Historic Restoration category.
The house’s pedigree was excellent, but its condition was horrendous. Built in 1903 for Mary Reeve Darling, the house was designed by the renowned California firm Greene & Greene, famous for its “ultimate bungalows,” which are large, detailed Craftsman-style homes, such as the Gamble House in Pasadena. More than a century after its construction, however, the Darling House had suffered from poor renovations in almost every area, as well as natural wear and tear. The roof, windows and shingles had all been replaced, and much of the house’s historic character and charm had been lost.
But HartmanBaldwin Design/Build had a couple things going for it. First, the homeowner, Andrew Wright, is a prominent developer in the area who already was familiar with the firm’s design/build capabilities. He and his wife Blenda did a walk-through with the firm and asked for an expert opinion about whether the house could be simultaneously modernized and restored. Here’s where serendipity came in: By pure coincidence, the firm had recently hired a project architect, Alan Brookman, who was a longtime docent at the Gamble House and a Greene & Greene aficionado.
After conducting a feasibility study, the firm was confident the house could be updated in a historically sensitive way—an effort that would require meticulous research and historical detective work. The team also made it a priority to incorporate sustainable design elements, leading the project to become the first historic GreenPoint-rated house under California’s Build it Green program.
“The goal was not to restore it to its past state, since it was truly unlivable for a modern-day family, but to protect as much of the architecture’s integrity without sacrificing comfort, function and energy efficiency,” says Bill Baldwin, HartmanBaldwin Design/Build owner and chief executive officer. “The goal was to restore and renovate it so a future generation would have the opportunity to experience the home.”
Cues from the Past
The design/build team organized the remodel in three phases: The first involved the construction of a new garage and studio to complement the main house without sacrificing views of the property from the street. The second phase was the complete house renovation, including a new master suite upstairs; new kitchen, laundry room and bathroom downstairs; and new shingle siding and a shake roof. The third phase involved implementing a complete landscape plan designed to maximize privacy.
In addition to the house’s deteriorated condition, its orientation on the property posed a serious challenge. Located on a corner parcel consisting of two lots, the house is set back on the rear lot, allowing no private yard space and little wiggle room for additions. One of the first decisions was to relocate the house’s original carriage house to another property to make room for a new three-car garage and studio. The garage mimics the design and scale of the original carriage house and was positioned so it naturally created more private garden space on the lot.
For the main renovation, Brookman spent many hours reviewing the home’s original blueprints, as well as other Greene & Greene houses and documentation, to understand what elements had been lost and what could be restored or re-created. “In all cases we looked to the Greenes’ work for design cues,” Brookman says.
In the kitchen, for example, modern appliances were hidden behind period-appropriate cabinetry wherever possible, and fixtures were carefully chosen to not be too obviously modern. This sometimes required compromise. The initial proposed cabinets were based on board-and-batten designs the Greenes were doing in their early Craftsman-style kitchens, but the client ultimately found their appearance to be too heavy. So the firm settled on a hybrid design based on cabinets the Greenes did for their Gamble and DeForest houses.
Choosing appropriate countertop material posed another problem. Polished granite was not only anachronistic, but also stylistically inappropriate for the rustic Darling-Wright House. The team instead chose a green-honed quartzite that had a rough, raised grain with a contrasting golden, polished quartzite for the sideboard and island.
The biggest challenge probably involved the kitchen lighting, Brookman explains. “I had wanted to use period ceiling fixtures, but the ceiling was so low to begin with that it would have reduced the open ceiling space, making the room feel cramped or like you’d have to duck each time you passed under a fixture,” he says. “Cree had just introduced their LED recessed lighting at that time, and that was unobtrusive enough to make a reasonable and energy-efficient compromise.”
The toilets proved to be a particularly remarkable find, again evidence of serendipity at work. “I had seen a clawfoot shower once when I was a docent at another Greene & Greene landmark, the Blacker House, and went looking for one for a restoration project of a 1911 Craftsman in Pomona,” Brookman recalls. “I stumbled across the Bathroom Machineries ‘Lydia’ low-flow reproduction toilet on that search. [Ultimately] I wasn’t able to use the Lydia on that project, and thus vowed to find another on which I could. The Darling-Wright House was absolutely perfect, and I was lucky the clients wanted to make the renovation as authentic as possible.” Similarly, for the showers, the team used a remote pressure-balance device that could meet anti-scald codes and still use a simple two-handled valve.
When the new master suite was constructed from two smaller bedrooms, it created a new problem in that the already low ceiling seemed far too low for the scale of the new space. The challenge was to raise the ceiling while maintaining the historic character of the house. In doing so, the team reused the vault from the porch, downstairs beamwork and the beadboard from under the eaves. The joint between the original redwood planking and the newer plans was disguised with a picture rail.
Reusing building materials not only helped preserve the house’s historic fabric, but it also contributed to the project’s sustainability goals. The team followed guidelines set forth by California’s Build it Green program for residential construction. Among other elements, the team chose low-VOC paints to protect indoor air quality, as well as an HVAC system with a high-efficiency filter to reduce air pollution. Some original plumbing fixtures, as well as a nonoriginal pedestal sink and kitchen sink, were removed and reused on another project.
“We knew from the beginning that conditioning the house was problematic; we were barely able to get a pressure reading during the blower-door test because the house was so leaky,” Brookman says. “Once we started looking closely at the state of the home’s systems, it became apparent that it would be worth the extra expenditure to properly seal and insulate the house and resize the HVAC systems simply to make the house more comfortable and energy efficient.”
The team approached the problem from the outside by removing the nonhistoric shingle siding, which made it possible to replace century-old wiring and plumbing and install new insulation without damaging the original interiors. “It was only a small step at that point to take the additional measures required to get a GreenPoint rating,” Brookman adds. “The prestige of the GreenPoint rating made the additional work an easy investment for our clients.”
Outside, the team drew up a complete landscape plan that included pergolas, stone walls, fencing, and water features that helped to define public and private places on the wide-open lot. Here again, history took precedent; the pergolas were modeled on ones designed by Greene & Greene for their C.C. Hollister and Blacker houses.
The house and its prominent lot also invited hundreds of curious visitors who watched the renovation. “It was a unique experience since we had to take extra care in securing the site,” says Troy Coats, project manager. “We even scheduled a couple of mid-construction tours in which they bussed people in from historical societies who were curious to see the home. At one of the tours we had nearly 200 people walk through the property. It was impressive.”
Brookman says while he knew the team had done a good job with the Darling-Wright house, it wasn’t until the clients threw a party for the design/build team that he realized how pleased they were. “In dealing with a work by architects as well known as the Greenes, we were lucky there is not only a wealth of information available about their designs, but also a great deal of reproduction and derivative works that are available,” Brookman says. “This made it much easier to find appropriate selections that fit modern needs without compromising history.”