Detailed success

It speaks volumes when a home’s roof is raised a few feet and the remodeling contractor describes the process as “easy.” What it says is, the real challenges were in the details. Such is the case with this whole-home remodel in Montecito, Calif., which is all about zero-tolerances and clean lines.

Details included making the garage door look … well … perfect, as well as hanging the entry door for optimal performance and superb appearance. Most of the finish carpenter’s efforts were spent on these two elements, to the delight of the home’s owner, Brian Donahoo.

“Everybody who comes to my home notices the details of the front door and the garage door,” Donahoo says. “That carpenter [Art Gonzalez] truly is an artist. His work is fantastic.”

Donahoo can thank Ben Cervantes of Allen Associates in Santa Barbara, Calif., for bringing Gonzalez onto the project. Allen Associates was the building contractor on this job. Cervantes says one of Gonzales’ goals was for the wood grain on the garage door panels to line up perfectly. “To laminate that quarter-inch on the garage panels, [Gonzales] set up work horses and painstakingly aligned the plywood so every grain matched up. All the time he spent on it was worth it; the door is stunning.”

Another object of detail was the front entry door. Cervantes explains: “The front door was so heavy. Before trying to install the hardware, [Gonzales] mocked up a smaller door with a jamb and set the hardware to test it to make sure everything would work perfectly. Once it was mocked up he showed the homeowner and the architect how much clearance around it there’d be, and they approved it. We had to put that door up and take it down many times to make sure we set it perfectly. Now, that door is perfect. It ended up being more of a challenge than the garage door.

“Brett [Ettinger, the designer] wanted the grains to match as much as possible, but saying it and doing it are different things, and doing it is tricky. I think the results exceeded expectations,” Cervantes adds. Ettinger is a partner in Ferguson-Ettinger Architects in Santa Barbara.

The entire entryway was created where previously there was none. It was unclear to visitors how they should enter the house. Now, instead of gaining access through a pair of sliding doors in a shady area on the side of the house, guests follow a natural stone path to a 5-foot-wide, custom-crafted and stained Douglas fir entry door, Cervantes notes. [See cover photo for details.]

One other important area of detail was the edge of the bottom step leading to the backyard deck. When the forms were removed from the concrete step, the corners were to remain raw instead of working them with a trowel. “I walked onto the site one day and noticed one of the guys smoothing out the raw edge. He ended up having to recreate that step. The details were that important,” Cervantes explains.

Changes in Life, Home

Donahoo had been living in a second home and renting this one as a source of income. He decided the home he was living in was too large for his lifestyle, and it was time to remodel his smaller home to serve as his main residence. It was important to keep the home’s size unchanged for two reasons: Donahoo wanted a small, manageable home to maintain, and zoning rules were restrictive.

Donahoo had seen examples of Ettinger’s work and wanted him to redesign his new home. After hammering out the basic floor plan and turning over his must-have details, Donahoo placed his trust in Ettinger and let him “…run with the design. I said I didn’t want to have a high-maintenance home. I never wanted to feel overwhelmed with maintaining a large home. I wanted it to be functional for my life. That’s why, for the most part, we kept the home small.”

This contemporary remodel is an example of how a house can be transformed without adding significant square footage or completely tearing down the existing structure. Although popping out the living room and expanding the entry space goes against the keep-it-small approach, it added only 300 square feet to the overall size of the home. Beyond this, all changes took place within the home’s original footprint and on its “good bones,” Cervantes recalls. “The living room was expanded by popping up the ceiling 3 feet and pushing out the wall by 5 feet. It took two structural beams and substantial footings to carry that new load. Then we put in Fleetwood windows, which was not easy because we had taken out the exterior wall and had to shore up the ceiling. We put in extra steel, reframed everything and attached existing joists to the new beam.”

Progress of the entire project was delayed because of large amounts of rain. “We got behind on the schedule, so we set a new date for completion and met it,” Cervantes says. “I scheduled things much tighter. It took some finagling and refereeing of all the trades, making them work as one unit to get it accomplished. All of my trade contractors and in-house people accomplished it, together. It certainly was out of the ordinary, but not unheard of. It was their teamwork that made this project a success.”

Paper Trail

Ettinger was very detail-oriented, not only in his design but in his processes, too. “What he drew was what he wanted to see come to life. It was my job to bring his vision to life exactly as he designed it. And everything had to be paper-trailed. I would RFI everything, no matter how small the detail,” Cervantes says.

The paper trail was important because it created a home Donahoo says he loves every day, even after living in the home for awhile. “I still notice new details, even today. And I love it. It feels perfect.”