Craftsman Chalet

Alongtime resident of Southern California, architect Douglas S. Ewing, AIA, and his wife have a love for the older sections of Los Angeles. As an accomplished architect, he also has a deep appreciation for the history of residential design, particularly those forms that first took hold in L.A. in the early part of the last century and spread elsewhere in the country.

There is no section of town that is older or more desirable than central Pasadena, nor is there a form of architecture as closely related to this town than the Craftsman style. Many Craftsman masterpieces line its older streets.

One home, in particular, situated in a very central location, had been neglected and went vacant for over a decade before Ewing and his wife entered negotiations to purchase the dilapidated Craftsman chalet. And though those negotiations did not result in a sale, as luck would have it, Ewing was recommended by the broker and brought in to completely restore the home for the eventual owners, a young family.

After more than three years of research, design and construction, Ewing completely restored the home very close to its original condition. For its efforts, the Ewing team received a preservation award from the city of Pasadena, and at the Remodeling Show last month, the architecture firm also received a Gold Award from this magazine in the category of Historic Restoration.

“To me it is symbolic of the Adirondack mountains. It is a woodsy kind of place,” says Ewing. “There are houses in the Adirondacks — a place where I have traveled extensively — that have this kind of feel. That is why I liked it.”

Researching its Origins

The home had lost many of its original features by the early 2000s, when Ewing first encountered the property. It was clearly built in the Craftsman style, but much of the exterior trim had been replaced. Very little of the trellis work in front of the house and in the yard remained. On the inside, the home’s kitchens and bathrooms had been gutted and replaced at some point during the late 1950s or early 1960s. The key for Ewing was to try to locate original plans for the house and perhaps to obtain the name of architect in the process. Unfortunately, records for the house were almost non-existent. A breakthrough did come, however, in the form of a 1920s newspaper article about the home, complete with a color lithograph of the front elevation with the caption: “Residence of Dr. F.K. Ledyard.”

The lithograph was a revelation, says Ewing. The form, location and massing of the original trellis work at the head of the driveway, across the front porch and straddling the adjacent yard and gardens brought clarity not only to the context of the building but the entire property.

Ewing and team were able to determine that the original trim and trellis materials consisted entirely of redwood logs. The bark was left on the logs giving them a “furry” appearance, says Ewing. Because redwood logs of this type simply are not available today and partly because a cleaner-looking more durable product was desired by the client and architect, varnished natural pine logs from Montana were selected as replacements. Montana pine was used to reconstruct the trellis work as well as the half-log exterior trim around all of the home’s exterior windows and doors.

“These are all natural logs selected for their character,” explains Ewing. “The original building used ‘unturned’ natural redwood logs with a thick bark on them. They were pretty ugly. We sourced these pine logs in Montana. We sent up drawings and they basically cut and trimmed most of this log work up there. Then they brought it down, erected it and fit it to the house. It took them a couple of months to do it. And it really turned out looking great.”

The 1920s newspaper image also brought to light other lost features of the home. In particular, there is a discernible porch on the second floor completely trimmed in logs and a matching railing. At some point in the home’s middle period, the room was enclosed more fully and its logs removed.

For the restoration, Ewing added back the outdoor deck, commandeering a small amount of space from the enclosed portion of the sleeping porch. Interestingly, this had the effect of reducing the net indoor square of the home negligibly, taking it from 3,792 sq. ft. down to 3,744 sq. ft. This porch is now part of a bedroom suite designed for a young daughter in the family.
At the other end of the house, a key feature was little changed over the years. A two-floor, three-sided sunroom is capped with a beautiful masonry fireplace and chimney which, despite all that had gone wrong with the rest of the house, barely needed to be tuckpointed after all of the intervening years since it was constructed.

These sunny rooms on the upper and lower floors of the home offer beautiful views on both sides. The upper floor portion is a sitting room for a reconfigured master suite. To one side there is the view of the home’s gardens, its trellis work and the pool. The other side offers spectacular natural views of the San Gabriel mountains, which are almost adjacent to the property.

The only significant alterations to the original program of the home were found in three places — the kitchen, the bathrooms and a rear outbuilding, which was converted to a guest house. The other spaces were restored to their original dimensions and styles.

Demolition and Construction

Beyond its authentic Craftsman character, much of the desirability of the home is its excellent location within Pasadena. “It is on a very good street, with lots of old trees,” explains Ewing.

But those familiar with the area also know that this part of Pasadena is particularly prone to earthquakes. The home had doubtless survived the pressures of many temblors over the years. Yet, down in the bowels of the home, Ewing discovered that the home sat only on a foundation of dry-stacked bricks that were set in a double-cross hatch pattern.

“The only thing holding the foundation together was the collective weight of the building,” Ewing said in amazement. It was a miracle that the home had not fallen down during a quake. And there was evidence that previous quakes had caused damage. It had certainly settled in some spots, leaving floors way out of level and windows and doors that were out of kilter.
The remedy was to jack up the house in 30-ft. sections, dig out the old bricks and pour a new concrete foundation. It was a long process that ate up three months of the project timeline, but it was work that had to be done, particularly because the overall restoration investment was to come in at $1.35 million.

Before the home was jacked up, many of the interior and exterior walls were disassembled. The exterior cladding, 4-ft. long redwood “barn” shingles, were scrapped and replaced. Many of the old bracket supports of the characteristically wide, Craftsman style, 5-ft. eaves, had begun to suffer from dry rot and cracking due to lack of maintenance. Those redwood timbers were replaced with unturned, Montana pine. (Turned logs end up looking more finished, more rounded, like telephone poles.)

In this fashion, detail by painstaking detail, the restoration came together in bits, until the original character of the unique home began shining through. As is the case with all successful old-house restorations, good results stem directly from a commitment to add back the details.

Fast Facts About the Project:

  • Remodeler: D.S. Ewing Architects, Pasadena, Calif.
  • Project location: Pasadena, Calif.
  • Year built: 1909
  • Date remodel began: April 2004
  • Date complete: July 2007
  • Sq. footage before: 3,792
  • Sq. footage after: 3,744
  • Total project cost: $1.35 million
  • Project scope: Fully restore interiors, exteriors, out-structures and grounds to their original character. Ewing provided architectural, interior and landscaping design and construction management services.

Specified Products

Bath cabinets: Custom designed by Ewing Architects, built by Baja Building Services
Bath fixtures: Toto St. Thomas
Bath fixtures: Rohl CA Faucets
Brick/masonry: Natural stone boulders, flagstone, poured-in-place “vintage look” concrete
Decking: Redwood, custom designed and built
Doors interior: Refurbished existing doors
Doors exterior: Refurbished existing and custom designed by Ewing, built by Arcadia Sash & Door
Fireplace: Refurbished existing
Flooring: Vinyl
Flooring wood: Quarter-sawn oak finished in place
Flooring tile/stone: Classic hex-shaped ceramic tile (bathroom floors only)
Hardware: Baldwin Classic Accents, refurbished existing
HVAC: Trane, Reggio Grilles
Insulation: R-60
Kitchen cabinets: Custom designed by Ewing Architects, built by Baja Building Services
Kitchen countertops: Granite
Kitchen appliances: Viking ovens, cooktop, dishwasher, refrigerator, microwave, ice machine, hood and vent
Kitchen appliances: Sub-Zero (guest house)
Lighting fixtures: Historical Lighting (Arroyo, Rejuvenation)
Paints/stains: Flood, Pratt & Lambert, Cabot Stain
Sheathing: Tyvek over 3/4-in. plywood shear wall
Siding: 3-ft. redwood barn shingles
Structural materials: Xypex modified concrete foundation, wood framing
Trim work: Lodge Pole Pine (bark off) logs
Windows: Refurbished existing and new ones custom designed by Ewing, built by Arcadia Sash & Door
Specialty windows: Arcadia Sash and Door
Other: Custom wood to match original