Sight for sore eyes

The homeowner loved his neighborhood but disliked what he saw each time he came home. He wanted to live in a Tuscan villa, not the house with no appeal he called home in Torrance, Calif. The new design would be a significant departure from the style of the neighborhood, but also would be an improvement, and an ideal for neighbors to strive for should they desire a change of their own some day.

The design team at Custom Design & Construction in El Segundo, Calif., took the owner’s basic vision for a Tuscan villa and ran with it. It included the addition of exterior details and custom elements, as well as the beautiful curved, double stairway leading to the main entrance. The seemingly identical twin set of stairways is not identical, to accommodate the uneven left-right topography that presented the main challenge for the CD&C team.

Topographical challenges such as the sloping property this home sits on are easily met, thanks to the close relationship between design and construction inherent within the design-build business model. “We’ll move heaven and Earth to complete the design as presented to a homeowner. We’re design-build, and we pride ourselves on building what we design. We’re creating our clients’ homes by choosing every nut and bolt,” says Bill Simone, president.

Design and construction must be in lock-step, says Randy Ricotti, vice president. “As design-builders, we must have the vision of the end product. We don’t want any element to look like an add-on or an accident. To do that right we must be in control of the design. As a result, our design process can take longer than construction. That said, design is not the core of our business; it’s the genesis of it. Construction is the core,” he explains.The Tuscan villa

The architecture of a Tuscan villa begins with a basic rectangular box with a hip roof and flat faade, Ricotti says. “We researched the style and looked at many representative images. Some of this home’s elements were a slight departure from what we saw in research, but for the most part we stuck to the Tuscan villa vernacular.”

When designing a specific style like a Tuscan villa, it’s important to adhere to elements such as proportions and size, but you can’t always be exact when working with an existing building, Simone says. “What we did was borrow as many of those details as we could and use them in a way they all worked together and speak to the style without trying to make it look like a decorated cupcake.”

Elements that contribute to the Tuscan style include the coloring of the stucco and the roof shingles, which, in this case, are lightweight concrete. Additionally, the copper gutters and downspouts add credibility to the style.

As most remodeling projects go, this one evolved in scope as the design phase progressed. For this project, the evolution involved architectural bells and whistles that steadily added cost. Luckily for this homeowner, CD&C offers financing through its own privately owned lending company, which allowed him to achieve the level of detail he wanted.

Prior to CD&C’s work on this house, the homeowner hired a different contractor to replace upper-level windows with new construction windows, which created scars on the existing stucco (see photo below). CD&C went into this project knowing the entire home’s exterior stucco finish would be replaced. Once the old standard California sand finish stucco was removed, it was replaced with a more smooth Santa Barbara finish, Ricotti says.

THE UPS AND DOWNS OF topography

Site topography presented two challenges. One was the slope from the front door to the sidewalk, and the other was from right to left across the property, Simone says. “On the existing house, the only way to the front door was up the driveway on the right and then along the sidewalk across the front of the house. The sidewalk was significantly lower on one side of the house than on the other. That’s why the curve of the stairway is longer on one side,” he adds.

The matching curved stairways were added to create a grand approach, which is suggestive of typical Tuscan villas, and gives the home street presence. It’s not a heavily trafficked street, but the stairs, landing and railing also provide protection at the front door and a little patio to sit on and mingle with neighbors, Simone adds.

Ricotti notes the serious nature of the mathematics involved in making the stair heights correct and disguising the slanted left-to-right nature of the property. “The home is level so the patio had to be level, but because the land is not level, the two sides to the stairway were significantly different in height, but it’s not immediately apparent upon first glance.”

A planter box was added to the patio railing in front of the house, which created decoration where previously there was none. The columns on either side of the front entry were dry-fit on-site before final installation because the homeowner had a concern about how certain seams between stone pieces lined up. The dry run assured the owner that the columns would appear exactly as he wanted.

Custom iron work is incorporated within the quatrefoils on the home’s upper level. “Without the ironwork the home just didn’t look right; it wasn’t the right curb appeal,” Ricotti says. “A custom iron worker can provide the exact nuances of age, scale and thickness you want. It’s worth the effort and investment.”

The pediment above the front door, like the columns, consists of many custom parts. “It did not come from a kit,” Ricotti notes. “The homeowner’s original idea was to have one level of stone, but he didn’t feel it was imposing enough. So we added crown moulding and a cap around it, and did the same for the window treatments.”

An interesting surprise was discovered during the process of un-recessing the existing front door. “The challenge here was significant,” Ricotti says. “Right above the front door is a small bathroom. The plumbing for that bathroom ran through the side walls of the recessed entryway. So, they had to be rerouted into the outside walls. It didn’t affect the design, but it was a fairly significant effort and cost to replumb those pipes.” QR

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