Home renovations are exciting creative endeavors as well as huge labor-intensive projects. Though each one is distinct, some of the most fascinating processes involve expanding the boundaries of what the meaning of "home" is. Not all renovations are simply a house after all.
In this series, This Is Home, we're sharing unique houses from all around the world in which everyone from DIY enthusiasts to design experts has transformed an unexpected space into one that's not only livable but design-focused, too. These stories delve into the backgrounds of remarkable places, the processes, and all the challenges and wins along the way while making a home out of it, whether it's a barn, castle, cabin, or schoolhouse. No matter what, they're spaces that people call home.
Homes hold a lot of history in their bones. Over the years, as trends roll in and recede, sheetrock gets covered by wallpaper, wood floors are and stripped again. Rooms get boarded up or opened up completely. As these layers are continually added and removed, "home" takes shape for whoever is living in it.
Though designing a home should have personal tastes front and center, there is something to be said about a space that peels back everything and returns to its roots—that's quite a transformation in itself. This is exactly what Home Front Build's design director Goli Karimi did to an inherently mid-century modern treasure nestled in Altadena, California.
She and the firm she's part of oversaw the renovation of a home that was bursting at the seams with flair from the era, salvaging what they could, and creating a beautiful new home that still paid tribute to the space it began as.
Before seeing the transformation, the house was in a much different state. "When this house was purchased 25+ years ago, it was bank-owned and had sat vacant for some time," explains Karimi. "The house still had the original windows, doors, bathrooms, and kitchen. Everything on the interior was painted white (except thankfully for the wood ceiling in living areas which was spared and still has the original finish) and had new off-white carpeting throughout."
Several parts of the home were damaged from termites and dry rot and the backyard had been under siege by weeds and erosion. Some areas were also in need of decorative first aid: "At some point in the '80s, the original brick fireplace was clad in gray marble," says Karimi.
Though a home reno can go in any kind of direction, the particular history of this home was a clear source of inspiration and she wanted to ensure its soul stayed intact.
Karimi says that the house was once a plot near an arroyo that was brimming with orange groves and gardens. Over the years the area was broken up into viable plots for building homes, with the house next door being one of the first homes to pop up. Last but not least, in the late '50s, the land the renovated home now sits on was sold.
"The current house was built in 1960 on top of original concrete and river rock landings and steps which function as retaining walls," she says. "The house is beautifully situated on a sloped lot without changing its topography and to take advantage of sweeping views of the San Gabriel Mountains."
The creation of the house has a unique backstory, too. "The house was designed and built by Swiss-born artist Gisela Meier, who was mentored by Kem Weber, and went on to design and build more homes in the Pasadena and La Canada area," says Karimi. Weber himself was responsible for iconic mid-century modern furniture, such as the Airline chair, and the design of special buildings (a la Disney's Burbank complex).
Renovating a home with a history like this doesn't require maintaining the original look, but admittedly, this space's architectural foundation was the perfect candidate for celebrating its origins. How does one go about tackling a space with so much personality and quite a few fixes needed in the first place? Karimi's priority began outside.
"The first project after purchasing the house was to reroof, rebuild the deck, and landscape the front and back yards, which took several months," she says. "After several years, the next project was to change all glass sliding doors and windows with dual glazing and replace the water heater and mechanical equipment to reduce energy usage."
The flooring and that gray marble fireplace saw upgrades as well. Karimi went with cork for the former and chose thin stacking stones for the latter, all of which took over two months. As each project was completed, a new aim began to unfold. "After living with the house for many years, it was time to tackle the most important room of the house, the kitchen and laundry areas, and minimal changes to the bathrooms," she says, which took an additional three months.
"The goal of the kitchen/laundry remodel was to expand the kitchen without adding square footage, create more storage, and replace appliances while honoring the history and original character of the house," she says.
Preserving the character of the house wasn't merely an aesthetic endeavor. The team worked hard to physically salvage original parts and keep what they could. "After 60+ years, the wall and countertop tiles in both bathrooms are still in great condition with perfect white grout," says Karimi, adding that both of the bathrooms still possess their original cabinetry, tile counterops, sinks, and shower tiles.
Though the kitchen couldn't offer much worth saving, appliances were donated to nearby community members.
For the most part, each project was well mapped out and it was smooth sailing for nearly all of it. Important considerations were made to ensure the team and the occupants were comfortable while changes took place, including sealing off the kitchen and moving the cooking space to a temporary location. When the final stages rolled around, a few obstacles did appear.
"Firstly, one glass slab (for a countertop) broke during fabrication and had to get repurchased," describes Karimi. "And secondly, the custom decorative starburst tiles came in a darker shade than the field tile. To mix and approve the new color and remake those tiles took an extra month. If it was not for this mishap, the project would have been done in two months." Frustrating, but completely worth it as the space began to fully come together.
In maintaining the mid-century modern atmosphere, the colors, furniture, and accents understandably had to match. Curating all of this took ample time: "We have been acquiring mid-century modern furnishings, light fixtures, and accessories since the house was purchased," she says. "Most of the furniture is vintage with new upholstery. The turquoise blue, orange, and wood tones are popular colors from the 1960s when the house was built. The new blue tile splash in the kitchen is almost the same blue as the original kitchen tiles we loved so much."
Home goods, hardware, artwork, and appliances were sourced from a legion of different places, including local antique shops (such as Liz’s Antique Hardware), local artists, and stores further afield in cities such as New Orleans. Popular brands like Viking, California Faucets, and Revival Tile were all relied on, too.
No detail was overlooked either. There were several instances where Home Front Build integrated the original look with modern solutions. Karimi notes that the stainless steel sink and built-in drainboard resemble a fixture of the era, but the addition of a built-in sponge tray gives it a unique and functional twist.
They also wanted to keep the hardware consistent throughout, but the cabinet pulls weren't approved for appliances. The fix? Custom-made versions crafted out of walnut wood that matched the rest of the space to a T.
While the yellow bathroom still contained its sleek, original hardware, the blue and pink bathroom wasn't so lucky. Wondrously, "the same hardware was found at Liz’s Antique Hardware in Los Angeles to complete the bathroom," says Karimi.
After years of renovations and hard work meticulously sourcing items for creating the overall look of the space, Karimi is hesitant to deem just one room her favorite. If she had to, it would b the new and improved kitchen. "It is not only beautiful but also very well organized and so functional," she says. "We also love spending time in the living room with two glass walls, direct access to the deck, and the spectacular mountain views."
Many home renovations nowadays dramatically veer away from what the space used to be, but there's no harm in trying to embrace aspects from when the space was originally dreamt up. As this mid-century modern house shows, a nod to the nostalgia and roots of a structure can result in a brilliant home that appeals to old and new.