written by:
photos by:
illustrated by:
January 14, 2009
Originally published in Color Comes Home

With a very limited budget and no construction experience, Lucky and Kim Diaz overhauled a wreck of a house into a sweet, 1,100-square-foot Los Angeles home with just $55,000 and a whole lot of stubborn determination. Here is their story, as told by Lucky.

Lucky Diaz spent three and a half months on this project, working all hours to get it done. “It was worth it,” he says. “To have Ella grow up in an original space is a gift that is beyond measure.”
Lucky Diaz spent three and a half months on this project, working all hours to get it done. “It was worth it,” he says. “To have Ella grow up in an original space is a gift that is beyond measure.”
Photo by 
1 / 6
Light spills in from the double doors Lucky installed, which lead to the front yard and recall the Southern Californian tradition of indoor/outdoor living. “To us, our furniture is the art inside the house,” says Lucky. “The Vespa, for example, is a piece
Light spills in from the double doors Lucky installed, which lead to the front yard and recall the Southern Californian tradition of indoor/outdoor living. “To us, our furniture is the art inside the house,” says Lucky. “The Vespa, for example, is a piece of artwork; the design is classic.”
Photo by 
2 / 6
3 / 6
Due to the tight budget, the fixtures and furnishings had to be a mix of high and low. Instead of a Saarinen Tulip table for the dining room, they found a similar style with matching chairs from Ikea, then hung a George Nelson lamp overhead.
Due to the tight budget, the fixtures and furnishings had to be a mix of high and low. Instead of a Saarinen Tulip table for the dining room, they found a similar style with matching chairs from Ikea, then hung a George Nelson lamp overhead.
Photo by 
4 / 6
The Viking range and Bosch refrigerator in the kitchen are paired with Ikea lights and cabinets.
The Viking range and Bosch refrigerator in the kitchen are paired with Ikea lights and cabinets.
Photo by 
5 / 6
Even in Ella’s room, Ikea chairs and bed mingle with a restored Bertoia child’s chair.
Even in Ella’s room, Ikea chairs and bed mingle with a restored Bertoia child’s chair.
Photo by 
6 / 6
Lucky Diaz spent three and a half months on this project, working all hours to get it done. “It was worth it,” he says. “To have Ella grow up in an original space is a gift that is beyond measure.”
Lucky Diaz spent three and a half months on this project, working all hours to get it done. “It was worth it,” he says. “To have Ella grow up in an original space is a gift that is beyond measure.”
Project 
Diaz House

I was bound and determined to find a home for us. We considered prefab; we explored foreclosures. Becoming desperate,we even looked at places obviously wrong for us. We went to see a house where two guys were shooting at each other from their cars, and another one that had a cockfighting shed in the back, with feathers in the air and a lightbulb swinging.

After searching for three years, I came across this sad-looking pink house online. The bones were good, it was in a great neighborhood, and it was cheap. It was in probate-the owner had died and the woman selling just wanted it off her hands.

The house had a creepy vibe. It had belonged to a woman who smoked and was an alcoholic; she drank herself to death. Apparently, a biohazard team had been called in to clean out the place, but this all happened before it went on the market, so to us it looked like a cosmetic fixer.

In reality there were a lot of hidden problems. For example, we found a tree growing through the walls and rafters. And the house wasn’t grounded, which caused an electrical fire on demolition day.

We kept the frame of the house and laid a metal roof over the existing one. Some of the walls we resurfaced; others we had to tear down and re-Sheetrock. The rest is all new-the electrical, the plumbing, all of the windows and doors, and the stucco.

I hired subcontractors for the stucco, concrete, kitchen countertops, and tile work. To cut costs, I did the prep work. Everything else, I did myself-electrical, water, everything.

My dad was a contractor, and growing up I worked summers for him, but I had never done anything by myself. Not a thing. I’ve learned everything from watching other people or by reading my collection of old Time-Life books. Friends and family also helped. A case of beer went a long way.

Overall, the limitations of our budget forced us to be creative. We spent $55,000 on the renovation. That’s taking everything into account, including the cabinets, all the appliances, fixtures, material, and labor.

We decided to spend more on the things we’ll use the most. We like to cook and having a Viking range was essential. Our range was used at a cooking demo show, so I got it online for half-price. The recessed lighting was a splurge. Each light cost about $40, and we got 27 of them instead of putting one light in the middle of the ceiling. We skimped on the flooring, which is bamboo laminate, and on cabinetry, which is from Ikea.

The house is extremely efficient. We use less energy than most homes on the street. We didn’t have the budget to go completely green, but we tried to wherever we could. The roof is recycled metal and we used scrap wood or compressed board when we could.

There are things we’d do differently if we did it again. We would have explored cork flooring. Also, it takes an insane amount of skill to do drywall properly, so I ended up doing this funky texture. I would have been more liberal with knocking things down, but
I was too scared. But again, our budget was limited, as was my skill and our time. I think it turned out pretty nice considering the money we spent.

In my delusional mind, this project  was only supposed to take 30 days.  I started work the week escrow closed. I’d leave our place at 5 a.m. to work on the house, then go to my full-time job at 9 a.m., get out at 5 p.m., grab fast food, and come here and work until midnight. It took three and a half months, and I only took two days off.

The house is very economical in space and keeps us honest. Like in the kitchen, most people have a couple cans of something, hearts of palm or whatever, that don’t get used and just sit there. We don’t have that luxury. There isn’t room for anything frivolous. The entire house is used all of the time.

I would love for someone to read this story and think, If these people could do it, I can do it. It seems so clichéd, like some weight-loss commercial, but it’s true: It’s doable, if you have the desire.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

senses smell products
The nose knows: Though fleeting and immaterial, scent is the lifeblood of Proustian memories, both evoking and imprinting visceral associations.
February 06, 2016
design icon josef frank villa beer vienna
Josef Frank: Against Design, which runs through April 2016 at Vienna’s Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, is a comprehensive study of the prolific architect, designer, and author.
February 06, 2016
senses sound products
From an alarm to a symphony, audio frequencies hold the power to elicit an emotional call-and-response.
February 06, 2016
Italian Apline home with double-height walls on one facade.
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
February 05, 2016
A built-in sofa with Design Tex upholstery marks the boundary between the two-level addition and the bungalow. Leading up to the master bedroom, a perforated metal staircase, lit from above, casts a Sigmar Polke–like shadow grid on the concrete floor.
From a minimalist Walter Gropius design to a curving sculptural stair, these six stairways run the gamut.
February 05, 2016
distant structure lakeside prefab norway facade stones green roof
Dwell has traveled all over the world, from Tasmania to Indonesia, to report on modern houses.
February 05, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment master bedroom atrium
Get ready for a weekend of rest with these sleepy, little cocoons.
February 05, 2016
lamp show 99 cent plus gallery 0
At Brooklyn's 99¢ Plus gallery, 30 artists and designers re-imagine the lamp in an illuminating light show.
February 04, 2016
Hidden storage stairwell with raw brass hardware
Having ample space to stow items is a daily struggle—peep these modern homes for some ideas on maximizing your square footage.
February 04, 2016
modern fairhaven beach house blackbutt eucalyptus living room Patricia Urquiola sofa
Whether it's along a coast in Australia or the French Alps, wood provides a natural touch in these interiors.
February 04, 2016
Glass and steel sculpture in Printemps store of Paris.
In the Paris' venerable Printemps department store, two Toronto-based firms were tasked with enlivening a new atrium and creating a unique experience for visitors. YabuPushelberg, partnering with UUfie, designed this stunning steel "sail" embedded with vibrant dichroic glass.
February 04, 2016
Monochromatic Master Bedroom in Copenhagen Townhouse
Whether it's to maximize limited light or create a soothing interior, these five projects go white in a big way.
February 04, 2016
EQ3 Assembly quilt by Kenneth LaVallee
The new Assembly collection from EQ3 celebrates up-and-coming figures in Canadian design. Discover this newly appointed class, which debuted at Toronto's Interior Design Show, here.
February 03, 2016
The Greenhouses of Half Moon Bay
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most viral design and architecture shots of the week.
February 03, 2016
Deck of Australian addition to Edwardian home.
A 1,500-square-foot home in Melbourne welcomes a modern black and white kitchen, dining, and living area.
February 03, 2016
open plan concrete home in japan
Embracing the organic, imperfect material, these raw concrete surfaces are a step up from exposed brick.
February 03, 2016
Renovated DC Row House loft space with Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair.
The classic designer's signature and comfortable forms continue to be popular in homes today.
February 03, 2016
Zinc-roofed cabin France.
An architect builds an energy-efficient home near one of France’s most popular pilgrimage sites.
February 03, 2016
1973 Palm Springs home
Made for casual design enthusiasts and Palm Springs connoisseurs alike, Unseen Midcentury Desert Modern offers a peek into 51 buildings—some not open to the public—in that Southern California mecca of modernism. Begun in 2008 by photographer Dan Chavkin, the book is set for release this February 9th and will be available on Amazon and at multiple venues of Modernism Week in Palm Springs, February 11 - 21. Here we preview some of its images.
February 03, 2016
Millennial concept home with an outdoor living area
A concept home aims to reflect the requests of the Millennial market.
February 03, 2016
The two twelve-by-sixteen-foot bedrooms, directly above a comparable pair on the first floor, feature a glass transom that follows the pitch of the roof. “The stair and railings were very simple,” Depardon observes. “We added a bit of design, with panels
Skylights needn't be simple overhead daylighting; sometimes they can truly define a room.
February 03, 2016
Modern small space Rhode Island cottage with landscaping and cedar cladding
Surrounded by nature, these cottages are tranquil retreats from the city.
February 03, 2016
The couple kept original touches, including the arch.
Historic archways belie these contemporary homes with physical reminders of each structure's storied past.
February 03, 2016
modern guesthouse in norway with angular facade and cutaway patio with spruce cladding and ikea chair
These houses make room for nature, not the other way around.
February 02, 2016
Modern kitchen with yellow sectioned walls and monochrome appliances
Whether it's a splash of color or bold strokes, this collection of interiors brightens up these homes.
February 02, 2016
Rust-washed concrete wall in Moscow apartment renovation.
This 590-square-foot apartment was stripped down to admit sunlight and dramatically reveal forgotten surfaces.
February 02, 2016
Nendo's collection of objects inspired by Star Wars
In a galaxy not so far away, Japanese studio Nendo has released a versatile collection of objects inspired by classic Star Wars characters.
February 02, 2016
Monti catered to his mother’s love of cooking by giving her ample storage areas along the 70-foot long walnut wall-slash-cabinet. The refrigerator, kitchen items and other goods easily disappear into the wall when not in use. The nonporous, stain-, scratc
Sometimes the earthy colors and vivid grain of a wood like walnut is all you need to make a space.
February 02, 2016
renovated modern home in Austin interior kitchen
From California to Connecticut, these midcentury interiors still shine through thanks to the careful attention of architects and residents alike.
February 02, 2016
Outdoor dining area at a Saigon home.
A city home honors the local culture with communal outdoor space and reclaimed materials.
February 02, 2016