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July 17, 2012

In this three-part series, expanding on our July/August 2012 "Designers at Home" theme, Los Angeles-based architect Barbara Bestor tracks her hands-on, ten-month renovation of the Swan House, a 1950s bungalow in Silverlake. We've featured her work previously in the magazine here. See Part One of the series here. Part Two: Creating a Home


The house I bought on a corner lot in Silver Lake had been in a family for 40 years, but had not had anyone living in it recently. Time had taken its toll but I could see a house that was perfect for a working mother with two almost-teenage daughters. They would have their own "retreat" downstairs, and upstairs would be our shared living/public spaces and an office/master suite for myself.

When I bought the house, I knew I needed to dig out some more space below to make two decent rooms for my daughters. I wanted to completely reconfigure the kitchen and open it up, make a real master bedroom and bath, and change the relationship of the house to the street and to parking. About a month into the design process, I realized I needed to completely change the staircase location and that doing so would help me to improve the kitchen and also the kids' rooms at the lower level. Another month or two in, I realized I could commandeer some of the crawl space and make a proper laundry room and storage area. There was a lot of opportunistic "scope creep" while we went along. Here's a glimpse into my design process and renovation approach.

As a designer, I like to mess around both on paper and on the site; the first is very 2-D and logical, the second is 3-D and live—more intuitive and holistic, revealing many, many possibilities. In a remodel it is often most important to NOT see what is actually there, so that you are open to the best possible spatial configurations. For example, remember this Fred Flintstone rock over the fireplace from my last post?

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Look what we found underneath! Under the faux stone was a rare slender brick fireplace.

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A closer look at the newly revealed brick fireplace.

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Renovating is serious business. As the contractor progresses through the house, they have to make room for equipment and materials. My contractors were Pete Fanello of Fanello Construction and Monte Ross of Monte Ross Construction; I've worked with both an awful lot over the past twenty years. They are very indulgent of my on-site changes and do amazing things in a short amount of time.

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At this point of the renovation they have stripped the ceiling and gutted the walls.

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In the living area and kitchen, they removed the interior walls and dropped ceiling. The goal was to bring more light into the space, and create a sense of openness. I think color, material, natural light, and long sightlines are the most important elements in domestic architecture—I am not as concerned with "architect-y" detailing, fussy craftsmanship, etc.

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I decided to remove and reform the kitchen wall to make space for an over-sized pocket door that opens across nine feet, connecting the kitchen, dining room and pool area.

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Soon, this terraced stone entry will be completely reconfigured to create a new patio.

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The rock is replaced with a wood enclosure that wraps around the front of the new patio, for a much more streamlined and modern look.

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Behind the wooden fence is a new patio. To maximize the outdoor spaces, I pushed out the terrace front and created a new patio where we could have dinner in the warm months. It's located right off the kitchen.

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The reconfigured kitchen faces the pool, which had to be resealed and cleaned. One side of the kitchen opens to the patio. We also installed large sliding doors that open directly from the kitchen-dining area to the pool and patio.

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Here are the guys creating a smooth new concrete patio and sealing the pool.

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When altering an existing house I always look for opportunities to reclaim space. The roof of the lower portion of the house not only had a wonderful view to the ocean but was also shaded by a huge, ancient pine tree. With minimal effort we created a deck off the master bedroom that is wrapped with benches.

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Here's the view from the soon-to-be-deck off the master bedroom.

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As I envisioned when I first saw the house, we cut a new stair into the floor of the upper level. The finished basement will house the two kids' rooms, a bathroom, and the laundry room.

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Here's the new stair under construction. Check back next week for Part Three: The Finished Product, and photos of the completed house!

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swan2 1

As a designer, I like to mess around both on paper and on the site; the first is very 2-D and logical, the second is 3-D and live—more intuitive and holistic, revealing many, many possibilities. In a remodel it is often most important to NOT see what is actually there, so that you are open to the best possible spatial configurations. For example, remember this Fred Flintstone rock over the fireplace from my last post?

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