Publication Date: Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2000 & Friday,
Sept. 22, 2000
More than a facelift
More than a facelift (September 22, 2000)
With a little love, and a lot of elbow grease, a rundown
house becomes a gem
by Carol Blitzer
Hey mister: You're making my life a misery!," called the motorist passing
415 Middlefield Road in Palo Alto recently.
As John Lopes looked up from his work on the lush floral display in
the front yard, the driver continued: "Ever since my wife saw this yard,
she keeps asking why ours can't look this good."
The yard--as well as the exterior and interior--is a far cry from when
owner Christina Luiz first saw it in 1998. Few of the people who walked
through the crumbling mess could imagine paying more than half a million
dollars for a place with peeling plaster, well-worn linoleum or $33,000
estimated termite damage.
Luiz, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker in Menlo Park, quickly saw the
value of restoring the 1910 home's potential, rather than just valuing
the dirt it sat on.
"The house was in despicable condition," she said. "The lath and plaster
was hanging from the front. The linoleum was so old it was chipped;
there were only fragments left. Everything was rotting, decaying. There
was no closet in the master bedroom."
Originally from Portugal, Luiz says she loves older homes. "This was
originally a grand old dame. The prospect of fixing it appealed. I felt
sorry for the home," she said.
At first she did some stopgap measures--about $50,000 worth--that enabled
her to rent the property for a while. But when she decided to move in
herself the serious renovation began.
After contacting multiple contractors, she found John Lopes, of Beacon
Development in San Jose, who had experience in both building new homes
and restoring older ones. With Lopes, she no longer felt she had to
fight over every little detail, such as whether or not to repair the
banister or replace it with a new one. She had already waged a major
battle over saving the front door with its unusual round beveled-glass
window inset--and won.
Over a four-month period, Lopes took the house down to the studs, then
put it back together piece by piece.
After clearing the rats' nests, he added insulation and new sheet rock.
The hardwood floors--fir in the bedroom, oak in the living/dining room--were
repaired and refinished. A new bathroom was built off the master bedroom.
In some cases, the original design was retained, but redone with higher
quality materials. In the dining room, Lopes replaced the thin redwood
paneling with rich cherry wood, including a built-in china cabinet with
leaded glass from Germany and detailed moldings. Where the doors and
their hardware simply could not be made to function, they were replaced
with new ones made to resemble old ones.
"I tried to keep as true to the original as possible yet maintain more
functionality," said Luiz. "I wanted to integrate the flavor of the
Instead of adding granite and marble to create a glitzy kitchen, Luiz
chose tiles with colored grout that better suited the age of the house.
She relied on her friend Mary Ann Hoffman, who has helped her stage
a number of homes, to choose colors that moved easily throughout the
home. For example, she chose a rich vanilla for the kitchen cabinets,
with faux-finished walls that integrate the floor, counter and cabinets.
In retrospect, Luiz regrets doing the first-round fix-up to clean up
for the tenants because she ended up redoing quite a bit of that work.
"It's always better to do it right the first time," she said.
When she purchased the home, it had a master bedroom and half-bath
downstairs and one large room upstairs. She quickly divided this into
two bedrooms and added a full bath, as well as lots of closet and deep
Luiz says she doesn't know exactly how much it cost her to complete
the renovation--only her accountant knows the whole awful truth--but
she estimates at least $100,000. She tried to keep costs down by buying
tiles on sale at Quality Discount Tile in Palo Alto and splurging on
the few trim pieces.
She also traded out with her contractor, allowing him to fix up a basement
office to use in Palo Alto while he worked on other local jobs, in exchange
for doing the landscaping.
"It isn't always about buying the most expensive look," she said. "I
bought the best that I could for the look."
The backyard had been almost completely cemented over. Today, it features
a large grassy expanse, flagstone patio, a water fountain on the side
that helps cloak the Middlefield street noise, and a charming bunny
Although she says she was not intending to sell it yet, Luiz recently
put it up for sale, hoping to take advantage of the seller's market.
What's next for Luiz? She recently purchased a run-down Atherton ranch-style
house and challenged Lopes "to make this look really old."