Spring Real Estate 2004

Publication Date: Wednesday, April 7, 2004

A moving experience
An old house finds a new home in Woodside

by Barbara Wood

Phil Monaghan said he had nothing more than a drink in mind when he stopped by to visit his Woodside next-door neighbors, architects Steve and Thalia Lubin, three years ago.

But as he listened to Thalia, who is chairman of Woodside's History Committee, talk about a house she'd seen that day that was scheduled for demolition, something seized him.

He asked for the address of the house, set down the beer he'd started on, and drove over to take a look.

It was love at first sight.

"The first thing that struck me was the 4-foot-wide eaves," Monaghan said. He knew they'd be a great passive solar feature, keeping the high summer sun out and letting the low winter sun in.

And then Monaghan peeked in the windows and saw the exposed fir ceiling trusses opening up the living area. "Being a civil engineer, they kind of tickled my fancy," he said. The large screened porch was inviting, as was the fact that the house was in immaculate condition.

He returned to the Lubins, picked up his beer, and asked Thalia to call James and Eileen Ludwig, the owners of the house.

The idea was that Monaghan would tear down the small 1934 cottage on his property, which had no foundation and "termites holding it up -- literally," and replace it with the 1,500-square foot home designed by the architectural firm of Hooper and Emmons that was built in 1964.

"I thought -- my house is a way better candidate for the landfill," Monaghan said.
The rest of the story, as they say, is history. Today, after 18 months of work and $210,000, the Ludwigs' old house is Monaghan's new house.

It was not all smooth sailing.

The Ludwigs agreed to let Monaghan move the house if he could do it quickly. They planned to build a new, larger home on the site. But the house was 40 feet wide, and the private road serving it only 14 feet wide. The soaring living room ceiling would never fit under the mature oaks that lined the road.

Staring at the original plans, which the Ludwigs had let him copy, Monaghan realized the house was built in modules around the living room. So he removed the roof and ceiling from the living room, carefully saving each truss and decking board, and moved the house in pieces from its old home off Mountain Home Road to his property off Canada Road.

"Three weeks from the day they moved out, I had it off their property," he said. Neighbors and friends, including members of the History Committee who were thrilled the house had been saved, watched the move.

Eventually, after Monaghan received all the plans and approvals needed from the town of Woodside, and after he had poured a new foundation, he put the house back together and reassembled the living room. The trusses fit back together perfectly.

Monaghan acted as general contractor on the project and did as much of the work as he could himself. "I have a lot of sweat equity in this house," he said. The house was in good shape, including a kitchen Monaghan guesses was remodeled in the '80s with granite countertops and custom cabinets. But he had to replace the roof, wiring and plumbing. and some gypsum board.

The living room floor also had to be replaced because it was demolished to move the house. But Monaghan salvaged fir flooring from a teardown in San Mateo. He found a used SubZero refrigerator on craigslist.com and reused the classic Wedgwood range from his former cottage to supplement the built-in wall ovens.

While the house is more than 40 years old, it has a timeless modern feel, with lots of light and windows and those soaring ceilings in the living room. Shutters (which came with the house) help to control the light and do an admirable job of blocking the noise from the nearby freeway.

James Ludwig said that the original owner of the house, Dixon Heise, was a Southerner who had asked Hooper and Emmons to design something that looked like a levee house -- hence the ample eaves and an elevated pier-and-post foundation.

Ludwig and his wife fell in love with the house and its location, on land that was originally part of the Hooper estate, which once covered a substantial part of Woodside.

But the design of the house became a detriment in the heavily wooded location and the Ludwigs decided they wanted something more open and sunny.
Monaghan painted most of the walls a muted sage green, and redid the bathroom floor with slate and tile.

Sunlight streams in the kitchen windows in the morning and the sunset can be viewed from the porch, Monaghan said.

That screened porch turned out to be one of Monaghan's favorite places. "I probably spent more time there than in the house," he said. The wide eaves keep the porch snug and dry even in a storm.

Monaghan said the total cost of the project was about $210,000 or $140 a square foot. That includes $35,000 for the house move; $8,000 to demolish the house on his property; $6,000 for permits and soil reports; $30,000 for a new foundation; $13,000 for a new roof and rigid insulation; $10,000 to re-wire the house and $6,000 to re-plumb it.

"When I first started to do it, half the people said I was nuts and the other half said I was clever. Now that it's done, I think they were both right," Monaghan said.

The Ludwigs did drop by to see how their old house was doing. "We loved the house. It was my wife's dream house," Ludwig said. "I think he's done a great job."