DIY: Restoring a 1924 Highland Park Bungalow

The After: Highland Park bungalow one-year later

When driving through Highland Park, one thing is clear: there sure are lots of sad, stucco boxes. Which makes one wonder, what did Paul Lacques and Victoria Jacobs see when they came upon a 1924 Bungalow that had been unceremoniously slathered in gray stucco?
The Before: 200k, gray stucco box

A year and $80,000 later, what they saw, turned out to be even more beautiful than they could have ever imagined. They didn’t necessarily buy this “quite ugly home” because of its potential, but because they loved the area. “Our house is on a steep hill surrounded by vintage houses, very cool neighbors, five resident hawks overhead, and a hill behind us that’s too steep to develop,” said Lacques.
With finds from Craigslist, help from friends and skilled craftsmen, the restoration of their home, down to every vintage detail, produced a modest 1924 working person’s home. What was once a humble home is now a priceless work of art with charm and character to spare as “all wood houses back then were things of beauty,” said Lacques. To help bring your beauty back to life is a Q&A with Paul. Here’s to realizing the potential of all vintage beauties and to visionaries who want to create their own turnkey home.
– What was the cost of the home and was that a factor in purchasing?
With the Obama rebate it was under $200,000 when we bought in November 2009. The low cost was a major factor. Victoria and I had been looking for a house for six years in Echo Park, Glassell Park and Highland Park. We got caught up in the bidding madness during the bubble, but luckily lost out on a few houses we probably couldn’t have afforded. We’d resigned ourselves to being apartment dwellers, but when the housing market tanked and suddenly, Highland Park was affordable.
– Which project did you grossly underestimate in time, cost, difficulty and labor?
The overall house renovation, in all aspects. It took us 14 months, and I worked
6, then 7 days a week. Our music careers became background to the full-time
job of of house building.
– Which project was most satisfying upon completion?
For me it was probably the siding. My buddy, Shawn Nourse, and I did the stucco
removal and siding repair. I filled, sanded and painted the house myself. For Victoria it was probably researching bungalow details and scouring flea markets,
salvage yards and Craigslist for vintage fixtures, doors, windows, or their modern
equivalents. We wound up with great deals on salvaged windows, oak flooring,
all salvaged doors, bathtubs, stove, and period fixtures and tiles. It’s the upside to
taking 14 months to finish a project!
– What do you recommend other homeowners do so they don’t get overwhelmed with their own renovations?
Don’t live in the house you are renovating. Friends we talked to who did
this made a lot of compromises and didn’t finish details. If you’re not in
the house you are fearless about knocking down walls, getting rid of problem
areas, making  incredible messes. And, it’s faster and cheaper.
Don’t do work you’re not qualified to do. Many tasks have an easy learning curve,
but others don’t. You can really mess things up trying to do what it takes
trades people years to master!
Don’t hire a carpenter, electrician, plumber, dry-waller, etc.
unless you have a solid recommendation from someone you trust.
– How handy were you going into this renovation? Is this something moderately handy people can do on their own with tips from Google?
I was a pro house painter in my 20’s, so I had basic skills and knew how to work
hard for long hours, but I was a bit rusty. After three weeks I was a hardened manual
Again, know what you’re capable of. If you have unlimited time you can teach yourself
any task, but it’ll take you five years to move in. We had wonderful trades people.  Because I was there every day, they’d show me how to do finishing tasks or prep work/grunt work, which saved lots of money. But framing, tiling, dry-walling, plastering–forget it! Those are skills that come with time.
However, if you can be there every day and take on a lot of details at once, I strongly recommend being your own contractor. Hiring a general contractor will ratchet up your costs, and you will have much less say in details and cost options. Getting permits isn’t rocket science, but the skills and detailed knowledge of the trades people are formidable. I am in awe of the guys we worked with.
– Aside from lining up the right people & suppliers, what’s the #1 tip you’d give other renovating homeowners?
The old cliché is 100% true: double the time and cost you think it’s going to take.

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