Home Sweet Home
● By Kerri Regan
Story: Kerri Regan Photos: James Mazzotta
When a dilapidated rental house went up for sale across the street from Eric and Kris Podtetenieff ’s home a few years ago, the couple thought it was a great opportunity to buy it, spruce it up a little and turn it. The homeschooling family with deep North State roots didn’t view it so much as a financial investment, but an investment in their beloved Westside neighborhood.
And when they got past the tangle of junipers in the front yard, they couldn’t believe the building’s condition.
“Nothing was salvageable,” Kris says.
Not the carpet. Not the drywall. Not the plumbing. Not the wiring. Nothing.
Yet at a time where scores of investors were snatching up houses, whitewashing them and reselling them to capitalize on the housing boom, Eric had different ideas. He stripped the house down to the studs and spent two years crafting a cozy, charming home for his family.
He eventually quit his job as a finish carpenter to work full-time on the house, which he viewed as an opportunity to learn every aspect of building, and the hands-on training gave him enough knowledge to obtain his general contractor’s license.
“I did literally everything on it,” says Eric, now the owner of Vision Homes.
Staying true to the quiet little enclave was important to the Podtetenieffs, as they didn’t want to “go against the grain” of the neighborhood, and he also had to be uber-creative to make the approximately 1,500-square-foot home feel big enough for himself, his wife, and their three children.
“I had initial visions of what I wanted to accomplish, but I spent about 80 percent of my time going like this,” he says, laying his hand on his chin and staring pensively into the distance.
And, with no desire to plunge into debt, he was careful to maximize his resources. In a house that had to be stripped down to the studs, this might have posed a challenge for a less industrious builder.
“It’s all stuff I found from job sites. It’s made out of garbage,” Eric says.
“Remnants,” Kris corrects.
For instance, Eric – an accomplished artist – discovered a huge volume of discarded travertine behind a tile shop.He cut the broken pieces down into smaller squares and assembled them into a geometric pattern that he carried throughout the home on floors, backsplashes, countertops and a walk-in shower in the master bedroom.
When he saw a pile of old tongue-and-groove pine at a lumberyard that would be perfect for his porch.He began milling it and had plenty left over, so he used it inside the house as well.
And since the home features remnants of cherry, poplar, alder, pine, Douglas Fir and cedar, Eric painted all of the wood so it didn’t look mismatched.
He even harvested wood from the bedroom inhabited by his twin 11- year-old daughters, Isabelle and Jade, to patch rough spots in other parts of the house. He carpeted their room instead.
Of course, he didn’t painstakingly repurpose all of these materials just to fill the finished product with pricey new furniture.He found two oak tables in the junk pile at Epperson’s, and he cut one of them down into two benches.He distressed them and applied black paint, and ended up with a ridiculously inexpensive dining set that expands to seat 12 people. He also sprayed a maple cabinet in the adjacent family room to match the dining set.
In addition to being financially frugal, the Podtetenieffs also used their space wisely. “The houses I’ve been around are like SUVs, and this is like a VW bus,” Eric says.
A Lazy Susan makes efficient use of a corner kitchen cabinet, and a small door in a narrow walkway opens to reveal two pull-out pantry shelves. Little “niches” in several spots add a touch of character. Even a small bench in the master bedroom opens up to reveal storage space.
“You need to feel like you’ve used every square inch,” he says.
He closed off doorways and made new ones in more convenient places, and he replaced bypass doors with a single door to instantly create a walk-in closet in his daughters’ bedroom. “You get three times more storage,” he says.
A cozy TV room steps down from the family room (and is still minus a TV – Eric isn’t a big shopper). Their 16-year-old son Ian’s room features a loft bed; underneath is a comfy spot for kicking back and reading or playing games.
The finished product turned the two-bedroom, one-bath house into a three-bedroom, two bathroom home decorated in a comfortable, Restoration Hardware-type style. “The way it is laid out was a better fit for our family, and I have a home-school room for our kids,” Kris says.
A cottage-style garden in the front yard is a dramatic improvement from the tangle of overgrown junipers and mimosa trees that once passed for a front yard. New life has been breathed into the once-flooded backyard – the lawn is surrounded by trees, bushes and flowers. The covered porch is enclosed with a railing that’s made of redwood that was discarded when a nearby business remodeled. “When you plane it, it’s perfect,” he says.
The Podtetenieffs moved down the street and into their new home in June, and they say they couldn’t be happier with the results. Visitors even feel compelled to kick off their shoes, settle into a comfy chair and absorb the peaceful ambience.
“I want this house to be intimate. It forces us to come together and be close, but there’s still mystery – there are places to retreat to,” Eric says.