The best laid plans of many people have been upended by Covid-19. As the owners of a commercial photography studio based in San Francisco, my husband and I saw the downturn of our business happen quickly.
We were fortunate to find a Mid Century Modern home in Sacramento, so we left San Francisco and began our adventure in updating the home during a time when our finances are limited and workers are hard to find.
The Search Begins
But our story begins in San Francisco. We loved our modern brick and timber loft that we had meticulously upgraded and furnished and didn’t want to leave our SF neighborhood and the community we had built there.
But as business people we had learned that being nimble was a sound business strategy, so we decided to sell our loft and look for a home outside of San Francisco. We would be commuting back to San Francisco for work, so we were looking for a home within driving distance.
Having spent a lot of time in Palm Springs through the years, that city was our first choice. Our goal was to find a mid century home that needed not much more than a light update. But it seemed a lot of other people in Los Angeles and San Francisco had the same idea making inventory tight and prices much higher than normal.
So we expanded our search to the Sacramento Area. We had read about the mid century modern homes built by the Streng Brothers and a bit of research led us to the real estate website of Ted DeFazio, sacmodern.com
Ted grew up in Sacramento and has been an agent since 2006. “I was tired of hearing other agents describe mid century homes in a derogatory manner,” he explained. “So I started a website called Sacramento Modern to draw attention to the mid century architecture available in Sacramento. Many agents don’t know the history of this architectural movement or how to describe it in an accurate way.”
Ted showed us a few mid century homes, but it was clear that much like Palm Springs, inventory was becoming tight as city dwellers moved to the suburbs. With our loft sold in SF, the pressure was on to find a new home.
A Dusty Gem
A phone call from Ted, a day after we had moved out and stored our belongings, clued us in to a home that had just come on the market and he insisted it wouldn’t last long. Part of the Shelfield Estates neighborhood in Carmichael, a suburb located about ten minutes from downtown Sacramento, the home was built in 1965 by the Streng Brothers using a design by architect Carter Sparks.
Although the yard was overgrown and the home was extremely dusty from being empty for well over a year, we could tell it was something special. We loved its sexy gable roof line peeking out from the overgrown trees, the clerestory windows and post and beam architecture.
The previous owner had added a few more arts and craft touches than we would have liked as well as a puzzling mix of wood finishes, but nothing that couldn’t be updated.
We took a chance and made an offer right away to avoid the official offering day being held at the end of the week and the numerous competitive offers that day would certainly bring.
Much to our surprise, our offer was accepted.
Besides being the mid century style that we were looking for, the home also checked a lot of other boxes for us including a quiet cul-de-sac location, a short distance from restaurants and museums, and — judging from the gifts of wine and backyard vegetables from our neighbors — an involved and friendly neighborhood. It appeared our landing from the chaos of the last few months would be a soft one.
The unnerving bands of wild turkeys, notwithstanding.
Before we moved in, we made numerous spreadsheets and a list of all the improvements we wanted to make right away. Reality set in quickly as to the budget constraints brought on by Covid.
So we took a step back and made a more realistic plan for how to proceed.
SacMod Remodel Strategy
Here are four principles we are adopting that you can bear in mind when starting your own remodel within budget constraints:
- Focus on what will make the house immediately livable.
We moved from a one bedroom loft to a four bedroom home with a living room and a family room.
We needed furniture to fill those rooms and the furniture needed to not only fit in with our vintage and other mid century pieces, but also be affordable yet not a temporary solution.
For the guest room we zeroed in on a platform bed from Floyd Home, a company based in Detroit. We loved their modern designs and thought it would fit in well with our other furniture. We also appreciated their stated commitment that they wanted to create products of lasting quality because they were tired of disposable furniture.
Visions of hosting large gatherings after Covid was over inspired us to purchase an expandable dining room table from Article. Article is based in Canada and it has a direct to consumer model making their furniture affordable and their direct access to high quality designers and manufacturers makes their furniture beautiful.
It had been more than a decade since we had enjoyed the benefits of a yard so back to Article we went in search of outdoor furniture and they didn’t disappoint.
By focusing on making the house livable we felt, well, more at home. Finding companies that presented modern furniture that we could purchase confidently over the Internet spared us trips to retail stores to look at furniture when the thought of being inside even with a mask on was not a good one.
2. Focus on “the smalls.”
Although right now we wish we could tear up the brown laminate flooring and replace it with concrete floors, that just isn’t in the budget.
Instead, we are focusing on what we call “the smalls” — those items that are affordable and give a design impact immediately such as the new modern house numbers we purchased from the appropriately named House Numbers, and the exterior pinhole cone sconces from Practical Props.
When we replaced the bronze, pebbled kitchen cabinet hardware with brushed silver knobs and pulls that we found at Ace Hardware, we decided the kitchen cabinets were just our style. Replacing the counter tops and backsplash can wait.
3. Look at the big picture.
Although we can’t tackle every project right now, we want to get an idea of cost and who the best workers will be once we are ready. We created an extensive google doc with everything on our wish list from refinishing those laminate floors to remodeling the original bathroom where the vanity height only works for very short people. We plan to meet workers, get estimates and start building relationships so that when we are ready, we have all the information we need.
We are also walking the neighborhood and taking photos of houses we admire and meeting the neighbors who can provide us with tips and recommendations. In the evenings we comb through our library of Atomic Ranch Magazines for inspiration.
It’s a fun way to feel like we are making progress toward our SacMod makeover vision.
We are also learning more about Carter Sparks and his design style. There are several local groups dedicated to educating and being a resource to owners of his designs including the Carter Sparks Archive and SacMod and we are just starting to dig into those resources.
One interesting fact that we discovered is that Carter Sparks was greatly inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright. Now we know the reason for some of the arts and craft touches in our home. Having a chance to live in the house for a month is giving us ideas on how to incorporate these touches into our mid century style.
4. Pick one big project.
It doesn’t have to be the most expensive project on your list or the most time consuming, but instead think about the one project that might take the house to the next level.
For us, it was the front door. A previous owner had installed dark stained glass into every piece of glass in the entryway. Carter Sparks designed homes are known for their large entryways so the impact of all that stained glass was overpowering and made the already dark house even darker and frankly, a bit depressing.
It became our first project to find someone to replace the glass and the change it made when finished was remarkable. The entry hall and living room became brighter and we loved being able to see outside.
Eventually we want to replace the front door but for now, this relatively easy update makes us feel very welcome in our new home.
Follow along on the Atomic Ranch blog with on our progress on our SacMod Makeover and pick up tips to apply to your own home projects.