Debra Prinzing

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A midcentury home needs a modern garden

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

The renovated succulent and cactus border arcs along the lawn's edge. I love the salt-and-pepper gravel mulch, which echoes the dark-light elements of the home's Palos Verde stone cladding

The cover story of today’s Los Angeles Times HOME section features “Finally back in its prime,” my profile of the Daily House, a beautifully restored, circa 1954 “mod pad” in the LA suburbs of Glendale. Straight out of “Mad Men,” the house has been a decade-long project of its young owner, Christophe Burusco. Check out the Times’ web gallery here, with images by staff photographer Al Seib.

I had hoped to include a sidebar on the garden, but space limitations got in the way. My interview with Kathleen Ferguson of Los Angeles-based Kathleen Ferguson Landscapes reveals her excellent ideas and tips for approaching the exterior design of a retro home.

Here it is, along with my photographs from visiting Chris and touring his home and garden.

As I write in the Times’ story:

“The house – designed by Glendale architect Clair Earl, thoughtfully renovated by Burusco and since added to the Glendale Register of Historic Resources – sits on a 14,000-square-foot lot that feels like a rustic retreat, far from the city. Not a single neighbor is visible from the living room or master bedroom. Rather, Burusco’s eyes are drawn to the vibrant new succulent and cactus garden designed by Kathleen Ferguson, who incorporated mature specimens raised by the late Jean Daily Russom.”

The low-slung, horizontal lines of the Daily House are visually appealing

According to Ferguson, as with all her projects, “I really look to the architecture and what my clients’ interests are.” With Chris Burusco’s project, she didn’t want the landscape to take away from the marvelous period architecture; rather, “I wanted to enhance it.”

Ferguson set out to mimic the architecture’s clean lines with “bold plantings in the landscape.”

Three major trees were saved, including a huge magnolia beyond the home’s glass-walled corner (which serves to enhance and frame the views of the San Gabriels).

Near the front entry, Ferguson was able to save an evergreen pear (Prunus caroliniana) and a Japanese maple. The beautiful forms of these two trees had been difficult to appreciate, due to a greenhouse that was plunked down between them by the original owner of the home.

Chris removed the greenhouse and its concrete foundation, giving the scene much-needed negative space.

The new pathway cuts diagonally across the entry, using horizontal and square poured-in-place concrete

In its place, Ferguson added geometric poured-in-place concrete pavers that echo the lines of the home and lead visitors to the garden’s side entrance. “We really wanted the pavers to look like something that had been there already, which is why we did a random pattern,” she says.

The level front yard slopes down to the street, creating a dramatic perspective as you approach the house.

There, Ferguson staggered agaves on the low hillside. Mass planted, the scale and form of the agaves is ideally suited to the rugged texture of the Palos Verde stone-clad house. Between the agaves, ornamental grasses appear as a softening device.

“Together, the native succulents and ornamental grasses mimic the native surrounding plant palette,” Ferguson says.

Smooth turquoise rocks cover the ground next to the accent wall with three cool cut-outs

As you walk along the side towards the home’s back garden, you can’t help but appreciate architect Clair Earl’s artisitic detailing. He punched a trio of “windows” in a stone accent wall, which invites you to view the San Gabriels through these carefully framed scenes.

On the ground at the foot of the accent wall, Ferguson planted softer forms of asparagus ferns, which can handle that constant shade. She “mulched” the plants with a layer of smooth, light turquoise stones “for a little bit of contrast.” (This stone echoes dark blue-green flagstone on the home’s entry hallway.)

The garden’s piece de resistance is a cactus-and-succulent border that arcs around the edge of the small lawn and patio area. Here, Ferguson worked with some of the mature plants installed by Mrs. Daily Russom, who Chris says was involved with the cactus garden at the Huntington.

“Jean (Daily) loved succulents — she had a lot of amazing specimens that we wanted to keep,” he says.

Mature cactuses are now interplanted with new hybrid succulents, creating a tonal cool-to-warm palette

By blending new succulent hybrids with the established, mature varieties, the expansive border is now a spectrum of cool-to-warm tones and contrasting shapes. 

The design starts with clumps of striking, blue-gray Agave parryi, moves into purple-black rosettes of Aeonium arboreum ‘Zwartkop’ paired with sculptural paddle plants (Kalanchoe luciae) and leads to eye-pleasing multiples of golden barrel cactus (Echinocactus grusonii).

Chris loves the way the succulent palette “moves from the cool blue-grays to the reds, yellows, oranges, and then into cool again.”

The border, which runs the length of the house and can be seen from most of its rooms, is now mulched with a warm salt-and-pepper gravel (which replaced what Chris called “big ugly rocks”).

The cultivated landscape in the foreground blends with the San Gabriel Mtns. in the distance.

Ferguson is most inspired by the tension created between the landscape and the house; between the architecture and the wild setting beyond its domestic borders.

“Chris’s landscape has a lot of push-and-pull,” she says.

There’s the smooth against the rough; grey-greens against the rich greens. And there’s the contrast between the garden and the arid, native chaparal around the perimeter.

As you approach the house, it becomes more lush and more ornamental.”

I think it’s a pretty stunning treatment, worthy of this historic, but thoroughly modern, abode.

LA Field Trip: Hollywood opulence gets a facelift

Saturday, August 8th, 2009
A 1926 pool built by William Randolph Hearst now has a new community pool house. The modern columns emulate original ornate ones

A 1926 pool built by William Randolph Hearst now has a new community pool house. The modern columns emulate original ornate ones

My friend Cristi Walden invited me to join her on an excursion earlier this week, one that introduced me to a chapter of Hollywood’s glamorous history. Cristi, a native Californian, is plugged into the architectural-decorative arts world around here. But she’s not just into the luxury, high-end stuff. She’s been known to cruise around LA after dark on tours of vintage neon signs with her pal Eric Evavold, who also accompanied her on our field trip.

The visit gave me a great excuse to spend a morning with Cristi and to learn something new about my own backyard. We met up at the new Annenberg Community Beach House at Santa Monica State Beach, which opened in late April at 415 Pacific Coast Hwy.

Located on Santa Monica’s “Gold Coast,” this is the site where publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst built a $7 million mansion for his starlet-girlfriend Marion Davies. A very informative docent shared the fascinating story. Hearst, who had been married since 1902, became smitten with Marion Davies when she was a teenager performing in the Ziegfeld Follies. He waited until she was 20 and then began to court her (he was 54). Hearst even built a film studio in Manhattan as a vehicle to turn Davies into a classical actress. He never divorced his wife, Millicent, but remained with Davies, who was his companion for over 30 years. She was in 48 movies during Hollywood’s Golden Age.

The Marion Davies Guesthouse has an impressive scale, even for a so-called smaller residence

The Marion Davies Guesthouse has an impressive scale, even for a so-called smaller residence

Hearst visited friend Louis B. Mayer at his “Gold Coast” mansion and in 1926 decided to build his own beachfront estate. Photographs portray the 110-room Hearst mansion as an edifice that looked more like Monticello than anything you’d expect to see on the Pacific Ocean. The five-acre estate also encompassed an ornate marble-edged swimming pool, several guest houses and gardens. Famed architect Julia Morgan, who designed many homes for Hearst (including San Simeon) designed the interiors and also the guest house, which is now restored.

The parties they threw were legendary, including huge theme galas and costume balls whose guests included Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo and Louise Brooks. The power couple resided here until 1942, when they retreated to another of Hearst’s estates during WWII.

In the late 1940’s, the property was sold, becoming Oceanhouse, a hotel owned by Joseph Drown who eventually demolished the large mansion but preserved an original guest house and pool as well as cabanas and a locker building. Subsequently it was sold to the State of California and leased for thirty years to the popular Sand and Sea Club until the City of Santa Monica assumed responsibility for the site in 1989. After a brief period as a seasonal public beach facility, it was severely damaged during the 1994 Northridge Earthquake.


Recently restored to its former elegance, here's the foyer

Recently restored to its former elegance, here's the foyer

Cristi, Eric and Debra, in front of the Marion Davies Guesthouse

Cristi, Eric and Debra, in front of the Marion Davies Guesthouse

According to Cristi, for years Marion’s pool and guesthouse were closed off from public view, hidden and neglected behind a fence. Even though the property was smack in the middle of a city beach, it wasn’t maintained. Cristi recalls that friends (other California tile enthusiasts like her) snuck onto the property about 10 years ago just to photograph vintage pool tile-work that they feared would be destroyed.

In 2005, philanthropist Wallis Annenberg donated a boatload of money – $27 million – to save the property. I feel a special affinity for the Annenbergs, having once met her father, publishing tycoon Walter Annenberg, when I worked for Triangle Communications. Annenberg owned three magazine titles: TV Guide, the Daily Racing Form, and Seventeen Magazine, where I worked from 1980-1982. Once several of us flew on Annenberg’s private jet from NYC to LA to work at a Seventeen Magazine Tennis Tournament at Mission Viejo. Can you imagine me, a 22-year-old junior editor, getting to do that!? I still have the Triangle Corp. deck of playing cards as a memento from that trip.

Designed by Frederick Fisher and Partners, Architects, a new community pool house has 16 sleek “columns” across its facade, a symbolic echo of the 16 ornate columns that used to stand in that exact spot when the mansion faced a pool filled with frolicking Hollywood stars. Isn’t that totally amazing?

Fanciful original tile exists at the bottom of the famous swimming pool

Fanciful original tile exists at the bottom of the famous swimming pool

The refreshing and colorful new property also include a children’s play and splash area; beach volleyball and beach tennis courts; a beach cafe and new pool house. The historic Marion Davies Guesthouse has been restored and landscaped. It is available for rental events, but you can also take a guided tour like we did. I’m still not sure how this gracious residence avoided the wrecking ball; “she” must have many, many secrets in her walls!

The tile-lover in Cristi was super excited to see the beautiful and intact tile designs in three original bathrooms (one docent told us the tile had been painted over in white, requiring careful restoration to strip it away). Other noteworthy details include several original lights and chandeliers, as well as intricate crown molding and fretwork detailing. See those details below.

And for just $10, you can go swim in the pool where Hollywood’s beautiful people once bathed, or sun yourself on a chaise next to its black-and-white marble border. Only in L.A.

Here are some more images to enjoy:

Summer camping trip

Sunday, July 26th, 2009
Summer on Lopez Island

Summer on Lopez Island

As if I were still in elementary school and had to write that first-day-of-school essay: “What I Did This Summer,” I will indulge in a little post about our July 4th weekend camping trip to Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. I visited Lopez several years ago to speak to a garden club there (but it was in October and pretty deserted for the season).
We were already in Seattle on a visit, so when our friends asked my son Alex and me to join them over the holiday weekend, we quickly borrowed sleeping bags and showed up bright and early to get the 2 cars loaded up. You need 2 cars when you have three grown-ups and four boys.

We drove from Seattle to Anacortes, Wash., where the Washington State Ferries depart for several San Juan islands, as well as Victoria, B.C. (Anacortes is about 2-hour’s drive north of Seattle). Jennifer and I were in one van with 2 boys. Her husband David was a few cars behind us with 2 other boys. Suffice it to say that the car-waiting lines were long and even though we arrived around 1:30 p.m., we were given the bad news that we wouldn’t get on the 2:30 p.m. ferry. Instead, we would have to wait until 5-something. Bummer. Setting up camp at the same time you want to cook dinner isn’t great fun. But the holiday craziness started on Thursday this year. Even though we thought we were smart departing for our trip on July 2nd, it appeared that thousands of other people were just as smart!

Mom and son enjoy a glorious 4th of July weekend

Mom and son enjoy a glorious 4th of July weekend

We let the boys hop out of the car to run around the beach. Then Jennifer started edging the car forward in the line. Next thing we knew the line didn’t stop rolling…yikes! I had to jump out and run, yell and simultaneously try to dial my son’s cell phone number, to get the kids back in the car. Miraculously! We actually squeezed our car/van caravan onto that 2:30 p.m. ferry. The camping gods were smiling on our little group after all.

With that auspicious beginning, our vacation commenced. Lopez is small island with a population that swells from something like 800 year-round residents to hundreds of thousands in the summer. Especially on holiday weekends.

We found our campsite, located at Spencer Spit State Park, near the water but in a forested area, and set up two tents, a canopy over the picnic table, and multiple chairs around the firepit.

Jennifer gets the fixin's ready for a pocket pizza, camping style

Jennifer gets the fixin's ready for a pocket pizza, camping style


For dinner, Jennifer had planned “Cook-your-own sandwiches.” She has amassed a great collection of camping accoutrements, including several hinged, cast-iron sandwich-makers with long handles. They are called Pie Irons (and you can purchase them for approximately $15 each).

Hot off the griddle - a Hobo Sandwich!

Hot off the griddle - a Hobo Sandwich!

Butter the inside of each 4-by-4 inch tray (about the size of a bread slice) and lay bread in both.  Add cheese, pepperoni and tomato sauce to make a pocket pizza; Or just use the cheese to make a grilled cheese sandwich. And for dessert, use the bread as “crust” and add apple or cherry pie filling to make a one-person piece of pie.

The “cooking” occurs by sticking the square end over the campfire or on the campstove. Heat for a few minutes on one side; flip it over and do the same on the other side. When you finish and open up the hinged sections, the finished sandwich, calzone-like pizza or sweet pie is ready to eat.

I told my friend Robin about our fun grilling experience. And she proclaimed: “Oh, my husband used to make those when he was a kid! They’re called Hobo Meals!”


The architecture of Lopez fascinated me when I was there in 2004 and again on this trip. In the center of town there is a restored 1914 water tower and pump house. Tall, square and slender with the look of a lighthouse. It has weathered shingle siding and tiny windows. As it turns out, there are several of these structures on the island; I even saw one incorporated into the corner of a residence.

There is something very appealing about these towers. They are utilitarian as well as incredibly beautiful. They have that New England, maritime architectural style (reminiscent of Cape Cod, Mystic Seaport, Rockport). Having lived in New England as a young girl, these salty, breezy edifices felt comforting to me. And permanent. Jennifer and I walked around “downtown” Lopez and snapped photos of cool architecture. Here are a few that captured our imagination:


Driftwood shelter on Spencer Spit

Driftwood shelter on Spencer Spit


We spent a lot of time beachcombing, and apparently, so did others.

The driftwood that washed up on the beach is obvious inspiration for shelter-builders who stack, pile, lean and construct temporary driftwood shelters.

Here is a beautiful, open-air A-frame made from driftwood (see left). It reminds me of the human urge to create shelter.

Wherever we are; whatever materials are at hand. We find a way to establish “home” for ourselves and our loved ones.

Another structure occupied the beach at Spencer Spit. It was a replica of the original fishing house that once stood here. Simple, clean lines. Open to the air. A shelter in the truest sense of the word. Again, it filled that yearning void for enclosure, safety, comfort and protection from the elements. Open and inviting to anyone who happened along this stretch of beach. I love the “spaces” that create view-framing windows through which to enjoy the gorgeous water, island and maritime views:

The fishing hut on Spencer Spit

The fishing hut on Spencer Spit

A breathtaking framed view

A breathtaking framed view


Shed Spotting in Pasadena

Saturday, February 14th, 2009
The gate leads to a Shed Surprise

The gate leads to a Shed Surprise

If you’ve been following Shed Style for any period of time, by now, you know that I use the term “SHED” quite broadly to describe “a shelter in the garden.”

And so, here are two very different, but equally enticing, glimpses of garden shed architecture that I had the good fortune to tour earlier this week. The occasion: a preview of the Feb. 28th study tour that Betsy Flack of Garden Conservancy has designed to accompany the Feb. 27th seminar: Gardens that Re-Make Themselves.

The seminar will examine the restoration of historic gardens to reflect the original architecture and period, as well as sustainable design practices that today’s garden makers can use to ensure their landscapes endure for future generations. Several really incredible established gardens, mostly in Pasadena, will be open to seminar participants who take the study tour.

The garden structures I visited are relatively new, but they were designed – in the spirit and character of the property’s origins – to fit into older landscapes .

M's Garden House

M's Garden House

“M’s” Garden House stands at the back of a long, narrow garden in an historic Pasadena neighborhood.

The 1926 residence, a one-story Mediterranean-style bungalow, is situated near the front of the 50-by-195 foot lot. Because her house is closer to the sidewalk, the parcel behind the house is very park-like. She has preserved and enhanced the original hard-scape and bones of this Italian-inspired garden. It is truly amazing to see the setting and realize it is 83 years old.

At the far end of the garden path stands a scallop-topped swinging gate. According to the owner, the gate originally led to an old tool shed for garden storage.

But she had other plans for this underutilized space and asked her architect to design a garden structure in keeping with the garden’s vintage.

Hugh Maguire, an architect who does work in Pasadena and Palm Springs, designed the 11-by-13 foot structure in1995. “I had seen an old English train station ‘storefront’ at a salvage place in Pasadena,” Maguire told me when I contacted him by phone. “It had the words ‘Waiting Room’ on it”

An urn, in the garden court

An urn, in the garden court

He thinks the fanciful storefront dates to the 19th century.

Maguire discovered it years ago at Across the Street from Alice, a Mission Street salvage dealer and has had his eye on it ever since.

M’s request for a garden structure presented the perfect opportunity to use the beautiful architectural element with mullioned windows, an arched transom and detailed mill-work panels. Maguire spent around $1,200 for the salvaged facade. “Can you image what it would cost to have something like this custom made?” he asked me. No, I can’t. And that’s why I love it when designers and builders utilize materials from the past. Salvaged architectural fragments are a high art form when it comes to shed-making.

In order to build this pleasing space, a “collapsed shed” was removed. However, architect and client salvaged doors from the old structure and recycled them as cupboard doors on interior bookcases. In between the bookcases is a perfect-circle porthole window. It echoes the perfect-circle recycled brick “carpet” that now serves as the garden foyer to the little house.

a cut-away in the roof to wrap around the tree trunk

a cut-away in the roof to wrap around the tree trunk

On top of the new stucco building, Maguire added a standing seam metal roof. In one corner of the four-sided roof that caps the garden house, they had to make a cut-out – to accommodate a stately eucalyptus tree that M did not want disturbed by the construction. That’s showing serious concern for her garden and the plants she inherited!

Redwood and river rock form a rustic gazebo

Redwood and river rock form a rustic gazebo

The second shelter-shed I visited is from a different architectural era altogether. It was designed by architects Conrad Buff and Donald Hensman in 1993. Carol Soucek King, its intuitive and creative owner, calls the structure a “gazebo.” It is far from a wimpy, ultra-feminine Victorian gazebo. This is a rustic, natural edifice that is situated at the upper edge of a creek.

Using local Arroyo Seco river rock for the foundation and side wall (notice the wonderful niches that allow for pedestal candles – imagine how meditative this space will feel at twilight!) and leaving the structure covered, but open-sided, the design is a study in native, organic architecture.

According to Carol, when the gazebo’s construction was completed, the builder, stone mason and architect gathered with the Kings for a Bento box lunch “to bless it.”

“We all sat here and were very conscious that this would be a sacred place,” she told me.

In a magnificent book about Buff and Hensman’s architectural careers, the structure is described as a “lineal redwood gazebo” . . . “conceived as a refuge.”

A refuge indeed. No one could wish for a better way to experience sanctuary, solace, spiritual respite and beauty.

Here are a few more images:

Home of the Times invokes Midcentury vibe

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

“A Retro Future,” my feature article in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times HOME section features a breathtakingly perfect re-do of a one-story California ranch house in La Canada-Flintridge.

It is owned by Oscar-nominated Disney producer Don Hahn, an infectiously-friendly Renaissance man, and his equally talented wife Denise Hahn.

That the two are artists explains in large part why their renovation was so successful (Don and Denise are plein air  Western landscape painters and collectors).

To transform the vintage ranch house, they collaborated with architect Georgie Kajer and interior designer Jamie Bush, creating a dream-team of like-minded talents.

The secret to this project’s success is the clever editing of the original spaces. There was no reason to tear this house down and erect a McMansion; no reason to add a second story. The Hahns wanted to honor the architecture, as Denise explains: “I guess we’re on track with baby boomers who want to live in the houses they grew up in.”

The re-design removed some interior walls to create an open floor plan. As a result, the central space feels open, welcoming and loft-like. Look up and the once scary “cottage cheese” dropped ceiling has been reincarnated with awesome vaulted lines, clad in Douglas fir. Look down and the new amber-toned terrazzo floor unifies the entire house (Don loves that its composition includes broken beer glass and bits of mother-of-pearl). The palette of golds, greens and reds further unifies the spaces; the colors are enhanced or subdued depending on the room, but each room speaks to the adjacent one – creating an overall mellowness that I found appealing.

I learned so much reporting and writing this piece, thanks to the generosity of the homeowners and the designers. The home’s architecture has its roots in classic California ranch house design (no surprise to learn that Don, Denise, Jamie and Georgie all mentioned Cliff May’s iconic modern ranch houses of the 1950s). It is a truly modern residence that functions as a perfect environment for the Hahn family, including a teenage daughter and two active dogs.

A final note: Of course, I was drawn to the outdoor spaces, including the vintage cabana, pool-side (seen above). It is a stylish shelter in the garden. Rather than demo it and start over, Jamie recommended updating it with   persimmon accents, wide-striped draperies that enclose the space as an outdoor dressing room, and sculptural, modern furniture. It’s hip, and it’s inviting.

And thanks, of course, goes to my editor Craig Nakano, for the assignment. The final product was a joy to see in print (and online).

Tree Houses (Huts? Sheds?) in Manhattan

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Alerted by my British shed-pal Alex Johnson, of,  to news that a village of tree houses had sprung up in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park, I was determined to see the spectacle with my own eyes. While in NYC for a brief 48 hour visit last weekend, I added a stop at this midtown Manhattan public exhibit of sheds-in-trees.

My son, Ben, and I spent 2 days in New York, en route home from a not-so-happy occasion (my mother-in-law’s funeral). The exposure to theater and art was a welcome respite. Last Sunday, before departing to take the train out to JFK Airport, we squeezed in a subway ride on the Downtown R train to 23rd Street & Fifth Avenue.

Emerging from underground into the beautiful autumn weather, we crossed the street and entered a verdant, 6.2-acre patch in the heart of urban hustle. Looking up, built around the trunks and suspended amid branches of six or seven tall shade trees, we spied the underneath sides of the Tree Huts. While quite humble, constructed with an apparent lack of precision from 2-by-4s and nails, each little hut seems perfect in its imperfection. The mere essentials of shelter are provided: roof overhead; floor beneath; walls to protect; window or doorway for access and light. All that is missing is a rope ladder or steps made by pieces of lumber nailed up the tree trunks. I was eager to scramble the heights and enter one of these engaging structures!


Home of the (Los Angeles) Times

Saturday, October 18th, 2008

Here’s how “Seeing the Light,” my story in today’s Los Angeles Times’  HOME section begins:

When Alan Smart was a kid, he discovered an old trunk in an antique store and begged his mother to buy it. She refused (after all, he was 10). So young Alan spent $45 from his allowance to purchase the trunk himself.

“I like old-timey things,” Smart says in his retro Hawaiian-print shirt and board shorts, gesturing to his living room filled with restored antique armchairs and vintage California tile tables.

This is a story that underscores my belief that we can both possess a home and be possessed by it. It’s about how Alan and his partner Michael Uhlenkott transformed a nondescript 1930s Spanish Revival bungalow in an aging Los Angeles neighborhood into a showpiece for decorative arts and their amazing collection of early California pottery, tile, furniture, paintings, figures, and lighting. It’s about how their personalities and preferences are revealed through their choices of color, textiles and artwork.

Alan and Michael are artists of the highest order. If there is a surface to embellish, they will find a way, even if it means spending endless hours standing on ladders to hand-stencil the stucco ceiling with a Moorish pattern or antiquing the walls with layers of glazing, rag-application and dry brush painting techniques.

They design with a respect for the past, an appreciation for craftsmanship and materials, and a lighthearted sense of irony. There is no halfway effort here. Everything relating to a genre, period or style is explored, honed, refined and reinterpreted. There’s such an honesty and authenticity to each decision to adorn and decorate. I love every detail! 


Arts and Crafts architecture, then and now

Thursday, October 16th, 2008

Our beloved Seattle bungalow, updated from its 1924 origins

My interest in garden design from the American Arts and Crafts era is connected with the affection we have for a 1924 Seattle Craftsman bungalow, which my husband and I bought in 1996.

The one-story house, about 1,100-square-feet in size, was painted light gray. With faded white trim, it was not much to look at, as it had been a rental house for so many years (seen at right). On our first visit, we ignored the sofa on the front porch (below, left) and instead gazed at the breathtaking views of Lake Washington, the Cascade Mountains, Seward Park and Mount Baker.

Thus began our love affair with Craftsman architecture. We wanted to expand the house while also preserving its character. My husband Bruce met Toby Taylor of Caledonia Bay Builders after previously seeing his work and tracking him down through a real estate agent

Toby (seen below, right) and Bruce hit it off immediately, an almost unheard of phenomenon between a builder and a potential client who is also a lawyer. Toby introduced us to Robin Abrahams, a Seattle architect who he described admiringly. We were impressed when Toby told us that Robin was “way cool.”

Miraculously, we went with our “gut” feelings and hired them both (this was highly rare for my lawyer-husband, who typically would have insisted on competitive bids from three candidates). We’d heard all the horror stories. Nearly everyone we knew who had restored, renovated or built a home was unenthusiastic about the process, or about their contractor, or about their architect.

But our little project was blessed. We adored Robin and her colleagues at Abrahams Architects. She is a bundle of creative energy, a thoughtful, very smart, incredibly gifted designer. We also loved Toby’s verve, his hard-working, can-do attitude, and his often amusing ski-bum vocabulary.