Introducing Emily & Aaron's Condo Renovation

Introducing Emily & Aaron's Condo Renovation

Renovation Diary
Oct 15, 2014

Name: Aaron and Emily Choi
Type of Project: Full remodel, including the kitchen and two bathrooms
Location: La Jolla, California
Type of building: Condo; 1300 square feet

The Renovation Diaries are a collaboration with our community in which we feature your step by step renovation progress and provide monetary support towards getting it done in style. See all of our Reno Diaries here.

Emily and Aaron's new condo is a little bit like a time capsule. It was built in the 1970s, and it shows — from the all-brown kitchen to the green shag carpeting in the bathrooms (yes, the bathrooms). When they found it, they knew it was exactly what they had been looking for: a fixer-upper, a place where they could get a little experience remodeling while creating the perfect starter home.

The day we picked up our keys and condo was finally ours.

From Emily:

Late last year, Aaron and I closed escrow on our first home in La Jolla. This was just about a month before I finished my masters degree in architecture, so it was the perfect opportunity to get my feet wet in residential remodeling. With my background in structural engineering and architecture, I had secretly hoped that we would end up with a fixer upper. Sure enough, we landed ourselves a 1970s condo that had never been updated since it was first built. The walls are greasy, the kitchen cabinets are moldy, water from the toilet upstairs drips into the kitchen, and the condo even has the original lime green shag carpet that runs all the way into the bathrooms. It's hard to believe this is exactly what I was looking for. A dream come true.

The powder room downstairs.
Carpet in the bathroom: never a good idea.

Our goals for the renovation are simple:

1) We want to live in it comfortably and have it reflect our lifestyle. We are food people: we like to cook, we like to eat, and we like to feed others. Naturally, the kitchen will get a lot of our attention.

2) Knowing that our family will grow out of this place in a few years, we want to freshen up the place and give it just the right amount of personality so that it will increase the value of the home, which leads to our third goal:

3) Allocating our budget so that it will make the most impact. We don't have to upgrade everything to the best material, but we do need to think about what will make the most impression.

4) I want the experience in remodeling, particularly regarding sourcing material and coordinating subcontractors to save some money. We do have a general contractor on the job and his team will be doing most of the finish work. However, we will be bringing in a different team for demo, structural, ceiling and flooring. It's not the most convenient way to handle a project, but it does save us some money on labor.

The condo's main living room, with the kitchen on the right.
The other side of the living room.

We are planning on replacing everything in this condo, from the lime green shag carpet to the popcorn acoustic ceiling! The whole house will get new wood floors, new paint and a new ceiling. The bathrooms are all getting new tiles, toilets and sinks. We are keeping one of the tubs since it's in great condition, and switching out the other one for a tile shower. I would love to give our fireplace a facelift but since it didn't have much to begin with, it will get a face for the first time!

Looking from the dining room at the kitchen. Right in front of the pantry is the entrance from the garage.
The view of the wet bar from the kitchen.

The majority of the work will be in the kitchen, which is right next to the stairway. This whole kitchen/stairway area had me up at night trying to make sense of it. The main issue is that the likely primary entrance is at the back of the kitchen where a stairway leads up from the garage. The kitchen needs to be wide enough to accommodate our walking through it multiple times a day. There is a wet bar tucked underneath the staircase, which isn't practical for us and blocks the natural light from the clerestory window above the stairs.

Master bedroom. Through the door you can see the unfunctional cabinet at the top of the stairs.
Another view of the master bedroom, with the 'bonus room' to the right.

Because of this wet bar, the walls extends to the second story and create an awkward cabinet. It's hard to describe, but what is already a narrow staircase is now even narrower as it wraps itself around this odd cabinet that can only be accessed from the stairs. There is one structural column, and it sits smack in the middle of the kitchen. Our plans is to demo the stairway cabinet and wet bar so that it can work as an open staircase, bringing in light from up above.

The bonus room, which we will convert into a study.

The wet bar area will become a desk for laptops and mail. We will straighten out what is now a triangular shaped kitchen to a rectangular layout, creating more room in the kitchen, especially in front of the range. We don't want to do anything to the structural column so we will hook our counter around to catch it. This will eat away a little bit of the dining room space, but it will create a more functional kitchen.

The first floor - existing (L) and proposed (R).
The proposed changes to the second floor.
A rendering of the new main floor design.

Want to hear more about Emily and Aaron's renovation? Join us tomorrow as Emily and Aaron share their inspiration for their new kitchen.

(Images and Diary Text: Emily and Aaron Choi)

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