Kristen and Mike’s Mid Century Update (On a Budget)

updated Jul 17, 2020
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Name: Kristen James and Mike Dunn (with our two dachshunds, Conan and Gaudi)
Location: Lakewood, CA
Size: 815 SF
Years lived in: 4 ½

When Kristen and Mike bought their 50’s era ‘stucco box’ what they saw was a whole lot of potential. Keeping a strict eye on their budget, they maximized their 815 square foot home by keeping rooms light and airy, adding a kit house in back for office space and planting an entire backyard oasis fit for Frank Sinatra himself. The result is a laid back house that feels much larger than it is making it perfect for entertaining.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

A recent contestant in the Smallest Coolest Contest, Kristen’s Right Sized Space is all about smart furniture layouts and an open plan kitchen with an island perfect for entertaining (the 50 bottle wine fridge built in doesn’t hurt either).

The living room is kept simple with smaller scale mid century furniture allowing for plenty of seating without any bulk. We also love the way they’ve displayed their mask collection and their vintage cameras. Because they clustered like items together they’re able to display quite a large number of objects without the space becoming cluttered or heavy.

But the part of the house that really caught our attention was the gorgeous backyard, complete with beautiful succulents, a winding pathway, chairs for lounging, a shaded deck for cooling off and a small, modern kit house for an office space separate from the main house (they used the Modern Shed Kit on four concrete pier footings and they built it themselves!) It’s perfect for having friends over for cocktails, and isn’t that what the 60’s were all about?

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our style: We are both crazy modernists. As an architect/designer, I love clean lines and simple details. Mike is a Director of Photography so he’s very visual and obsessed with light and the aesthetics of a space. He didn’t care much about architecture before we met but he’s a convert now. You should hear him critique home designs on HGTV. It’s ridiculous!

Inspiration: Our “stucco box from 1950” was a perfect blank canvas for incorporating mid-century modern elements into the design. We keept it era-relevant but allowed for convenience, technology and a lot of fun.

Favorite Element: The island in the kitchen. It holds our “good wine” stockpile and has been the perfect study table while preparing for my architectural exams. I’m also the office baker at work and the island is the perfect spot for whipping up week-night cookies or biscotti.

Biggest Challenge: Since funds were tight we didn’t have the luxury of living elsewhere during the remodel. It was really a challenge to tear apart the only bathroom in the house. Everything had to be planned in phases so we would always have a working toilet (with the exception of a few hours since we moved it 3 feet from its original location). Thank goodness our gym was just a few blocks away for daily showers! If we weren’t in such a rush to get the bathroom back together I would have done a few things differently but overall, we are happy with the way things turned out.

What Friends Say: Everyone likes what we have done on the inside, however, when they see the backyard they always say going there is like a little vacation.

Biggest Embarrassment: We have no storage at all! Not even a closet to hang coats. Whenever we have visitors over they have to stash all of their coats, bags, etc. on the bed in our guestroom.

Proudest DIY: Honestly, the entire house. We did everything ourselves with the exception of some re-circuiting work in the kitchen and moving the pluming for the toilet’s new location. For work, I spend most of my time on construction sites so I’ve learned a lot by studying the techniques of the subcontractors. Some things I’ve taken to really easily (all of the tiling, framing, detail work) and some I’ll hire out the next time around (mudding and taping new drywall). Mike is probably most proud of the deck and pergola that we built without any experience or plans (just a napkin sketch of the design).

Biggest Indulgence: The Corian countertops in the kitchen and my collection of vintage furniture in the living room. Oh, and the Modern-shed studio kit we bought for the backyard. It makes a lovely home office.

Best advice: I’m a huge tree-hugger and I always share my advice for reducing waste and recycling or repurposing with others undergoing a remodel. This advice includes: Replace your old inefficient water heater with a tankless model, get rid of lawn and replace with rocks and gorgeous drought tolerant plants (succulents!), install energy efficient appliances and light fixtures with dimmable controls, use low water use fixtures, use durable materials that will last a long time and can be recycled after their useful life. Re-use or re-purpose wherever possible (wood studs, drywall, tile, etc.) and take whatever you can’t use (light fixtures, rugs, doors, hardware, trim – just about any building material) to your local Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Also look for local resources for recycling appliances, drywall, carpet, concrete, etc. Your conscience will thank you for it.

Dream source: The Alessi Store for kitchen gadgets, Room and Board for everything, West Elm for bedding and miscellaneous decor, and all of the awesome mid-century furniture stores in Palm Springs and on 4th Street in Long Beach.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)


Appliances: Frigidaire Professional and Gallery Series kitchen appliances (when on a budget!)

Hardware: Ikea for all kitchen hardware

Furniture: Ebay and Room & Board for the living room

Accessories: Ebay (for the vintage movie cameras), West Elm for vases, Restoration Hardware for glass lanterns, Tourist shops in Maui for the masks (in addition to some online tiki mask stores once I got home to add to the collection).

Lighting: The now defunct Expo for the ceiling fans

Paint: Ralph Lauren loft collection at Home Depot – it’s a great quality residential paint with really good color selection

Flooring: Crossville Color Blox porcelain tile in “Sea Otter” (sizes 18″x18″, 12″x12″ and 6″x6″). Wood floor is original oak that has been refinished.

Rugs and Carpets: Durkan commercial carpet (edgebound to be used as area rugs).

Tiles and Stone: Mosaic wall tiles are Ann Sacks Beaulieu glass tiles, Countertops are Corian in “Concrete”.

Window Treatments: Hand sewn curtains in bedroom using Ikea print fabric.

Beds: Z Galerie and West Elm for the bedrooms.

Artwork: Room and Board stainless steel frames over bed in master bedroom.

Other: Ikea kitchen cabinets in (now discontinued) eucalyptus veneer. The backyard “studio” is a kit we bought from

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

(Thanks, Kristen and Mike!)

Images: Kristen James

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