Melissa and Stephen’s Preserved Spanish Revival

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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Name: Melissa Lisbon & Stephen Hood
Location: San Jose, California
Size: 1,900 sq/ft
Years lived in: 3 years, rented

A radiant white facade surrounded by a profusion of coastal California foliage is what initially caught the eye of Melissa Lisbon and Stephen Hood. But the myriad details they’ve discovered over the last three years have made the 1930 Spanish Colonial Revival home much more than just a residence. Original artistic and architectural elements tucked in beneath the stucco house’s terracotta roof and beamed ceiling have made life here a true adventure.

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

Guests salute the sun’s wise face carved into a clay medallion as they stroll down a flagstone path and pass beneath an archway guarded by a cross-legged toad painted iridescent blue. Beyond the front door with its wavy woodwork that mimics the glass panes in a pair of French doors, a splendid interior exceptionally preserves the house’s historic character. Cast iron chandeliers look like they’ve just been unloaded from a 16th century Spanish galleon, while intricate tiles depicting peacocks, ships, and Mayan masks appear to be the work of acclaimed artisan Ernest A. Batchelder. Mingling a Mediterranean atmosphere with the spartan elements of California Mission style, gorgeous rooms recall an architectural era of nostalgia that swept across the state in the early 20th century.

Out back, tranquility engulfs a pool-side patio where gardens blossom with daffodils, lavender, magnolias, and lemon trees depending on the season. Beneath a wooden trellis dripping with wisteria vines, a set of antique wrought iron chairs awaits weekend entertaining. Sweeping palms and zinnias planted in Italianate urns lead to a once neglected nook behind the garage, which Melissa has transformed into a calm container garden. And tomato plants flourish in Stephen’s homemade “Earth Boxes” (see instructions). These sumptuous surroundings inspire Melissa’s line of handcrafted jewelry, which she strings in her basement studio and sells in her Etsy shop californiablue.

Three years ago, Melissa and Stephen were ready to buy, but since moving into this sunny, San Jose dream house, they continue to be contented renters, happily relishing their remarkable abode.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Re-Nest Survey:

My/Our style: Because our 1930’s Spanish Revival home has such a strong architectural personality, we have adopted a style of restraint and minimalism, selecting pieces that blend in yet do not overpower the inherent character of the house. The house is a beautiful blending of wood, tile, iron, and plaster; we’ve sought to match these materials in our choice of furnishings.

Inspiration: We are inspired by Spanish Mediterranean architecture and gardens, of which there are many examples in the “Rose Garden” neighborhood of San Jose where we live.  Other inspirations include  the Allied Arts Guild in Menlo Park (an artist co-op housed in a beautiful 1930’s villa), the historic Carmel Mission, and the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park.

Favorite Element: Our home is filled with lovely artisan tiles. They show diverse images including flowers, peacocks, dragons, ships, and various others symbols and patterns. Their eclectic designs fascinate us and we like to imagine that they tell the story of “Old California.”

Biggest Challenge: Staying true to the style of the house while working with a limited budget and within a renter’s inherent restrictions to make any significant changes.

What Friends Say: We love to entertain and many of our friends and family have paid us the supreme compliments of calling our home “calming” and saying it’s like “being on vacation.” Our guests also often comment on the great natural light and lovely gardens.

Biggest Embarrassment: Our home office gets the job done but lacks any decorative design or style.  We’re currently using IKEA furniture left over from our prior residence, which is perfectly functional but doesn’t at all match the style of our home.

Proudest DIY: We love sparkling water but are fairly horrified by the environmental impact of the bottled water industry. We therefore built our own home carbonation system and now enjoy sparkling, filtered San Jose municipal tap water. We also recently reclaimed some dead space behind our garage and converted it into a drip-irrigated organic home garden. It even has a homemade compost bin.

Biggest Indulgence: The family room was remodeled by a prior owner to serve as a media room. It has a large built-in cabinet for a home entertainment system and wide-screen TV, so we of course had no choice but to fill that space with the appropriate electronics.

Best Advice: Some of our best finds have been at garage sales in our own neighborhood, where many houses were built around the same time and share a similar style.

Green Elements/Initiatives: As mentioned above, we’ve created our own home carbonation system, built a compost bin, and turned reclaimed space into a home garden. We’ve also modified our toilets to use less water by using milk jugs to displace water inside the tanks. Nearly all of our furniture was purchased at garage/estate sales or antique stores.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)


Appliances: The house has a vintage O’Keefe & Merritt gas stove from the 1940s/1950s. It is in wonderful condition and is a real piece of history! They are collectors items that some homeowners go out of their way to repair or acquire.

Furniture: Nearly everything was sourced from estate sales, garage sales, and antique stores. One of our favorite local antique stores is called Not Too Shabby and is located in our neighborhood on Bascom Avenue in San Jose.

Lighting: We were fortunate that the house had custom light fixtures that came with the house. In the dining room there is a very ornate antique chandelier and the living room has a large iron chandelier with matching sconces. We purchased a few lamps including a Tiffany style lamp from Home Goods to supplement the excellent fixtures in the house.

Tiles and Stone: The tiles in the entry way, on the stairs and in both bathrooms are from Ernest Allan Batchelder who was a leading designer of the American Arts and Crafts movement. He established a tile company in Pasadena, California in 1909. The tiles in our house include his Mediterranean and Mayan themes. The Mayan designs became very popular with the popularity of the Spanish colonial style of architecture in the 1930’s.

Artwork: My sister, Laura Lisbon is a talented and recognized painter. We are proud to have several of her works gracing our walls.

(Thanks, Melissa and Stephen!)
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(Images: Celeste Sunderland. Originally published 2010-06-24)