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Updating classic California flat-top
Remodeling creates more uncluttered, open look
BEFORE-bathroom lt
The bathroom makeover involved employing plenty of tiles, a custom vanity, and replacing a prefab fiberglass shower-run with a tiled shower. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Home Depot for close to a month became my home away from home.

It’s what happens when you decide to remodel your kitchen, bathroom, laundry room and make other assorted improvements throughout your home all at the same time.

The decision to remodel was easy. Just like with buying a home, this is an opportune time to remodel. Contractors - well most anyway - are extremely competitive and reasonable and aren’t so buried with work that you see them one day and then they disappear for a month because they are juggling you with 600 other jobs. Material is also pretty reasonable now.

I actually did buy the perfect house three years ago when I bought in the Powers Tract neighborhood nestled between Spreckels Park and Manteca High. The decision to dump cash into it was about as much about correcting some flaws such as a 60-year-old electrical panel as it was about enhancing what I like about the house and making it truly my own.

I was driven by practical considerations such as improving air flow to keep the house warm in the winter and cool in the summer as I have neither central heat nor air as I was about creating “a look.”

I spent the good part of a year driving people up the wall, going over ideas in my head, checking out tile and fixtures, and pricing.

I drafted a list of what I wanted to do and set a cap that I didn’t exceed - after building in a 20 percent contingency - save for one item which was a new black and stainless steel refrigerator from Sears. My refrigerator was only three years old but it was white and it didn’t look right as the kitchen that was taking shape.

The list included:

•A toilet that could actually flush without help and use even less water.

•Exterior glass doors that let the light through and were air tight.

•Ceiling fans that would do the job - 52 inches - plus did not look like an afterthought. (Manteca Lighting is a perfect place to accomplish that feat.)

•A bathroom vanity that I didn’t have to bend over and had a sink I could easily clean.

•A shower that didn’t make me feel claustrophobic.

•A bathroom where I didn’t have to worry about ever getting water damage which meant plenty of wall tile and floor tile.

•The ability to hang my wet exercise gear in the bathroom separately from the towel racks.

•A kitchen sink that was deep enough I could wash dishes in.

•To have a kitchen counter top that was easy to keep clean, wouldn’t fall apart, and looks nice.

•To have all of my exterior windows match.

•To finish the laundry room that had studs showing for 60 years.

•To have a water heater that was as energy efficient as feasible and was easy to maintain.

•To have outside electrical outlets and wiring for a controller for an irrigation system.

•No doors inside the house save a reed glass door on the bathroom.

•No closet doors, linen or closet doors in the hallway or doors on cupboards above the kitchen counter.

The last one was to change my behavior. I had gotten into the habit of throwing things into cupboards and closets as well as holding onto a lot of things I didn’t really need or use. It is amazing how much neater and organized you can be when you don’t hide stuff.

Picking out who I wanted to coordinate everything was a no brainier after I found Karl Luther of All About Flooring. I hired him to place laminate flooring throughout the house - except the kitchen and bathroom - in the spring. To say the guy is a perfectionist is an understatement. He also meshed with my personality which is essential. If he hadn‘t after 30 days one of us would have been in jail.

It also helped to have an electrician like Ken Rudolph who not only did things right but want to make things look as good as possible. That isn’t an easy feat in a flat-top built in 1951 with no attic when you’re installing a ceiling fan in a room that didn’t have one before.

I didn’t have a problem with any of the specialty folks - save a plumbing firm dispatched out of San Jose that apparently thinks the California Uniform Bulking Code is for wimps. Eleazar Tamez, a Manteca-based plumber, not only replace the mess they made under my kitchen sink for a third of the price but he also did the work in the bathroom. Road Runner Glass put the finishing touches on the shower pony wall with a nicely installed piece of glass.

I discovered along the way that having something custom made locally - such as a 42-inch high vanity in the bathroom stained black - is actually less expensive and gets you exactly what you want than going through a “semi-custom” firm 10 states away. Perez & Son gets credit for making the vanity which is part of the most impressive part of the makeover - the bathroom.

The bathroom is the difference between day and night, white and black (with plenty of grays), and “blah” and “wow.”

Going from a white to back toilet was one thing. But by the time I completed it with the dark gray tile, the complementing floor tile, the reed glass door, granite vanity top, and charcoal glass vessel, I decided to paint the remaining wall space and the ceiling pewter.

The color scheme has surprised more than a few people who didn’t think it would work. Most bathrooms tend to be cut from the same color schemes. They are also aimed at the same cookie cutter market. The entire idea was to create something that worked for me.

More than once I had contractors who told me I should think about what I was doing as it wouldn’t help the resale value. I dealt with them by simply finding someone else who didn’t think part of their job was to question my reasons for doing things the way I wanted to do them.

If I was worried about resale value in the first place I would never have bought a 995-square-foot two bedroom, one bathroom flat top home.

But I like the classic California look of the 1950s that many flat tops in the Bay Area hills have complete with an open and uncluttered look.