The Alexander home in Cambria: Getting it just right

Tom Alexander used a bevy of craftsmen —and spent nearly six years — to completely remodel his Cambria home

Special to The TribuneSeptember 26, 2012 

  • TIPS FROM TOM ALEXANDER

    BE CHOOSY Before making decisions on materials or décor, visit multiple stores and do internet research. Try not to snap up the first piece you like or settle for something just because it’s on sale. Be prepared for a lot of dead ends before finding just the right piece.

    TALK IT OUT Take the time to thoroughly interview contractors, craftsmen and artisans. Select ones who understand your style and are willing to work with you to achieve your goals for the project.

    CUT YOUR LOSSES Be willing to walk away from bad relationships even if it costs money. It may not be easy to part ways with a designer or contractor who you don’t see eye-toeye with, but doing so may be better than living with something you’re not happy with.

As an electrical contractor who has worked on scores of projects, Tom Alexander knew he had two options when remodeling his Cambria home: getting the job done quickly, or getting it done just right.

Not one to gloss over details, he chose the latter, which is why it took from fall 2003 until spring 2009 to update and enlarge the 1982-built contemporary coastal home.

Taking it slow had many benefits, including having the time to find the right people to work with. Close friend Tanya Hildebrand of Grover Beach collaborated on the project from start to finish. Cambria architect David Brown designed the remodel, and Jared Israel of Atascadero’s JAI Construction was the general contractor.

The project enlarged the structure from 1,400 square feet to 3,000 square feet. Windows were moved and expanded to take greater advantage of views. All interior walls on the main floor were removed, and lower level decks were built on the east and west sides of the house.

Flexibility was key throughout the process. Alexander chose not to make all design decisions upfront, but to let the project evolve during construction.

“Tanya and I decided it was more important to find what we wanted in terms of plumbing fixtures, tile, cabinet design, carpets, etcetera, than get the house done in a hurry at the expense of design,” he said.

To guide the design process, Alexander and Hildebrand selected a different theme for most rooms. The master bedroom and bath are done in a 1930s Central Coast cottage style. The guest bedroom was dubbed the Yosemite Room because it is reminiscent of a Yosemite lodge. The guest bathroom is Mediterranean-influenced, and the hall bath is in the style of an early 1900s beach cottage.

Many elements of the home were inspired by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Los Angeles architect John Lautner, one of Wright’s early apprentices, designed the Long Beach home of Alexander’s aunt and uncle. Alexander has long admired Wright’s penchant for clean lines and open spaces.

Wright was heavily influenced by the Arts & Crafts movement. In this spirit, Alexander called upon the talents of several local artisans to create original, handcrafted features for the home.

Richard Clark of Fresh Kitchens and Baths designed and built several items for the home, including pieces for the Frank Lloyd Wright-themed study. Clark built a replica of a writing desk Wright designed for the Meyer May house in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He adapted it to Alexander’s needs and to accommodate a Wright-designed barrel chair Alexander already owned.

Clark studied Wright’s work extensively and built cabinetry and a wall bed for the room in the style of Wright’s work. A striking example of this is the intricate grille motif on the large panels that conceal the queen-sized bed. The piece is decorative but also practical, with built-in storage that helps the office/guest room do double duty without added clutter.

Among the original features crafted by William Heistand of Heistand Woodwork are ceiling trim and door headers on the first floor, a television cabinet, and fireplace mantels. An ornate corner vanity he built for the powder room has diverse influences that include Egyptian motifs and Arts & Crafts design. Heistand also created a living room stair railing inspired by one that Wright designed for the Meyer May house.

Other artisans who worked on the home include Leon Smith of Stonesmith, whose portfolio includes work for Hearst Castle. Richard Stacey of Marathon Tile installed tile throughout the house, including intricate designs for the Mediterranean-style bathroom.

Alexander and Hildebrand took the same unhurried, deliberate ap proach when selecting materials. For instance, when choosing tile, Hildebrand visited nearly every tile store in the region.

“At times we would have her living room in Grover Beach full of samples as we tried to find just the right one to carry out the theme of the room,” Alexander recalled.

Their persistence paid off. Each material is special or meaningful in some way. Among their favorites are the Motawi handmade tiles depicting forest scenes for the master bathroom and master bedroom fireplace. And they never tire of looking at the Hy Desert stone used on the fireplaces and in the wine cellar.

“We see something new in it every time we sit and admire it,” Alexander said.

When challenges arose, the team had the time and freedom to find creative solutions. For instance, when Heistand needed a unique handrail for the master bedroom stairs, he mounted cast bronze door handles horizontally. Their tree branch shape repeats a motif seen throughout the room and adjoining bathroom. When, after several months, the heavy bronze began to pull from the wall, he created a walnut piece in a coordinating branch motif that not only provides a more secure foundation for the handles, it is a func tional work of sculpture.

Alexander is partial to clean-lined, tailored furnishings and also wanted to hold on to pieces he already owned. Richard Clark restored a 1950s-era dining table that belonged to Alexander’s parents. The original benches had been discarded years ago, so Clark worked from old photographs to recreate them in a sturdier design.

Designer Jules DuRocher repaired and reupholstered several items of furniture including a 1970s sectional.

“All these items had been in storage but were better than anything we could find in a furniture store to fit the style of the house, so Jules’ work on getting them rebuilt and recovered was important to feel of the interior of the house,” Alexander said.

The outcome of the lengthy remodel was worth the wait, he noted.

“The end product of this project more than met our expectations,” Alexander said. “The continual pleasure that Tanya and I get from the house justifies every hour spent on it — not to mention the friendships we made with some of the contractors, craftsmen and artisans who contributed to the successful outcome.”

Reach Rebecca Juretic at rajuretic@sbcglobal.net

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