A sorority house in SLO gets an update

After a ‘green’ renovation, it’s not your grandmother’s sorority house anymore

Special to The TribuneJanuary 16, 2013 


    GO NATURAL Natural materials are often less toxic and more durable than synthetic materials. The Gamma Phi Beta house used carpet made from renewably-sourced Sorona polymer, which is a spun corn sugar fiber. The marmoleum floor tiles in the kitchen were made from linseed oil, pine rosin, wood flour and mineral pigments.

    CORK IT If you have kids, or a room where wall displays frequently change, covering a wall in cork may save on wear and tear over time. You can buy them in sheets or tiles, with or without adhesive backing.

    PRETTY IN PINK Soft pastels such as pink and lavender are fresh and not overly feminine when combined with a mostly neutral palette, such as browns or grays, as well as clean lines.

If your image of a sorority house involves furniture primarily in the beanbag genre, the newly-remodeled Gamma Phi Beta House in San Luis Obispo will likely be an eye-opener.

The circa-1904 Victorian was purchased by the Cal Poly sorority in the 1970s after being owned by the French family for three decades. Two years ago, a plan to install mandatory fire sprinklers snowballed into an extensive remodel.

“The house needed to be updated — it sees a lot of wear and tear with 18 occupants every year,” said Jennifer Flachman, who once lived in the six-bedroom house as a student and is now a sorority advisor.

Flachman collaborated with Brian Garris Construction, fellow sorority advisor Jan Dallon, and a student executive committee. The project would need to be completed over the summer break in 2012, so every detail was carefully outlined over the course of two years.

The team worked with designer Heather Tissue of Green Goods to source materials that would be eco-friendly, nontoxic and durable.

“The products we researched from Green Goods have a long life expectancy,” said Flachman. “The house sees a lot of wear and tear and we want items to be the best value and to last many years.”

The renovation included an overall cosmetic makeover and a complete remodel of the cramped, outdated kitchen. They made an effort to save features original to the home, preserving moldings and restoring the original Douglas fir floors that had been long masked by carpet. But they didn’t feel tied to the Victorian aesthetic.

“We kept in mind that young adult women were going to be occupying it,” said Flachman. “We wanted to give it a fun sense of style.”

The new kitchen blends modern functionality with traditional elements. They opened up more space by removing a wall between the kitchen and a butler’s pantry. They installed hardworking commercial-grade appliances including a True glass door refrigerator, a large cooktop and two Dacor ovens.

Simple, Shaker-style cabinetry from Green Goods was built from sustainably-harvested wood with no added urea formaldehyde glues or adhesives. Caesarstone countertops are made from 93 percent quartz, a recycled material. Marmoleum floor tiles, which are composed of linseed oil, pine rosin, wood flour and mineral pigments, were set in a checkerboard pattern in the sorority colors of brown and mode, a light brown.

Common areas were in desperate need of a style update. The house previously had 1980s leanings with a rose and mauve color palette and gold metal accents. Flachman and her team went with a simple, timeless style that combines contemporary and traditional elements. They chose clean-lined, comfortable furniture such as a sleek leather sectional in the television room and microfiber pieces in the living room. Wood furniture was selected for durability in unfussy, traditional designs. Splashes of pink bring a punch of feminine flair to a mostly neutral palette.

The sorority’s old furniture, which had endured years of wear and tear, was shipped off to a thrift store. Flachman had the difficult task of acquiring quality pieces, buying local whenever possible, and staying within a limited budget. So she turned to local consignment and antique shops, as well as Craigslist for used and vintage items. She also used online discounters such as Overstock.com.

Her bargain shopping allowed the sorority two splurges: a handsome 10-foot dining table from Restoration Hardware, and the leather sectional for the television room.

When it came to decorating bedrooms, sorority members took the reins.

“When the gals saw some of the designs, they began to take more ownership of the project,” said Flachman.

Because each year sees a new set of residents, Flachman and her crew had bedroom walls covered in thin sheets of cork to prevent holes and gouges. Sturdy bunk beds make the most of limited space.

The remodel was completed in less than two months. The updated house strikes a balance between stylish and comfortable — with nary a beanbag in sight.

“The most rewarding part of this is that we were able to come up with a design that fit everybody’s needs,” said Flachman, “and we were also able to look ahead to members coming in down the road.”

More photos of the remodeled sorority house »

Reach Rebecca Juretic at rajuretic@sbcglobal.net .

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