The first time Debbie and Brett VanSteenwyk stepped inside their Paso Robles home, it was with a flashlight and much trepidation.
The 1903 cottage had been abandoned for several years. It had a crumbling foundation, no electricity and windows shattered by vandals. The only inhabitants were bats and feral cats.
Still, the VanSteenwyks saw potential. The couple, whose various enterprises include Scientific Drilling, considered it an important Paso Robles landmark set atop a hill at the end of one of the city’s main streets. Their aim was to restore it to a condition worthy of its prominent location.
Known as the Reid-Hamilton house or the “rock house,” it has an unusual mix of features including elements of Craftsman Gothic and Classical Revival architecture. Its original exterior featured cedar shingle siding and Adelaida rock gathered from nearby fields.
It was originally a spec house commissioned by a local real estate company and designed by Francis Reid, a local clergyman and architect. Reid designed several buildings in San Luis Obispo County and the Bay Area, including the Paso Robles Plymouth Congregational Church where he served as pastor.
The 2003 San Simeon earthquake caused considerable damage to the home, forcing the owners at the time to abandon it. After many years of neglect, the VanSteenwyks became its new owners in 2011. They assembled a team that included architect Robert Fisher, Came Construction, stonemason Leon Smith and finish carpenters Shawn Duffy, Greg Harkness and Jeff Skinner.
Repairs were extensive and included lifting the house, removing the unreinforced Adelaida rock foundation, and installing a new foundation. A new floor plan opened up and modernized the interior. The project also nearly doubled the house to 3,350 square feet from 1,755 square feet.
Some of that square footage came from a basement renovation which involved digging into the hillside to make room for a garage, laundry room, wine cellar, two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The VanSteenwyks are part-owners of family business Adelaida Cellars, so they took extra care in the design of their wine cellar. Its features include niches for bottle display, beams made of 150-year-old reclaimed barn wood, a custom tile mural and Adelaida rock salvaged from the home.
In the home’s early years, the attic was unfinished and used for parties and town hall dances. At one point, the space was converted into two bedrooms. The VanSteenwyks remade the space into two smaller bedrooms, a playroom and a bathroom.
Interior materials were preserved whenever possible.
In the living room and the octagonal dining room, workers sanded and restained the slash grain Douglas fir wood paneling and trim, keeping the rooms virtually unchanged. A knob and tube steel chandelier in the living room that is original to the house was taken down, refinished and rewired. Exterior bead board was removed piece by piece, refinished and reinstalled.
The couple kept six of the original doors, at a considerable expense. The cost to strip lead paint and refinish a single door was around $1,000.
The VanSteenwyks wanted a more period-appropriate look for the kitchen, which was remodeled in the 1960s. They chose cottage-style, white bead board custom cabinets and leathered quartzite countertops that look like marble. They sacrificed the pantry in order to open up the space to the dining room.
Materials that couldn’t be used were salvaged whenever possible. The enormous amount of Adelaida rock removed from the old foundation went onto the house facade, retaining walls, an outdoor fireplace, and the edging of garden paths that wind around the many mature oak trees on the property.
Other pieces were reproduced in a period-appropriate style. New woodwork in the house was milled onsite to match existing trim, then aged to blend in seamlessly. The front door is inset with custom-made stained glass in a design inspired by windows at Plymouth Congregational Church.
Debbie VanSteenwyk is an avid antique collector who filled the house with a mix of antique and thrift store finds, as well as family heirlooms. The handsome mahogany dining room table and an intricately carved guest bed were secondhand finds. Several bathroom mirrors were made from vintage frames.
VanSteenwyk said that community members have marveled at the dramatic transformation of the house. She admits that she had plenty of doubts during the often arduous, two-year remodel, but believes that bringing a local landmark back to life was worth the effort.
“I can go sit in any room of the house or any place outside and continue to be mesmerized by its uniqueness,” she said.
Paso AAUW Home Tour
The VanSteenwyk home is one of three Paso Robles homes in this year’s Paso Robles American Association of University Women Home Tour. The tour will be held from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday, May 6. Tickets are $25 and include both the tour and refreshments.
Tickets may be purchased at The Blenders in Paso Robles or by calling Bev Howe at 805-239-1817. If still available, tickets will be sold at each of the homes on the day of the tour.