The couple purchased the property in 1996. On it was a 1,800-square-foot 1985 ranch house they planned to convert into a sprawling Spanish villa.
But before construction began, Sue’s health began to fail. She had been battling breast cancer since 1994.
“We knew that it was only a matter of time and that she would not see the house built that we had both looked forward to,” said Derek. “Despite this, she made me promise to keep going with the project.”
Sue passed away in 1999 and just five months later, construction began on the remodel.
Earlier, the couple had hired San Luis Obispo architect Steven Puglisi. His design added two wings to the structure that wrap around a central courtyard. The addition would bring the total size up to 5,000 square feet and revamp the exterior in a Spanish style.
Derek lived in the house during the remodel, which was headed by Shell Beach builder Anthony Heaton. As construction began,
Derek set about gathering materials that would give his new remodel an Old World feel. “I don’t like things too shiny and new,” he noted.
When shopping for handmade roof tiles, he found most American-made products too perfect and uniform. He finally got a tip about tile makers in Tecate, Mexico. On a weekend trip, he found the perfect roofing material — handmade tiles with variations in size and color. He also purchased handmade bricks and saltillo tiles on that trip.
Derek was cautioned against putting saltillo tiles in the kitchen, where they would need to be regularly resealed to protect against stains and dirt. But Derek disregarded that advice and hasn’t resealed them since they were installed. The patina they’ve acquired simply adds to their character, he believes.
Derek went to great lengths to give the wood in the house a look of age. He had the Douglas fir ceiling beans sandblasted, distressed with a chain saw, then stained. He found old teak doors that were imported from India. And when he saw a neighbor getting ready to burn a pile of wood, he salvaged old pieces of redwood fencing that he used for window trim.
Derek worked with local merchants as readily as he did with vendors overseas. For instance, his wrought-iron curtain rods and fixtures were hand-forged by Paso Robles Iron Works. His curtains, however, were made from silk he purchased while visiting Bangkok.
He and Sue were originally from England, so they had requested some English architectural features that Heaton, who is also British, was happy to accommodate. For instance, the couple asked for an inglenook fireplace in their living room — a fireplace situated in an alcove that originated in medieval Europe.
Derek also owned family heirlooms and European antiques, which he blended with Mexican and Asian imports to create a Spanish colonial look for the interior.
The home was finished in 2001 after 18 months of construction. Although thrilled with the outcome, Derek found himself spending a great deal of time visiting family in England and working out of town as a veterinary consultant. He decided to use the home as a vacation rental during the times when he was gone, and in 2006, the home became known as Sue Casa at Oakbrook, a tribute to his late wife. In 2009, he had a guest house built on the property where he stays while accommodating guests.
Although life at Sue Casa is not what Derek originally envisioned for the home, he is grateful for being able to see it through its transformation. “I was so happy that I did,” he said. “It focused me and gave me a purpose in life.”