The San Luis Obispo home of Donald and Eldra Avery was built in 1939 – but completed more than 60 years later.
“It was built at the end of the great depression, so more than a few corners were cut,” said Donald who is an architect. “It was never really finished, and it got worse as time went by.”
When the couple purchased the Old English cottage in 1998, it was suffering the ill effects of being used as a student rental.
Consumed with their careers, the couple put off renovating for a number of years. Then, in 2005, Donald decided to build a backyard patio. He called in a general contractor to install a door leading from it to the kitchen. One project snowballed into another, and another, and soon the Averys found themselves living in a motor home while the house was taken down to its studs.
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Donald headed up the remodel with general contractor Mark Alfirevic of Los Osos. Their goal: to transform the home into the charming Arts & Crafts cottage the couple imagined it was meant to be.
The only square footage added to the house was the 36-square-foot breakfast nook that allows for casual dining in the kitchen. They did alter the clumsy floor plan of the 1,800-square-foot house, what Donald called “a warren of hallways and doors.”
True to Arts & Crafts philosophy, the Averys were fastidious about selecting materials. They kept much of the original oak flooring and used unstained Douglas fir for paneling and cabinetry.
In the bathrooms and kitchen, they used old-style linoleum flooring. Vintage-style bathroom tile is both true to the age of the house, and budget-friendly. They kept the old coved ceilings in the living room and added coffered ceilings to the dining room and master bedroom. Wallpaper with a vintage William Morris print adds authenticity to the dining room.
In an interesting interplay of modern and vintage, Donald used steel extensively. He considers it an honest, rustic material that marries well with the home’s unstained wood. There are galvanized steel light fixtures inside and out, stainless steel appliances, as well as hot-dipped galvanized steel stair railings, rain gutters, fence posts, and gates.
Modern eco-friendly features include solar panels for electricity and hot water, and an energy-efficient on-demand water heater.
As avid cooks and frequent entertainers, the couple carefully considered every detail of their kitchen, which was not enlarged, but optimized for efficiency. They chose a Wolf range and an oversized commercial sink. They installed a large kitchen island with a prep sink and two-burner stove. A large pantry and open-front cabinets contribute to the functionality of the space.
An extension of the kitchen is the back patio, which had to be raised 30 inches to facilitate access from the kitchen. The secluded, arbor-covered space is equipped with a built-in barbecue, prep counter, wood oven, and dining area. A culinary garden with vegetables, herbs and fruit trees wraps around the patio and the side of the house. The couple even built a small backyard bathroom that is attached to their garage.
The Averys used their existing furniture and accessories in their home – mainly transitional pieces selected for their simple lines and comfort. They also have a wide array of art, collected throughout their 43-year marriage. Eldra, who is an AP English teacher at San Luis Obispo High School, is an accomplished quilter and displays her work in several rooms.
“It’s pretty eclectic,” noted Donald. “We really didn’t decorate, we just found a place for the things that we had.”
After a yearlong renovation, the couple moved back into the house and found it a good fit. They use every square foot of it – from the cozy upstairs guest room where Eldra does her quilting, to the backyard brick oven that the couple uses to bake artisan breads. The house, it seems, is finally complete.
“We’re really happy with how it’s turned out,” said Donald. “There isn’t anything we’d change about it.”