David and Dede Leece discovered their love for Arts & Crafts design as two resourceful college students, rescuing an old desk from the trash. After stripping away several layers of paint to reveal beautiful quarter-sawn oak, they were eager to learn more about its simple design and superb craftsmanship.
The couple, who married in 1985, subscribed to American Bungalow Magazine and pored over books about Arts & Crafts homes. Those sticky-noted and dog-eared pages came in handy in 1999 when they approached San Luis Obispo architect George Garcia about giving an Arts & Crafts facelift to the 1979-built San Luis Obispo home they lived in with their three sons.
The remodel was completed in two phases, both overseen by David McCoy of Topflight Construction. The first transformed the basement into a family room. The second included an upgrade of many of the home’s materials, minor changes to the floor plan, and an Arts & Crafts revamp of the exterior.
The Leeces wanted the project to be guided by the Arts & Crafts philosophy. According to Dede, this not only values simplicity and craftsmanship, but also the idea that “it is better to have a few beautiful objects than to have a lot of cheap things.”
With this credo in mind, they chose the work of local artisans over prefabricated materials whenever possible.
Dave Westendorf built custom trim and two of the interior doors. Bill Breneman of Woodtech built custom cabinetry for the bathrooms and family room. In the first phase, Gerald Polmateer constructed railings for the stairway leading to the basement in a combination of woods, including jarrah that was chosen for its striking red hue. Later, Tom Yungman reproduced the design of the stairway when he created exterior railings. Balancing aesthetics and practicality wasn’t always simple.
One quandary involved building a wood fireplace mantel at their desired height while still adhering to building codes. After extensive research and consideration, Garcia discovered that the tropical hardwood ipe, with its high fire rating, would fit the bill for both.
Also problematic was how to achieve the look of a wood garage door without the extensive maintenance required of genuine wood. Although the couple values the integrity of natural materials, they chose composite doors that painter John Balderston gave a faux wood finish.
“We were hesitant at first, but after he showed us a sample of his work, we gave the okay. They are beautiful!” proclaimed Dede.
The couple’s attention to detail extended to their selection of colors. They turned to George Garcia and his wife April, who is the interior designer for Garcia Architecture + Design.
“George and April were here for at least an hour going through paint chips for the exterior alone, making sure the siding and trim colors would work with the window color,” noted Dede.
Their exterior color palette was chosen to blend with the surrounding hills and oak woodlands which, said Dede, “goes with the Arts and Crafts idea of a home being part of its environment.”
Interior colors were also nature-derived, creating a sense of continuity between indoor and outdoor spaces.
“When people ask me my favorite color, I say it’s dirt,” she said. “You can find so many colors in dirt, from greens to tans to reds.”
In public spaces, they selected muted tans for walls and green for trim. The master bedroom is a restful sage green from an Arts & Crafts palette by Sherwin Williams. The kitchen’s gray was pulled from the hues of their granite countertops.
The Leeces kept interior adornments to a minimum, which is in line with Arts & Crafts simplicity. Their walls are mostly bare; they consider their valley and hill views, framed by handsome trim, to be as stunning as any piece of art. Their furniture is mostly Stickley Mission-style pieces that they have collected during their 25 years of marriage.
The Leeces lived in their home for both phases of their remodel, but kept many of their belongings in storage. This involved some inconvenience, including their son Stephen living in a room with only studs for walls for an entire week. “The birds could come in for a visit!” Dede remarked.
Being onsite for the entire project gave the couple the opportunity to offer input and monitor progress on a daily basis.
“It was also a blessing to see things coming together and to get to know the artists at work,” said Dede.
The basement remodel was completed in 2000, and the second phase in 2009. Now empty nesters, the Leeces find their home has transitioned nicely along with them.
“The blessing of having spent so much time in preparation and consideration of the original plans was that they did not require changes,” said Dede. “We still love the Arts & Crafts style, and the plans still fit the way our family uses the house, even though the boys have grown up.”