J. Trees Ritter graduated from Cal Poly, then left San Luis Obispo to attend medical school in 1997. When he and wife Tamzin returned nine years later, they wanted to experience the city to its fullest, which to them meant living close to downtown.
At the time, the inventory of downtown homes for sale was slim. They finally found a 1918 Craftsman bungalow that, at first glance, seemed a mismatch. The three-bedroom, two-bathroom, 2,400-square-foot home would be a snug fit for a family of five and their two dogs. Most intimidating was the fact that the youngest of their three daughters was just 2 months old, yet the home was in desperate need of a major remodel.
Still, the family forged ahead, moving in and immediately working out plans to restore it. J. Trees created the overall design for the renovation and Tamzin plotted out interior finishes and décor. They worked with general contractors Ryk Kluver and John Kelly. Around World War II, the home was converted into two apartments, one upstairs and one downstairs. Most recently, student tenants had left their mark. Still, the Ritters were able to keep a few portions of the old home intact, including some of the original ceilings and rope-pull windows.
The couple wanted to strike a balance between historical accuracy and family friendliness. To stay faithful to the home’s heritage, they chose materials like hexagonal tile and period fixtures in bathrooms, and period reproduction light fixtures. Tapered interior pillars weren’t in the house originally, but adhere to the Craftsman aesthetic. The living room is accented with river stone masonry by Robert Hogue and handcrafted wainscoting.
Other design elements cater to the family’s busy, modern lifestyle.
“We opened up the floor plan, which is not typical of Craftsman bungalows, which usually have small rooms with a separate kitchen,” said J. Trees.
They transformed separate living, dining and kitchen areas into one free-flowing space. They also opened up the formerly cramped, segmented kitchen and outfitted it with Carrera marble countertops and high-performance appliances, such as a Viking range.
To flood light into the downstairs area, they added a skylight over the staircase. In the summer months, they open it to allow rising warm air to flow outdoors.
Other modern conveniences are discreetly out of sight, such as radiant floor heating in the upstairs bathroom. They also disguise their flat panel television with a framed picture that raises and lowers with the push of a button.
The Ritters like a tidy home, yet when they moved in the house had little storage — not even a single bedroom closet. So they incorporated built-in storage into every room to stash away clutter.
There is ample drawer and cabinet space in the dining room that is often used for homework and art projects by the girls, who are partly homeschooled. In the downstairs playroom there are built-in cabinets and shelving, as well as acloset that utilizes under-stairway space. Wherever possible, they incorporated window seats with concealed storage — a very Craftsman feature.
Upstairs, the sloping roofline made space planning a challenge, but the family made it work. They used awkward low spaces under the eaves for closets. In the bathroom, two mirrors of different heights follow the roofline and accommodate the 14-inch height difference between J. Trees and Tamzin.
In decorating the house, they aimed for comfort, functionality and durability. They selected simple, classic furniture designs in durable materials. The desk in the study and the dining room table were crafted by J. Trees, who is a physician, and his brother.
“We’ve acquired the furniture over time — we didn’t go out and buy everything all at once,” he noted.
The couple chose Santos mahogany floors for toughness. They used oil-based paints for trim work because they resist damage and clean up easily.
“The painter talked us out of using it downstairs and now I regret it,” noted J. Trees.
Tamzin chose a varied color palette, informed by the function of each room. The downstairs public spaces are a neutral beige, the master bedroom a restful blue, and the playroom a soft sage green. She reserved the deepest hues for small areas, such as emerald green and royal blue in the bathrooms.
The remodel took about 12 months, spread out over three years. It was completed in sections — upstairs first — so the family could live in the house during construction.
Although they are glad to be finished with the renovation, the family is mulling over plans for other upgrades. For instance, they are considering converting a sitting area in the master bathroom into another upstairs bath to prepare for the day when three daughters and one shared bathroom become incompatible.
For now, they are enjoying the lifestyle they envisioned when they moved to the area. The city and the house have lived up to their expectations.
“The house is already stained and scratched, but that’s a sign of life,” said J. Trees. “It’s a sign we’ve enjoyed living here.”