Home & Garden

Arroyo Grande couple turns prefab metal building into modern custom home

Peek inside the Cohn home in Arroyo Grande

Take a tour of Tory and Megan Cohn's Arroyo Grande home — a 3,400-square-foot prefab metal building customized with a modern aesthetic.
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Take a tour of Tory and Megan Cohn's Arroyo Grande home — a 3,400-square-foot prefab metal building customized with a modern aesthetic.

As a special education teacher, Tory Cohn takes a can-do approach to his work — an attitude that has also served him well as a homeowner.

For years, the former Arizona resident’s dream was to own a home on acreage in San Luis Obispo County so that he and wife Megan could rescue animals and eventually raise a family. It was a tall order considering he was working with a limited budget. The couple took the first step toward their dream in late 2010 when they purchased 14 acres in Arroyo Grande, which would be an easy commute to Tory Cohn’s job in Santa Maria.

Soon after, Cohn discovered a way to afford a custom home with the modern aesthetic he desired. He ordered a 3,400-square-foot prefab metal building from Protective Weather Structures (PWS), a San Luis Obispo-based manufacturer of steel buildings.

A steel structure appealed to Cohn for several reasons. Few load-bearing walls offer flexibility in configuration of the interior layout. Metal resists both fire and termite damage. And its 65 percent post-consumer content is eco-friendly. Once it has reached the end of its lifespan, “it can almost entirely be recycled rather than end up in a landfill,” Cohn said.

The downside could have been that the building is just a shell, requiring finish work that could easily run up the final price tag.

Undaunted, Cohn decided to take on most of that work himself with the help of his wife, who works in the dental field, a few friends, family members and a handful of contractors. The primary contributors to the project were Chuck Richards of Artisan Engineering, friend and master carpenter Steve Hoerger, and Cohn’s uncle, Bob Comstock. Together, the team pulled off the entire project for around $475,000, which doesn’t include the landscaping Cohn installed with the help of his mother, Jeanne Cohn, and her partner, Chris McArthur.

One challenge was to create a homey feel in what was essentially an open, barn-like space. This was particularly true of the large great room that sports a 20-foot-high ceiling with metal trusses, industrial fans and exposed ductwork. Tory Cohn’s solution was to install redwood ceiling planks for warmth and sound dampening. Cohn and his crew stained some of the planks an array of hues including red, green and gray. Others, they aged with a water and baking soda solution. “It looked better than I could have hoped,” Cohn said.

A fireplace would have required a large soffit running through the upstairs catwalk, so the Cohns opted for a slate feature wall that serves three purposes: it creates a focal point in the open space, it adds yet another organic feature, and it holds the family’s flat-panel television.

In the kitchen, the Cohns created a cozy farmhouse look with classic Shaker cabinets in a mix of finishes. Upper cabinets are white, and the pantry doors are barn red. Lower cabinets have a dark walnut stain to stand up to rubbing from the couple’s dogs and cats.

My hope is that this home and property will be in our family forever, because it truly was a family effort to get this done.

Tory Cohn

Cohn found several ways to keep material costs down. All of the case and base moldings are pine that has been stained “so it looks nicer than the price,” he said. While the house was under construction, the couple perused discount retailers such as Overstock.com and World Market for fixtures and decor. At The Home Depot, they picked up bargain-priced light fixtures that fit the home’s industrial aesthetic.

The couple favors a spare, modern look, which means each piece of furniture must perform well in both style and function.

When Cohn found the price of well-built modern furniture too high, he once again took matters into his own hands. He built several pieces himself, including a bed for the master suite, a shuffleboard table, a metal and glass coffee table, and a live edge dining table that seats 14. Cohn researched his projects online, “and I just did it,” he said.

The most recent project has been refinished — a family heirloom cradle for son Maverick who arrived in June. Cohn looks forward to raising his son in a rural setting, surrounded by the animals he and his wife have rescued: dogs, cats, horses, donkeys and pigs.

He believes the house will stand the test of time. “My hope is that this home and property will be in our family forever,” he said, “because it truly was a family effort to get this done.”

Design tips

MIX IT UP: Kitchen cabinets don’t have to be a single finish or door style. Consider mixing painted and stained finishes for a composition that looks as if it evolved over time. Combine solid panel with glass-front doors to show off glassware or serverware. Or do as the Cohns did: Reserve light-colored cabinets for higher spots, and choose a dark stain for those in high-traffic areas.

DO YOUR DIY HOMEWORK: There are multiple resources available when tackling a do-it-yourself project, and it helps to tap into more than one before you get started. Ask an expert at a home improvement store, ask friends in the know, search online, and check out books at the library.

CUT COSTS: When he needed to use contractors, Tory Cohn kept costs in check by taking on parts of the prep work himself. For instance, when he hired a company to pour concrete, he built the forms himself.

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