Historic meets slick design with a pleasant outcome

My client and I were featured in this recent Express-News article about incorporating contemporary design during renovation of historic properties.  The photo above is of 611 Mission St in King William.  Juan has recently renovated it with a very contemporary kitchen and bathrooms.  It is currently for sale.  Visit my Facebook Business Page ( http://www.facebook.com/FrontPorchAgent ) or King William Realty’s website ( http://www.kingwmrealty.com ) for more information and photos.

By Jason Buch

From the joining of two unexpected, seemingly opposite mates, great pairings can happen. How about Sonny and Cher, bacon cupcakes or Labradoodles?
Well the home design world is adding another great, albeit unexpected pairing to the list: historic home shells with über-modern interiors.

The effect appeals to those who appreciate the charm of an older home in an established neighborhood, but who are also fans of the sleek, modern aesthetic popularized by such stores as Ikea.

Electrical engineer Juan M. Fernandez is one of the many who have started cleaning up the outside of the homes and sticking in ultra-modern interiors.

“I purchase them in fairly bad condition. However, I try to incorporate new trends in style and energy efficiency,” Fernandez said, “I try to consider them a brand new house with a shell that is historic.”

That means knocking out walls, redesigning kitchens and adding bathrooms and closets.

“I try to do it with a more contemporary, more European style in the inside,” he said. “Some of the houses look bigger than the actual size of the house because of the openness and the light.” Fernandez also adds insulation and puts in energy-efficient features like tankless water heaters, state-of-the-art climate control systems.

Since starting in 2005, Fernandez has focused largely on bungalow-style homes. He just completed his sixth, a 1,898-square-foot house built in the 1920s on Mission Street in Southtown, and No. 7 is under way.

The house on Mission Street, which is listed for $399,000, includes Scavolini Italian kitchen design, quartz countertops and a back deck with planters built into the modern benches.

“It looks very contemporary,” Fernandez said. “We built up a wall, and the microwave and the oven are recessed in the wall, so it’s at the same level with the countertop. And it looks really nice with the kitchen.”

Curtis Bowers, a real estate agent for King William Realty who represents Fernandez, said the contrast between old and new appeals to home buyers.

“I think the things that I see that buyers get the most excited about is the juxtaposition of the exterior historic look of the home, and then they walk in,” Bowers said. “They like to see sleek modern kitchens and updated bathrooms that have nice amenities. Walking into a perfectly restored home doesn’t necessarily have the wow factor that the contemporary interiors do.”

He sold a house earlier this year similar to the one on Mission Street.

“What sold this property was really this sleek, contemporary Ikea kitchen that just jumped out,” Bowers said. “It was something you wouldn’t really expect in a little 950-square-foot bungalow.”

San Antonio architect Jim Poteet has designed modern interiors for historic houses in the Southtown area. A house he designed on Guenther Street was featured last year in the home tour put on by the San Antonio chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

“Actually, those old houses lend themselves to a modern lifestyle, maybe slightly better than some Mid-century houses which are now quite popular,” Poteet said. “But those (Mid-century) houses, there’s almost no way to retrofit them with the closets and bathrooms people are looking for today without extensive additions. Those can be accommodated much better in sort of the room patterns you get in these historic houses.”

The trend isn’t limited to Southtown. Tom Tarrant has been remodeling rundown Craftsman-style homes in the neighborhoods along Broadway and giving them contemporary interiors.

Tarrant said he goes to great lengths to preserve the old exteriors of the homes, even when he builds additions, but gives them modern, open floor plans and master suites. “A remodel of this caliber for a homeowner would be enough to cause a divorce,” Tarrant said.

Since 2008, he’s remodeled a handful of homes in Mahncke Park, and currently is working on another on Post Avenue. Tarrant said he usually sells his homes for $175 per square foot.

The homes provide a high-class living option for people who want to live near downtown, said Debra Maltz, a real estate agent with Kuper Sotheby’s International Realty.

They appeal to “mature people that still want to be in the neighborhood setting and yet be close to where the action is,” Maltz said. “They want to be able to walk, and I guess they have the means to pursue living this way.”

Restoring the older homes and giving them ultra-modern interiors creates a unique product in a historic district, Poteet said.

“You really want the exterior to be a real credit to the neighborhood, but the interior really needs to express the personality and the likes of the owner,” he said.

Must-have items move homes

Lavaca Home

Julie Hooper knew she wanted a caliche block home when she found this one in the Lavaca neighborhood. EXPRESS-NEWS FILE PHOTO

This is a recent article from the San Antonio Express-News.  It features Julie Hooper’s home in Lavaca.  Julie is an agent with me at King William Realty.

By Jason Buch

Julie Hooper’s home in the Lavaca neighborhood had unflattering additions and the more-than-100-year-old building material was hard to identify when she first saw it in 2005.
But its old caliche stone sealed the deal.

“You could really not even see what it was, it was so covered up and had been added onto so many times,” Hooper said. “But because I knew what I was looking for, I knew it was caliche block. And I’ve always wanted to live in a caliche block home.”

Hooper said she wanted a caliche block home because they tend to be old — she estimates hers was built in the 1860s — and the thick blocks keep the interior cool during the summer. Eventually, the whole house underwent a complete redo, but the caliche block stayed.

“There is something very special about caliche block homes,” she said.

Hooper, who’s a real estate agent with King William Realty, said that for some buyers, their list of must-haves is set in stone, so to speak. But for most buyers, what they want in a house often changes when they get out and look at real homes. Much like Supreme Court justices trying to identify obscenity, home buyers can’t define the must-have items they’re looking for, but they know them when they see them.

Even trivial items can be a selling point or a deal-breaker on a home.

“I’ve had people fight over light fixtures,” Hooper said. One seller’s choice not to include light fixtures in a sale almost sunk the deal. But the house’s termite infestation ended up saving the day.

“The seller left the light fixtures she was in love with, and the new owner paid for termite treatment,” she said.

Even though buyers may go into the process with a set of prerequisites for their new home, that can change once they see what’s out there, said Ann Van Pelt, a real estate agent with Phyllis Browning Co.

“The must-haves very often fall by the wayside,” she said. “We have in mind what we want when we go house-hunting, but we get swayed by something that is so appealing that we sort of forget the two-car attached garage that we absolutely had to have.”

It’s hard to tell what will trigger that must-have mentality, Van Pelt said. It can be something minute or something huge.

“Sometimes it’s just that it’s a perfect piece of real estate and sometimes it’s something as simple as a beautifully redone kitchen. And sometimes it’s just location,” she said.

Many times when a buyer comes across a “hidden jewel” or a house that is unlike any they’ve seen before, they’ll make a decision on the spot, Van Pelt said.

“It’s interesting what grabs people,” she said. “Sometimes it’s simply the practicality of having space for a family. But when you get beyond that pure practicality, sometimes it’s just something that touches your heart.”

Building San Antonio: Choosing a neighborhood impacts everyone

By: Bob Wise, AIA, is the president of AIA San Antonio. He is an architect with Parsons.

A house is the most important and most expensive investment that most families will ever make, and, as any real estate agent would suggest, the location of one’s home usually ranks as the most important selection criterion.
There are tradeoffs and costs associated with any choice; sometimes the costs are personal, and sometimes there are unintended costs to the greater community.

The American dream of having a big house on a large lot with plenty of trees, a park and shopping nearby and good neighbors with same-age children stems from the notion of frontier spirit of entitlement that Americans have had over the centuries — the attitude that everyone can build a homestead in the abundant open space of the West.

But part of the dream has for the past few decades resulted in sprawling development patterns.

Sprawl brings the more obvious costs that people experience every day: long commutes and miles of congestion on the freeways, choking air pollution, disjointed subdivisions of homogenously built houses, sterile office parks, uninspired strip shopping centers and the rapacious encroachment into the natural areas that surround our city.

The largely hidden cost of sprawl is reflected in downtown areas where vacant buildings signify the void of economic activity. The financial burden that is placed on municipalities to extend services and infrastructure — new power lines, sewer lines, police and fire services, highways and streets — to the fringe areas of a city often is at the expense of inner-city infrastructure redevelopment.

Sprawl also can result in economic and social stratification, sort of socioeconomic “redlining,” which diminishes the diversity of the traditional city. It also impacts inner-city schools; as fewer students live in the almost abandoned urban areas, school systems are forced to close schools with low attendance in favor of consolidating students in more remote schools.

The disappearance of neighborhood stores and shops, the closure of schools and declining property values are often hard to reverse.

Perhaps the most significant costs have been in the social contact realm. So much time is spent in the private commute of the personal automobile that little time is left for unplanned social contact with neighbors on the street or the experience of public spaces that comes with the more traditional design of walkable neighborhoods. With the associated lack of aesthetic distinction, these environments can lessen opportunities to respond to good design and cultural influence.

An alternative to sprawl is a smart design approach to planning that includes more efficient higher-density housing, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, mixed-use developments and convenient public transportation that serves the full population. Such developments incorporate planning practices and principles that enhance the economy, environment and community. The criteria for personal home selection may start to recognize increased quality-of-life factors.

Mayor Julián Castro has declared this decade to be the Decade of the Downtown. The sign of a healthy city is a healthy downtown. A smarter way of growing our city would place resources at its nucleus and turn growth back inward to benefit us all.

SPACES: From candy factory to living space


Judson Candy Factory Lofts

By Megan Stacy – Special to the Express-News

Take a tour of Ann and Philip Allega’s downtown loft and it won’t take long to figure out what this couple is all about. There’s the row of cowboy hats on the headboard in the master bedroom — a decidedly Texan touch for a bed neatly made up with throw pillows upholstered in the Union Jack flag. The Allegas are travelers, food lovers and cultural explorers who most recently called London home.
Last year they moved to San Antonio — Ann Allega’s hometown — wanting an urban lifestyle in a part of the city they had learned to love on previous visits.

The home they bought is part of the Judson Candy Factory Lofts redevelopment project on South Flores Street. Their home is not in the old factory but in a property next door, which dates to the 1890s and housed an Italian grocery store owned by the Granieri family.

The 2,000-square-foot loft nods to the building’s history. One long wall was left untouched, exposing original 18-inch-thick red brick masonry. Caliche walls in the loft’s basement also were undisturbed.

But the rest is thoroughly modern, with sleek finishes of glass, wood and cement.

“Even though the building is 100-some years old, the place is new,” Ann Allega says.

The Allegas purchased the loft sight-unseen while abroad but wanted to move into a home ready for living. They hired Julie Risman of The Inside Story Design and began what Risman calls a “digital design relationship.”

“They wanted something easy, fun and modern,” she says. By the time the Allegas moved in, 80 percent of the home design was complete, all conducted via e-mail and phone calls. Risman calls the design “an homage to where they’ve been and where they come from.” For example, the living room is anchored by a contemporary burnt orange leather couch, which reminds the couple of their connection to the University of Texas at Austin, where they met.

A black leather lounge chair reclines in one corner beneath a picture of Philip’s favorite London bridge and of a poster advertising the New Orleans Jazz Festival. The staircase to the basement level is lined with framed Fiesta posters, each from a year representing a milestone: Philip’s first Fiesta, the year they fell in love with the Southtown area, the year they moved to San Antonio.

The couple’s 4-year-old son, Austin, has a bedroom in the basement. The room is whimsically decorated with furniture painted with images from The Adventures of Tintin, a cartoon series wildly popular in Europe. Having experienced different ways of living on their travels, the Allegas are happy to have landed in an urban space with a vibrant social community.

Ann Allega says there are 20 to 30 places to visit within a 10-minute walk from their home. Following in the British tradition, they’ve adopted nearby Beethoven’s beer garden as their “local,” or neighborhood pub.

They often cycle to restaurants and stores and have been impressed by the amount of activities available for children.

“We think urban living is something everyone should try,” Philip Allega says.

Front porch under construction

I am working to ensure I bring forth the best in design and construction to my front porch. I want it to be a place that everyone will want to spend some time and get to know me. Please check back as this site is currently under development.  My goal is for this site to be your first and final destination to learn all about historic neighborhoods and properties for sale in San Antonio as well as a place to hear about exciting events and happenings in and around the downtown area.