I’m sure some book clubs are stricter than ours. While we love reading, we don’t all read every book every time, so each monthly meeting is really an excuse to relax, laugh, and share wine, food, and lively conversation with a great group of women. Each month, one of us acts as hostess, opening her home to the group.
As I walked down State Street to Kristy’s house last month, it dawned on me that even though we’ve been friends for years, somehow I’ve never been to her house. Walking through the gate and into her immaculately restored Craftsman bungalow, I had a hunch that we’d wind up discussing the house as much as books.
Built in 1924, it was the first house on the block where the Flying A Studios were located, at the corner of Mission and State Street. In 1930, a basement bedroom and bathroom were added. Kristy’s Great Aunt Frieda and Great Uncle Gustav bought the home in the early 1940s, and they sent flour and other rations to Kristy’s grandparents in Germany from this address during the war.
Frieda and Gus worked for a wealthy matriarch named Mary Isham, who lived on the corner of Anacapa and Constance. Frieda was the maid and cook, Gus the butler and chauffeur, and also had a son, Henry, born in 1944. In 1956, Kristy’s mother emigrated from Germany at the age of 24, and moved into the basement bedroom. Kristy has happy memories of visiting her family in the house, explaining, “I always loved the house.”
After Gus and Frieda and then Henry passed away, the house was left to Kristy’s mother. In 2010, when her mother passed away, the house was left to Kristy, who began restoring the vacant home in July 2011 and moved into it in August 2012. The work is a labor of love, and still not done.
“Literally no surface was left untouched,” she said with both pride and a hint of exhaustion while walking through the home. “I did a large part of the restoration myself, spending hours here daily for over almost a year.”
When she began, the house was essentially in its original condition, both a blessing and a curse. The hardwood floors had been waxed but never refinished, so the build-up was severe. All of the wooden surfaces had many layers of paint, including latex on top of oil, so the latex was just peeling off like a skin. Windows were painted shut and window sashes were broken, as were many panes of glass.
Her cousin Mark helped “tremendously,” camping out in the home for nine months as he restored the property. He restored the redwood siding, replaced ropes in the sash windows, stripped every wooden surface, put drywall in place of old lathe and plaster, and repainted most everything, except for some interior walls where specialized Vasari Venetian plaster was applied. The electrical system was a particular challenge. “There was knob and tube wiring with a Frankenstein style lever with live wires sticking out of it, said Kristy. “We can laugh now but every electrician and contractor who saw it said it was a miracle that it hadn’t caught fire.”
Kristy likes to show off the original built-in trundle bed in the den, backed by a hidden closet with built-in mirrored vanity. Her décor features a mixture of treasures from Mrs. Isham’s travels, family photographs including Frieda, Gustav, and Henry, and her parents’ candelabra chandelier hanging in her bedroom.
Kristy was also fortunate to have a Craftsman restoration expert as a neighbor. “I would watch for him to get home from work in the evenings, and flag him down with a new question just about every day,” laughed Kristy. But she clearly figured a lot of things out on her own. “I soaked every hinge and every piece of hardware in a baking soda solution in a crockpot,” she said. “I just googled it, bought a five dollar crockpot at the thrift store, and experimented.”
The novel we discussed at our book club meeting at Kristy’s house that night was Beautiful Ruins. I hadn’t finished reading it, but it didn’t really matter. I learned all sorts of great stories that night.
Kristy’s house on State Street near Mission is not for sale, and likely won’t be for a very long time.