As published in Ventana Monthly September 2013
|Photo by Gaszton Gal|
Christian McCord sees beauty in the most unlikely places. Driving down Poli Street one day in 2005, on a route she’d taken many times from her home in Santa Paula to visit her in-laws in Midtown Ventura, a “For Sale” sign in front of a run-down old house caused her to hit the brakes.
“I always called this the yard sale house because they had yard sales all the time.”
All of the windows except two were busted out. The yard was overgrown and full of weeds. But McCord had to have it. After a fair amount of persuading, she and her husband, Bryan, made an offer the very next day.
She remembers telling him, “I know what I will do to this house.”
But it was even worse than they thought. The front door had been kicked in and ultimately removed. There was essentially nothing left in the kitchen – no appliances and the dilapidated cabinets housed a couple of dead rodents. Interior and closet doors were either missing or unsalvageable. Old beat-up cars and more weeds littered the backyard.
“It was a total drug house in bad, bad condition,” says McCord, a 41-year-old colon hydrotherapist.
The three-bedroom, one-bath, 1,100-square-foot Tudor cottage needed a lot of work. Though it had been in the same family, it was an old house that hadn’t been touched since it was built in 1924. Before signing on the dotted line, the McCords had two big concerns: was the foundation cracked, and had meth been cooked in the house? The last one was especially critical because at the time they had a 6-month-old baby girl.
“Everyone thought we were crazy.”
A retired fire captain gave the house a thorough inspection, reporting that the foundation was solid, and that, much to their relief, no drugs had been manufactured on site, which would have been a deal breaker. “That was the part I was super concerned about.”
When escrow closed, the realtor had no keys to hand over – there wasn’t even a front door. Neighbors welcomed them with open arms and told them horror stories of a motorcycle being driven in and out of the house and people taking up residence in tents in the backyard. It took two months to renovate the house to a point that it was livable and the family of three could finally move in.
“Everything in the house was a disaster,” McCord recalls.
Having just moved from a 1926 craftsman bungalow in Santa Paula, and having lived in old houses as a child, McCord felt confident she could use her design savvy to turn the tattered house into a charming home.
“I grew up in old houses, so it’s where I feel comfortable.” McCord also has a background in retail buying, styling and designing. “So I’ve kind of always had a style thing in my blood.”
She visited her favorite flea market in Santa Monica, searching for pieces that would fit the home’s era and size. She says flea markets are a source of inspiration and are more authentic and less expensive than antique stores. It’s how she designed their Santa Paula home, when her style leaned more toward Romantic French Country. Today, she favors the more comfortable and less frilly Prairie Style.
“Since I’ve been married, it’s kind of evolved to include my husband more so he’s not overcome by pink.”
When choosing pieces, she’s fairly particular. But perfection is not for her; scuffs, bumps and chips are what she covets most.
“I have to have original. I won’t even buy it if it’s been touched up. Layers and layers and layers of paint – I love that.” She doesn’t refinish or distress the pieces – she buys them completely untouched. Obvious signs of wear and tear, she says, show authenticity. “It just shows life and personality.”
McCord found that her attachment to “original” had to be compromised when tackling the home’s renovations. The original floors were stripped and stained when they first moved in, but termite damage made the floors drafty and the wood was beyond repair. Ultimately, they installed wide-plank hickory hardwood floors, stained to a deep dark chocolate brown and hand distressed.
The kitchen proved to be the biggest hurdle.
“Nothing in the kitchen is original. It was really bad.”
The couple installed white cabinetry and marble counters. A friend’s European flea market find serves as the kitchen’s center island, lit by a vintage Italian toile chandelier adorned with strawberries. A Dutch door cut into the kitchen’s back wall floods the whole house with natural light and allows gentle breezes to flow through.
“My grandmother had a Dutch door, and I loved it.”
Since Bryan is an electrical contractor, his expertise eased many aspects of the renovation. He installed vintage light fixtures throughout the house, including a crystal chandelier over the dining room table and sconces in the living room.
“It’s nice having a contractor husband.”
As their household grew - Lily is now 8 and her little brother Noah is 7 - so did the need for functionality.
“They can have whatever they want as long as it fits in one toy box and one cabinet.”
Avoiding clutter drives most of her furniture purchases.
“I live by cabinets,” she says, which are found in every room, serving not only a functional purpose, but a decorative one, too. The one small bathroom has a dresser-style sink cabinet. A bathtub/shower does double duty while fulfilling the 1920s design esthetic. McCord found the then footless tub sitting in the dirt outside a shop on Padaro Lane in Carpinteria for just $75.
The house, which has been featured on the Web site “The Old Painted Cottage” and in designer Fifi O’Neill’s book “Romantic Prairie Style,” exudes a rustic charm that’s cozy and peaceful. Even the kids’ rooms feel like dreamy sanctuaries. Soft creamy-white walls offset with muted earthy pastel accents create a subdued color scheme.
“I like for my color palate to be in my pieces and fabrics.”
Subtle details, including McCord’s collection of turn-of-the-century Barbola mirrors and early 1900s cast iron doorstops, harken to another time. “My great grandmother had those in her house when I was growing up.”
More than a dozen English paisley eiderdown quilts drape beds and top cabinetry, using a favorite design technique. “I like mixing textures,” she says.
Walls are decorated with various architectural pieces, including an upside-down picket fence, a rusted gate piece and corbels from old porches embellish the tops of doorway corners. Recycled porch columns and urns create more visual interest.
With the home’s interior now finished, McCord turns her gaze out beyond the Dutch door.
“I can’t wait to tear into the yard,” she says, imagining an English garden with elegant roses, hydrangeas and pea gravel. And like the rest of the house, it will surely feel like it’s been there for nearly a century.
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