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“Do You Believe in Miracles?”

I rarely write about architecture in these blogs, and I have never written about one of those property-flipping ventures wherein people buy distressed properties, fix them up, and sell them at a profit. The reason for eschewing the latter revolves around integrity, which paradoxically enough, is why I have made an exception for today’s blog! Let’s start with the integrity issue, because in the end, everything revolves around it. If you know what it means to “flip” a property, the odds are very large that you learned it on one of those made-for-TV reality shows. If that wording sounds a little biased it’s because I have such disdain for what they’re doing with those shows. They feature unrealistic budgets, often incompetent renovators, and they fail to tell the whole truth. Those few who actually make a profit typically achieve that status because of building materials donated in exchange for an on-show mention. The other aspect of it is the work itself. Invariably, those “flippers” who are thinking in terms of truly improving a property are repeatedly counseled that the property does not have to actually be improved. It just has to look improved.

But for all my disdain for those shows, I do actually know that there are a fair number of people who enter into this for all of the right reasons. They obviously hope to turn a profit, but along with that hope is the expectation that they will actually have to EARN that profit with the work they do on the property. They’re careful about the properties they purchase because some are so far gone that it would never make economic sense to refurbish them unless they cut corners like those TV characters, and to do so is little better than fraud. But that brings us back to that issue of integrity. For all the home improvement fraud that hits the headlines from time to time, there are still a great many others who commit to doing the absolute best job that know how to do. Couple that with a flair for design and sound construction/refurbishing skills, and suddenly you have a project that interests even one as jaded as I have become at viewing the schlock that passes for renovation work on TV these days.

What Steve and Jennifer Clark saw in this Oakland, California property is beyond me. I am quite certain that it is a project I never would have wanted to involve myself in because you’re sure to find all kinds of unpleasant surprises once you start opening the walls to renovate. As it turned out they actually replaced pretty much everything there except the exterior shell. And even the exterior was given a reimaging because I don’t think facelift quite covers what they did here.

 The house itself was originally a barbershop. It was built in 1920 as one of those living/work spaces that seemed to flourish in that era. The barber served his customers in front, then at the end of the day he retired to living quarters in the rear of the building. The years passed, and the property changed hands and functions a number of times, eventually morphing into a home only and then, as is sometimes the case, a badly maintained home. It finally fell into the hands of one who tried to do some renovations, but who clearly lacked the skills to do the job properly. The city of Oakland ended up condemning the property, and the owner defaulted on the mortgage. Enter the good guys.

 Steve and Jennifer Clark purchased it out of foreclosure and then spent over a year and a half renovating the house, working closely with the city of Oakland to ensure that the property met or exceeded all codes for structural integrity, energy efficiency, and health & safety. But all a city building permit office does is ensure the structural integrity of the proposed renovations. They don’t engage in the speculative, the innovative, the daring. Those things come from the builder or they don’t come at all.

 One of the reasons I’ve not written about this kind of work before is because I much prefer things like kitchen remodelings. And I prefer them, in turn, because of the incredible creativity I often see in that field. Ripping out the old cabinets and replacing them with new refurbishes a kitchen, but there’s no real wow factor. What I like is those kitchen remodelings that just take your breath away. And that brings me back to what Steve and Jennifer Clark have done with this home. On their sales flyer they stated that the property had been “rezoned, reimagined and repurposed as a unique and impressive single family dwelling,” which sounds like so much advertising copy until you look at the before and after pictures of the property.

 How well did they do? Well, let’s put it this way. Think hotcakes. The moment this house hit the market they were inundated with offers, and they actually ended up selling it for considerably more than the listing price because of the ensuing bidding war. Those who bought the property surely knew of its previous condition, but they didn’t shell out that kind of money for a slick property renovation. They did it for the very reason that kitchen remodelings have always so fascinated me, because the end result was nothing short of spectacular.

 What most intrigued me about this project is the condition of the property when Steve and Jennifer Clark got involved with it—well, that and the condition of the property when they came to the end of the project and put it up for sale! Miracles, by definition, are divine, which necessarily lets out anything man-made, but a transformation as total as this one certainly knocks on Miracle’s Door!