The Privy on Permits

The world, as I see it, is a little over-saturated with pretty before & after pictures; TV shows that make us think that remodels are quick & painless, and that anyone can transform their space with a good DIY project. On TV, homes are beautifully transformed in six weeks, with the whole wish list, on budget.

Don’t believe their lies.

I joke, only to shed some light on the reality of remodeling, which requires more than a good design eye & a free weekend. As a professional, I spend a huge chunk of time navigating budgets, trimming wish lists (substantially – like squashing peoples dreams), persuading (arguing with) city officials, going through rounds of revisions and code note additions until a government jurisdiction deems them acceptable…

Our personal remodel journey started just like that – sifting through our wish list, trimming the wishes, drawing concepts, revising them, budgeting with our contractor, and then, permitting. Permitting is frequently overlooked, but it’s a huge timeline hurdle. Our entire permitting process (once design was complete) took 7 months, which was fairly short for our area given the scope of work.

The town we live in is charming & historic, with many beautiful old homes. But, I’ve never worked with a planning department that’s more particular about it’s residential aesthetic. New homes must fall within a narrow range of traditional styles – historic homes are hardly allowed to be touched (other than to be restored).

My feelings about this are mixed.

Because I personally enjoy the victorian era aesthetic, I appreciate its preservation, but as a homeowner, it is exceedingly frustrating to be told what you can’t do to your property. So, the lesson here is try before you buy – or at least, know what you’re getting yourself into.

Luckily, I did know, and I was up for the challenge. First on my agenda was to convince the historic preservation committee that our house was worthy of alteration, so, I put my pen to paper – my letter to them, below, is a tiny window into our family, our dreams, and our ongoing journey.


Town of Los Gatos
Planning Department
Attn: HPC
June 08, 2020

To whom it concerns,

Four years ago, my husband Joey and I enthusiastically purchased a historic Los Gatos home.  

As a young & growing family, buying a home in Los Gatos was a dream realized; we scraped together every penny we had, stretching far beyond what was comfortable, to build community in a town that we’d already grown to love.  And while the layout of a historic home doesn’t always lend itself to seamless, modern-family living, we felt (and still feel) privileged to call this sliver of California history - ‘ours’.

Joey and I met as college Students at the University of Colorado, Boulder; I - an architecture major from the Chicago suburbs, and Joey - a history major from Los Altos, CA.
While in college, I studied historic preservation, and had a vision of moving to the East Coast to pursue historic restoration & rehabs.  But alas, life had different plans; when Joey got a job in his hometown of Mountain View, CA, I followed him to the land of mid-century ranches.  My dream of living in a charming old home, walkable to a historic downtown was sidelined, until I set my sights on Los Gatos.  

As a young couple, we spent many date nights on Santa Cruz Avenue, and cruised the nearby residential streets with big hopes for our future.  And as fate would have it, a few years later while pregnant with our second child - only months after fully renovating our downtown Los Altos condo - we stumbled upon a Redfin listing for [insert address]. The next day, we drove down to see the house, and that night, we made an offer.  Joey and I weren’t in the market for a house, but this one felt like home. 

Since that day four years ago, our family has grown again - bringing us to a grand total of 5 people, and 1 bathroom (It gets ugly sometimes)!  And although we must add square footage [and a toilet] in order to stay on our beloved corner of LG, our love for history and design have us striving to maintain all of the home’s story, while adding to it - just a little bit.  

                                   —

We will not demolish any part of the historic house, nor will we alter the existing facade, except to put in a new front door package, and install a fixed, decorative window in lieu of an operable one that currently exposes bedroom #2 to The Blvd. This is simply for privacy and safety, as it concerns our daughters who will share bedroom #2.

As you will notice on the site plan, the only side of the house that does not already sit on a setback is the North side, which faces [insert road name] and the Valero station across the street.  It is our intention to shield our view of the gas station (and others’ view of us!) with a tasteful, single-story master suite addition.  

When the home was built in 1884, they didn’t have the fore-site to orient the home’s views away from Valero. So now that the site on which the house was built has changed, a little strategic reorienting will greatly improve this home’s livability. 

The design strategy for the add-on is for it to appear as a separate building that has been connected to the original house.  Rather than risk confusing what may have been original with what is new, our goal is to make it clear that an addition occurred, but in a manner that pays homage to the original design.  Some key design decisions are outlined below:

+We have dropped the plate of the addition so that the new portion of the house will not be as prominent as the original house.  
+We chose not to add the skirt that is on the original house, to maintain a sense of hierarchy - that the historic structure is more significant than the addition.  
+We intend to use the same horizontal siding on the new portion of the house, with the exception of the connection. The connection will likely be vertical board & batten in order to achieve the illusion that the new structure is separate from the original one. 
+We are maintaining a single story home, with rooflines that match those on the original house.
+A new porch on the North side of the home will have a trellis to help screen some of the gas-station commotion, and will boast some of the same detailing visible on the front porch - maintaining the same high-level of design integrity.  

We appreciate the time you’re taking to review this project. We love this town’s rich history, and look forward to being part of it for many years to come. 


Respectfully,
Lauren Fulcher 

*photo copyright: losgatosca.gov

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