Winchester House – 38 year long remodel !

I’d seen signs for the Winchester House on the drive to San Francisco many times.  This time I stopped.

  • 160 rooms
  • 47 fireplaces
  • 10,000 panes of glass
  • 950 doors
  • 600 remodeling phases


Wow !   I’ve worked on some long remodels before, but Mrs. Winchester takes the cake !

The Backstory

Sarah married William Wirt Winchester, the heir and President of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company.  There was serious money in guns!  After their baby daughter died of a rare disease, Mr. Winchester died of TB.  In search of the reasons for all the bad luck in her life, Sarah sought out a psychic.  Told that the bad luck was due to all the angry souls of the dead from the Winchester guns, the solution was to move west and build a house and never stop building so that the ghosts could never take residence !  What a story !  Well, she believed it and spent the next 38 years building.

The Cash

Luckily, the death of her husband left her well off.

  • She inherited $20 million in 1866 !
  • Owned half the stock in the company giving her $1,000 a day income – today that equals about $30,000
  • She spent $5.5 million fixing up the house – today about $ 75m

The house was 7 stories before the 1906 earthquake – now its 4 stories and she closed off a whole side of the house that had been damaged and left it. Continue reading “Winchester House – 38 year long remodel !”

Land Buying Hell ? Don’t get trapped – 7 things you need to check out!

Buying land is different than buying a home.  You might be thinking “Duhhh,” however you wouldn’t believe some of the situations I have seen,  particularly when the land is in an outlying area and not attached to town or city infrastructure.

Here’s one story I hear all the time.

“Well we were visiting from LA (or NYC or Chicago or any big city and going to the country) and found the most beautiful 40 acre piece of land on the top of the mountains looking out over the Pacific for only a million bucks !  (a lot in their city 10,000 square feet – costs $1m)

Flash forward 2 years

“It’s just ridiculous !  The road and the utilities just to get the house are $1m !  We spent $200,000 and countless hours designing our house now they tell us –  2 years to get the permit

We’re putting the property up for sale!”

For some reason people assume once you buy a piece of land – all you do is build.  But why would you know this stuff?  Lots of realtors don’t know the requirements to build on raw land.  Many spend 95% of their careers selling homes and very little land.

Rules continue to change. Continue reading “Land Buying Hell ? Don’t get trapped – 7 things you need to check out!”

Solar Decathlon 2013 – Orange County Great Park

Flux Home University of Southern California USC

CLICK HERE   See the Flux House in Ojai **** an internationally, renowned, architect moves the 2013 Solar Decathlon Flux Home to Ojai, CA

The Solar Decathlon  is a very cool event – a college competition to build solar homes.  Usually in Washington, DC – last year the 2013 Solar Decathlon exhibit was in Orange County, California for the first time.  Although I follow the event every year – this year I went to see the houses.

They say architects are at their best when they are old – experienced.  This truth exists but there is something really fun, fresh and appealing about these college students taking on the task of building a home – an efficient and new style of home.

  • lots of shed roofs
  • passive solar design using shading
  • open and flexible plans
  • solar systems


The Decathlon was held at the former El Toro  Marine Air Base – which is being transformed into “Great Park” – at 4700 acre real estate development – CLICK HERE for more info

A runway of cool houses …

Continue reading “Solar Decathlon 2013 – Orange County Great Park”

Los Angeles’ Most Expensive Home $102 Million

Fleur de Lys Los Angeles

The Ultimate House ?  If you go by dollars alone … this is it in Los Angeles.  50,000 square feet !  An acre is 43,560 square feet.  That’s a lot of house to run around in!

But it’s only the second most expensive!  This home in Woodside California was sold in 2012 for $117 m.  A puny 8,900 square feet, I wonder what makes one worth  $13,146 psf versus $2,040 psf ?


Continue reading “Los Angeles’ Most Expensive Home $102 Million”

Ojai Recycled Modern Modular Green Home – How Green Can you Get?

Ojai modern greenmodular home

This home showed up on my street today – by way of the 2013 Solar Decathlon that exhibited last  fall in Orange County California !  I saw it there myself.

Just down the street from my home in Ojai – a renowned architect owns a beautiful piece of property.  For years I have been wondering what he would do.  Today as I drove down the street, I found three tractor trailers with chunks of house on each one.

Ojai modern greenmodular home

By filling a small drainage ditch and placing heavy steel plates over the earth, a 16 ton fork lift was able to move the three trailer loads on to the property.  There they sit waiting to be joined.

Ojai modern greenmodular home


Ojai modern greenmodular home Continue reading “Ojai Recycled Modern Modular Green Home – How Green Can you Get?”

White Walls – Black Roof – Best Architectural Style for your Home ???

La Spec House

White house, black gabled roof, multi paned windows, throw in a few cute dormers.  On the inside you will have the traditional layout of living room, dining room, expanded kitchen slash family room.  The floors will be dark stained hardwood and the walls will be versions of white.  Is this your fantasy home ?  The “hot” style in west Los Angeles and other areas of the country.  Sort of a shabby chic meets New England a la LA!

Don’t get me wrong, I like lots of different styles of homes.  I wouldn’t build this home for myself, but that’s why its called “custom” home building.  I grew up in a home in Connecticut, built in the 1800’s, a “colonial revival.” Litchfield, Connecticut is a whole town of white houses with black shutters.  (Hey note to spec builders – you forgot the black shutters)  This is what professional “spec” builders (people who build homes to re sell) are doing in Los Angeles.  If they are doing it right, it means they are building something that has a wide appeal while maximizing their profit.  Lots of things come into play – just as they do for every job.

  • Local housing market
  • Zoning rules
  • Architectural style
  • Cost of construction

Building in a rural area with more land – you probably wouldn’t build a sub terranian garage, but it might be the best way to get what you want in a dense sub urban area like this one.

The side view shows the below grade garage.   This is a way to get more square footage within the zoning rules in Los Angeles, and more square footage equals more value which means more money to the “spec’ builder.  Obviously the west side of Los Angeles is very expensive.  This house was bought a year ago for $1.4 m – torn down – and the new house is for sale at $4.5m   6500 sf of house on a 7200 sf lot !

LA spec house

Inside – the floors are dark stained wood – lots of white !

LA spec house3

New Green Fireplace ! Rumford Style with glass door that works!

So you still want a real fireplace but can’t handle the trade off of what it does to your green building? 

We all love fireplaces but in most buildings they are a horrible energy suck !

  • Sucks out the conditioned air – even with the best glass doors (which are alway ugly)
  • Pollutes the environment
  • Leaky
  • Drafty

Well check this out !  I met the owner of the Canadian company Renaissance Fireplaces at my Builder 20 meeting in Quebec this fall.  

His revolutionary product uses a “guillotine door” (comforting sounding name eh?).  The door is counter balanced and slides up into the wall cavity – so it works with an air tight seal.

Interestingly – after considerable research – his labratory and scientists couldn’t improve on old Cout Rumfords famous design for a fireplace.  This means the fireplace lights easily, burns efficiently and throws heat into the room instead of up the chimney.

Check out their web site for videos and more information

Shipping Container Homes

Shipping Containers – there’s millions of em – floating around – literally!   It is estimated that thousands of these things are lost at sea every year !

But these relatively cheap, strong, box structures are turning into some pretty cool homes.

Everything from the shack below …

To three story urban homes – this one is in Venice California …

To exotic homes like the “Tea House” in Korea ….

See our newest video all about Container Homes