In Renovator’s Notebook, homeowners open up about the nitty-gritty of their remodels: How long it really took; how much it actually cost; what went horribly wrong; and what went wonderfully, serendipitously, it’s-all-worth-it-in-the-end right. For more tips to nail your next project, follow @reno_notebook.
The house stuck out like a sore thumb. In Los Angeles’s leafy Jefferson Park, where charming Craftsman homes line manicured streets, a sad gray new build sat on the market for months. But even so, Shanty Wijaya, founder of Allprace, a boutique real-estate, renovation, and development company, was immediately drawn to it.
Never mind that the tiny closed-off rooms felt soulless and dark or that the “landscaping” was just a pile of rubble. It had a two-car garage and plenty of outdoor space to transform. “I knew I could make it blend nicely with the neighborhood,” says Wijaya. She snapped up the unloved property for $675,000 last November. Six months later, the bungalow is unrecognizable—and on the market for $1.3 million. Here’s how she doubled the value in just six months by maximizing livable square footage and investing in much-needed curb appeal.
Look for Potential Rental Income
The house had a two-car garage and a two-car driveway, so I immediately saw the potential in converting the garage into a guesthouse or a vacation rental. It now has a kitchenette, an en suite bathroom, and a separate entrance. When I purchased the home, it was 1,568 square feet. By converting this space, it’s closer to 2,000.
Find Inspiration Outside of Your Own City
The kitchenette was inspired by English cottages, to make guests really feel like they’re on vacation. I used open shelving but added custom details like a plate rack and hanging brass rail to optimize storage—British kitchens typically have these details, which I love.
Open Up the Communal Rooms (and Give Them Purpose)
When I first walked into the house, the layout was very closed off, with small, dark living spaces—it was uninspiring, uninviting, and lacked a sense of flow. My goal: to make it feel more spacious by knocking down walls and opening up the front den to the dining area, the kitchen, and the living room. I added the stone fireplace for a warm and cozy feel and built bookcases to frame the French doors, a detail I had always wanted to include in a project. Together with the fireplace, it makes for the ultimate reading nook.
Think Beyond Blank Walls
I wanted to give this new construction the character of a Craftsman-style home so it would blend nicely with this historic neighborhood. We changed the doors, windows, flooring, light fixtures, and everything in the kitchen: custom Farrow & Ball cabinets, a pine island salvaged from a 100-year-old building in Britain, handcrafted English shelf brackets, marble countertops. I used shiplap on just a few walls for texture—having it on every surface would have made the space feel smaller than it actually is.
Build a Space Just for You
In the back of the yard, we added a shed to create a flexible space to be used as an art or yoga studio—or just a place for “me time.” The backyard is big and this spot enhances the home’s indoor-outdoor living. I wanted to infuse the space with a cabin vibe, so I covered the walls in maple-wood panels, which were more expensive than regular drywall, but worth it for their character.
Make First Impressions Last
Outside, we added board and batten siding, Dutch doors, lighting, pergolas, and custom-made gates (they’re made of wood, so they become part of the curb appeal). We were going for an eclectic, laid-back, California-cool look. We also added a sizable back porch and a side yard walkway to create an indoor-outdoor entertaining space. I wanted to make the house feel wider and bigger from the outside while also keeping it intimate, and infuse the yard with different textures and colors through plants and flowers.
To me, landscaping is one of the most important pieces in making a house a home; people can see how much time and effort we put in as soon as they walk up. All in all, we spent about $70,000 on the exterior. The outdoor space, which is now enclosed by mature trees, feels very private and creates the illusion that you’re somewhere in nature rather than a big city. It’s truly an oasis to escape daily life.
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