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Big Ideas for a Small Space

For Michelle and Jeremy Walker, a 600-square-foot bungalow in Midtown Ventura was big enough to house a world of fresh design ideas

By Allison Costa—Photos by Jim Minics and Kelly Segre

Al fresco dining in Ventura can be a windy affair, but roll-down shades keep the infamous sea breeze at bay. Tiles on the patio were handmade by the artisans at RTK Studios in Ojai.

“We’ll buy it.” That’s what Michelle and Jeremy Walker said within the first minute of seeing the tiny house with a shaky foundation and colonial pillars in Midtown Ventura. Recalling that day in 2002, Jeremy said with its square footage capping out at 600 square feet, “It would fit in someone’s garage.” But it was near the beach, the price was right, and the Walkers knew they could transform it.

In the nine years since then, they have turned the nondescript house into a charming Craftsman style bungalow. In the process they created an oasis for themselves, a place where they can escape their busy lives as co-owners of the landscape design company Blooming Gardens (bloominggardens.biz).

No room for a garden? Michelle grows lettuce indoors, utilizing skylights.

Dating to 1927, the structure was originally built to house workers from the offshore oil rigs. Though it had not an ounce of Craftsman design, the Walkers—who had been deeply inspired by the architectural style—set about recreating their property. Craftsman homes were popular during the early part of the 20th century, and the couple endeavored to make the redesign “aesthetically correct to the era.”

With Jeremy’s experience as a general contractor and Michelle’s background in landscape design, they’ve got design, construction, and landscaping covered. “We’ve never had anything handed to us on a silver platter,” Michelle said, explaining why they had no problem doing the work themselves.

And with help from the sub-contractors they work with at Blooming Gardens, they were also able to custom create every aspect of the home. Since they spend much of their time in the backyard, last year the Walkers set out to transform it into an outdoor living space. The large covered patio offers a welcoming area with a fireplace and a large solid wood dining table flanked by an Asian-inspired sideboard and an oversize mirror.

Efficient use of space is a hallmark of the Walker residence. Again skylights come into play, adding depth to a relatively small patio.

One of the first things they did was widen the tiny front porch, making it more inviting to the neighborhood and more Craftsman in style. They installed replacement replica siding above the bottom of the window line and shingles below, painting both with colors historically appropriate to the era. Throughout the construction process, the Walkers kept the neighborhood in mind. “We didn’t want to overbuild,” said Michelle. “We wanted to bring it back to life, make it green, and give it character.”

Sustainability was among their top priorities for home and garden. They replaced all of the original windows with vinyl double-paned windows and installed LED lighting in the kitchen. Around the patio, a gravel border is part of a drainage system designed to filter out soot and grime before runoff water drains to the street, and eventually to the ocean. Neither of the yards have irrigation systems; all of the plants are drought tolerant. A wall protects the front garden and its flora from the drying effects of wind, so only a scant amount of water is required—and only when the weather gets hot. When asked to describe the yard’s style, Michelle smiled: “It’s called no maintenance...with a splash of modern Japanese flare.”

Small doses of Japanese-influenced garden design lend the property a tranquil feeling in spite of limited space.

Michelle found much of her inspiration for the front yard in Japanese art, something she has had a passion for most of her life. A concrete Japanese lantern, Japanese maples, and a few small pots of bamboo sit amongst grasses and rocks alongside a series of stepping-stones and a trickling fountain.

Feng shui—the ancient Chinese system of spatial arrangement—also guided the Walkers’ design. In accordance with feng shui guidelines, the pathway to the house is wider than the front door. A pair of foo dogs, traditionally believed to ward off evil spirits, sits on either side of the entrance.

A stereo projection TV is mounted over a hand-carved coral portrait in Michelle and Jeremy Walker’s bedroom.

When asked what it was like to design such a small space, Michelle said, “We just made things work.” Part of the way they did that was by widening many of the doorways and adding mirrors to reflect light and expand the space visually. They even painted their bedroom door the same olive green as the walls to trick the eye and make the kitchen feel larger.

In their contemporary kitchen hangs a sign that reads “Que syrah syrah...,” a reference to the couple’s fondness for red wine and their belief that whatever will be, will be. Yet the Walkers are anything but fly by the seat of your pants kind of people. They are planners, with more ideas for their house. Their next project will be to expand upward, building a second floor master bedroom.

Combining design savvy and modern technology, the couple turned their 600-square-foot Midtown house into a showpiece.

When asked by friends why they don’t simply move to a bigger house in the hills, the Walkers seem almost shocked. Why would they want to leave? “We’ll just keep growing the house,” Michelle said.

04-01-2011

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