more than a makeover

A bright new kitchen, expanded rooms, and lower energy bills breathe new life into a 1930s Nob Hill bungalow that still fits its original footprint.

This article first appeared in Winter 2010 Su Casa

For the past 74 years, a small Spanish Mediterranean style home in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill area has silently witnessed the growth of a city. Decades after the home’s initial construction, a renovation replete with 21st-century updates illustrates the delicious possibilities when a solid house in a desirable historic neighborhood meets an experienced remodeler.

“I believe that remodeling itself is a green concept,” says Kevin Evans, owner of Annex General Contracting & Design, which took on the little gem of a home at the southeast corner of Lomas Boulevard and Solano Drive. “You’re taking what is existing and improving its design and efficiency in a neighborhood you love.”

Selling points for Kevin included “good bones, a charming feel, and the neighborhood itself” when he and a business partner bought the house to restore and resell. Kevin had every intention of preserving the original oak floors and cove ceilings as he worked his magic on the home. The problems, in turn, came in the form of less-than-desirable originals—the warren of small rooms, plywood kitchen cabinets, an antiquated heating system, and lack of insulation. Vintage features can bring expensive headaches even as they delight new generations.

creative potential
Built when the College View Addition kicked off its second decade in Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district, the little house constructed between two world wars offered its fair share of both architectural craftsmanship and frustration. Kevin is the first to concede it takes a certain degree of patience, perseverance, and vision to pull off a successful restoration, even when remodeling is your company’s forte.

“The first time I walked through this home, I saw this very floor plan in my head,” says Kevin, his hands sweeping the newly expanded kitchen with tasteful Silestone countertops, simple painted wood cabinetry, and modern appliances such as a wine refrigerator. “It just came to me, just the way you see it now.”

Gone is the interior wall that separated the kitchen from a tiny dining room. Gone too is a second wall that blocked interaction between guests in the kitchen and living room, a testament to 21st-century buyers who expect open floor plans. Kevin incorporated a half bedroom—really just a nine-by-seven-foot cubby squeezed between the kitchen and garage—into a master bedroom suite.

Without changing the home’s original building envelope but instead pulling from the garage, a dysfunctional 1950s recreation room addition, and other wasted space, he managed to add 400 heated square feet, creating the master bedroom and a sunny rear hall that opens to a private outdoor courtyard. The home now comes to a comfortable 1,600 square feet, a transformation startling enough that the son of a former owner—the fellow who slept in the bedroom cubby—once stopped by to visit and stayed for two hours to marvel.

In the existing hall bathroom, Kevin turned the toilet 90 degrees to create more space and comply with current building codes. Other changes proved a bit more complex. He removed the existing floor furnace and replaced it with an energy-efficient central heating and cooling system in which the new duct work runs through the old crawl space.

“I needed access to the crawl space, so I saved the steel cover grill from the old floor furnace, cleaned it, had it powder coated, insulated it, and reinstalled it,” Kevin says. “This is a fun reminder of the home’s history and creates safe inside-the-home access to the crawl space.”

community character
Kevin acknowledges that much of his inspiration came not just from the project under the scaffolding but also from the homes that surround it. Albuquerque’s Nob Hill district, which took shape between 1905 and the 1950s, has become a favorite locale for remodelers, he says. On just a few city blocks off Lomas Boulevard, passersby can find a variety of styles—bungalows, Spanish Pueblo Revivals, Southwestern vernaculars, Territorial Revivals, and ranch homes.

“I really like the area,” he says. “And I love these unassuming old houses. I had one back in the early ’90s when I first moved back to New Mexico from Las Vegas, where I was attending UNLV [University of Nevada, Las Vegas] and studying architecture. I like that we’re under a canopy of trees. All the houses are unique. They have character. They’re small but charming. I wanted to keep the feel yet update it.”

Actually, he’s found that many folks seem to instinctively cherish these functional homes with simple lines. If they didn’t grow up in one, their parents or grandparents or best friend might have. In fact, city survey records indicate this particular home was owned for a few years in the 1940s by H. B. and Lucille Horn, local philanthropists whose names now grace the Heights YMCA not far away.

fresh purpose
Kevin figures the preservation of even a single old home comes with a commitment to the future. Although he completed this remodel prior to Build Green New Mexico’s certification program for remodeled homes, Kevin added green features to surpass contemporary building codes. He beefed up the insulation where previously the exterior walls and crawl space had none and the ceiling had only a three-inch layer of rock wool.

His company installed a tankless hot water system, fitted low-E double-paned windows, and chose appliances and light fixtures that meet Energy Star specifications. The remodeled home has a HERS rating of 90, a dramatic improvement from the preremodeling rating of 160. (A lower HERS score indicates greater energy efficiency.)

“I’ve reduced this old home’s energy consumption almost in half while increasing the size by 400 square feet,” Kevin says. Beyond its mechanical additions, the remodel’s location within a treasured old neighborhood offers easy access to bus lines and walking or biking distance to shops, restaurants, and the University of New Mexico campus.

“I think if we as a whole rethink what we already have with these old houses in these old neighborhoods—and appreciate and improve them while renewing the community—we could quite possibly reduce the need for creating more urban sprawl.”

resources for this home

Freelance writer Jane Mahoney resides in a fixer-upper in Albuquerque’s South Valley and frequently writes about home builders and real estate issues for the Albuquerque Journal.