“Regroup * Rethink * Renew: Changing and Challenging the Status Quo in San Luis Obispo”

Author’s note: This article is reprinted with permission from Central Coast Magazine.

These days, creativity isn’t a luxury – it’s a necessity. Across the Central Coast, neighborhoods, businesses and residences are finding innovative ways to revitalize their space using what’s right in front of them. Here, we look at three San Luis Obispo properties that exemplify space efficiency, character, and good old-fashioned ingenuity.

Regroup – The Lucchesi Kitchen

Since buying their Squire Canyon home in 2003, Gary and Archana Lucchesi always planned to renovate the kitchen. But it took a surprise flood under their sink to get the ball rolling. “That water disaster was our excuse to kick off the remodel,” says Gary. “Sometimes that’s what it takes.”

Physicians by trade and the parents of four young children, Archana and Gary lead the sort of busy lives that demand flexibility, comfort and ease at home. But when deciding how to proceed, they enlisted the help of The Design Collaborative in San Luis Obispo.

Designer Ehron Baskin listened to the Lucchesis discuss the difficulty of using a space that wasn’t designed with their family in mind. “My mom visits for three weeks at a time, and she cooks 24/7 when she’s here!” Archana laughs. “We needed a place for her to stockpile meat, produce and spices, plus we wanted something more kid-friendly…and a bit lighter,” she says, referring to the thickly-patterned wallpaper.

“The space lacked the natural flow that this family obviously needs,” says Ehron. To take advantage of the light and picturesque views of the valley below, she knocked down the wall between the entryway and kitchen. The kitchen island was then extended for more counter space, which also made room for the wine refrigerator and bar on Gary’s wish list.

Changing the location of large appliances minimized gridlock when several people cook together, and the installation of a much larger refrigerator and freezer drawer with cabinet exteriors allowed more room for Mom’s ingredients while bringing continuity to the string of golden cabinet faces along the walls.

When it came to color choices and decor, Ehron’s inspiration was found in the Mediterranean flavor of the home’s exterior. “Gary had seen a beautiful Tuscan mosaic that he really wanted to put above the bar, but it would have covered an expanse of gorgeous wood. Then he asked if it could go above the stove, and that was the perfect spot. It’s those unexpected elements that turn out to be just the curve-ball you need, sometimes.”

Rethink – The Garcia Home

After living with two young children in a tiny house on Garden Street for 13 years, George and April Garcia were ready for a change. Willing to sacrifice square footage for proximity to downtown and quiet surroundings, they saw potential in a city lot flanked by two existing homes in an older neighborhood behind Meadow Park.

As principal architect at Garcia Architecture + Design, George had designed many local residences, but the Garcias had never taken the time to imagine their own dream home. Making a list of non-negotiables for the new house, they decided that tight design was the priority. “We had lived in 1,000 square feet for a long time, so we were comfortable with compact living,” explains George. By limiting the home’s footprint to 1,200 square feet, they had ample space to detach their garage in the style of a carriage house, a feature of traditional homes in San Luis Obispo.

When asked about influences on the home’s design, George explains that he didn’t deliberately reference any particular style. “I think the vertical orientation is reminiscent of indigenous work houses across from Railroad Square, where my office was at the time we were designing. I was also working a lot in the Bay Area then, so I was surrounded by homes that made good use of vertical space.”

For the interior, April had firm ideas on what suited their family. “At the time, open plans were all the rage. But we’re private people; we like defined, intimate spaces.” She cites the front sitting room as an example, where she and George prefer to entertain one or two couples, rather than 50 at a time.

Whereas the downstairs is private, the upstairs’ layout is more communal. Keeping the computer and electronics in an open common area rather than in the kids’ rooms encourages oneness rather than separation. And in every room, George made an effort to maximize perceived space by introducing plenty of light and warmth. “We wanted to make as much use of passive solar heat as possible, so all of the rooms have at least two glazed sides – which also means we use the lights less.”

After living in the house for eight years, the Garcias say there is very little they would do differently if given the chance. “You can always improve on a space,” confesses George. But April says that their conscious decision to go timeless, efficient, and thoughtful has paid off. “We don’t follow trends; by staying classic, we saved ourselves the trouble of having to re-do anything anytime soon.”

Renew – The Wineman Hotel

When architect Craig Smith set out to resuscitate the Wineman Hotel, his goal was functionality within the context of historical correctness. “It wasn’t just a renovation project,” he says. “It was a labor of love.”

While the building at the corner of Chorro and Higuera Streets had housed businesses on its ground floor for several years, the upper levels – once a budget hotel frequented by railroad crews and soldiers from Camp San Luis – had been derelict for decades. With 20 partners in ownership consisting mainly of Wineman family heirs, plans had never been carried out to restore the property to the glory of its heyday in 1932 until last year.

After determining that the above levels were best suited as apartments, Craig turned to the City of San Luis Obispo for an equity grant to support affordable housing. As a result, 30 of the 47 total apartments are set aside for renters of moderate to moderately-low incomes. “The City bent over backwards to make this happen,” says Smith. “It was their poster child.” With additional support from Founder’s Community Bank, the developers were set to begin in March of 2009.

Despite ranging in size from just 230 to 250 square feet, each efficiency studio makes spectacular use of limited space, including a small kitchenette with a cook top, refrigerator, cabinets and sink, as well as a beautifully restored bathroom in the style of 1930s grand hotels. The Wineman has even contracted with the Murphy Bed Corporation to allow renters the option of installing a space-efficient bed for a fee that’s included in the monthly rent.

Favoring reuse over reproduction, Craig has refurbished windows, doors, elevators, staircases, floors, light fixtures – even hardware – with painstaking accuracy. “Sure, it would have been cheaper to buy everything new,” he says, “but that wasn’t the idea. We wanted a place of real historical significance to serve a practical purpose.” To that end, the Wineman is currently in the process of being registered as a California Historical Landmark with the State. Even the Wineman’s neon sign is original, having been found in a field by San Luis Obispo Airport and restored by Southpaw Sign Co.

On its ground floor, the Wineman will lease about 14,000 square feet of commercial space, including a wine bar, a Chipotle Mexican Grill, and local favorite Muzio’s Deli. “This is the heartbeat of downtown,” says Craig. “For a renter to be able to walk to work, for a diner to enjoy lunch at a sidewalk cafe, it’s all about location.”


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