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House of Spirits

The traces left behind in a 1918 Craftsman create a blueprint for renovation in Oxnard.

By Mark Storer

Photo by Michael Moore

Nancy and Scott Switzler with their dog Demi in the dining room that, through a serendipitous coincidence, now proudly displays its original furnishings.

 

ivine inspiration has multiple purposes. It is not always about progressive action. Sometimes, the inspiration is that we must retrieve what was lost, restore before we renovate and change.

Being open to such change is a matter one learns, of course, as did Nancy and Scott Switzler of Oxnard. She’s a pastor at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Oxnard and he is purchasing manager for NuSil Technology in Carpinteria. A Craftsman house on G Street in the historic district of Oxnard inspired them and they bought it in 2013. It speaks quietly and, as Nancy said, it leaves ghosts behind, clues of what was once there from the time it was built in 1918 at the close of WWI. Like all houses of the time, the front end of the house, living room and dining room, took up more than half the square footage.

The Switzlers renovated. Indeed, they added 400 square feet to the original 1,200 square feet. But that was after the conversation that Nancy began having with the house.

“I’m a pastor, so I work at home a lot and sometimes I’d sit here in the dining room where I usually work and it’s like the house was talking to me,” she said. “I’d see a little crack and lift it up and realize, ‘whoa, there’s wood under here,’ and I’d begin scraping.”

Nancy began working in the inglenook, a small space in the living room near the front entrance where the fireplace faces out and two small seats face each other. “We were told it was redwood, but it isn’t,” she said. “It’s Douglas fir and there’s nothing wrong with Douglas fir. It’s really quite lovely.”

A neighbor, Jay Zimmerman, is a finish carpenter and he milled all the wood of the pieces that were lost amid the restoration. Likening the project to church work or to her newfound hobby of marathon running, Nancy began the 21-month process of restoring the living and dining rooms. “You just keep going, one thing at a time,” she said. She moved slowly, working small section by small section, removing layers of wallpaper and finishing, polishing and restoring the old wood with a combination of polyurethane and linseed oil until its original luster appeared. Columns of Douglas fir separate room spaces; and the crown molding, milled to an angle that appears all over the house, ties in a theme that allows a kind of consistency throughout.

Meanwhile, the windows that are single-pane, double-hung and contain the original “wavy glass,” which has a liquid texture to it from certain angles, allow light to splash in, throwing distinct but moving patterns upon walls and wood structures. They keep out very little noise and they’re probably not effective insulation, but they are glorious nonetheless.

“When the sun comes in the windows, it throws patterns of light everywhere,” said Nancy. “There’s so much light in each room, it’s actually kind of hard to photograph.” Like ghosts themselves, the light changes with the progress of each day, and fluid and flowing images cross the wood and the walls as sunlight dapples throughout the hours. Pictures that Nancy has of the house before she began renovations reveal other textures, outdated carpeting (actually the first of two layers of carpeting) and padding and faux wood finishes covering up the natural wood underneath.

“You can see the ghost of the old plate rail, here along the wall,” Nancy said, pointing to a small but distinct pattern. “But Jay and I decided not to put it back in the exact same place because we wanted to keep that ghost of what was there before.”

Over the years through the 20th and into the 21st century, previous owners did things like glue windows shut or nail down double-hung panes, requiring Nancy to learn through trial and error how to unstick, re-stain and return them to some kind of former glory.

Ditching the carpet in favor of the wood floor, which she also restored, the living and dining areas are furnished with something close to the house’s original furniture as well. “We were told that there is a story of furniture that was made to go with the house, but a previous owner took it,” said Nancy. “While I was in the middle of this project, a woman and her daughter came by. They were previous owners, and the woman wanted to show her daughter the house she lived in.” Nancy said that later, the woman’s ex-husband came by and said that he had the furniture from the divorce but that he was redecorating and wanted to give the furniture back to the Switzlers.

“He said the furniture was purchased in the 1930s or ’40s,” Nancy said. All of the dining room furniture, an end table, a rocking chair and two other chairs came back to the house, all with ornate wood carving, looking, coincidentally, like furniture one might find in a church. “Some of it needs restoration, but maybe later,” she said.

The centerpiece of the dining and living areas is a large built-in bar and storage cabinet that Nancy restored using the original beveled glass for the doors. The dominant feature is both artwork and a functional bar area.

The renovation began behind the dining area in the kitchen, extending its size and building an addition behind it with the help of AAA Development, contractors in Camarillo. Pictures of the old kitchen reveal a room nearly half the size of what it is now, and poorly designed. “It was hard to get into the kitchen because the counter sort of stuck out into the walkway,” Nancy said. She kept an original cabinet along one wall of the kitchen and restored it by stripping it of layers of paint. But more ghosts spoke to her as the image of the original hinges of the doors were embedded in the paint and she was able to find matches in her search.

By knocking out 4 feet of a bathroom behind the kitchen, they were able to expand it to a more workable size. The house used to end at the back wall of the kitchen. The renovation expanded it by 400 square feet, allowing for a breakfast nook, sitting room, bathroom, laundry room and walk-in closet, which connects to the master bedroom.

The second bedroom, originally intended as a guest room or study, has been host to the couple’s grown children of late. Their daughter recently moved out to the San Fernando Valley where she is working as a preschool teacher, and their son is now home obtaining another degree. “We bought small, thinking it would just be us, but it’s worked out well so far,” she said.

To be sure, there are more ghosts. Recently, Nancy noticed that stucco and paint on the front porch are covering up the original brick; she has uncovered it in small bits on one side. “I think the brick would be lovely and I’d really like to get back to that, so that’s probably next,” she said.

Restoration as renewal instead of change for its own sake suits the Switzlers. There’s something invigorating, perhaps even biblical, about finding what was lost and giving it new life. It merely requires the stillness and quiet to sit, listen and be called to action.

The Switzlers’ home will be part of the 2018 Autumn Historic Home Tour that takes place in the Henry T. Oxnard National Historic District on Sunday, Sept. 23. For more information, visit www.oxnardhistoricdistrict.com.

AAA Development Inc.
401 Mobile Ave., Suite 9, Camarillo
805.482.7191
aaadevelopment.biz

The expansion allowed for more usable space, such as this sunny breakfast nook furnished with midcentury table and stools.

The kitchen has been expanded, nearly doubling its size, but it still maintains the vintage fixtures and double-hung window style typical of Craftsman homes.

Single-pane, double-hung windows contain the original “wavy” glass and can be found throughout the house. “When the sun comes in the windows, it throws patterns of light everywhere,” says Nancy Switzler.

09-01-2018

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