Shabby Goes Chic

Once a neighborhood eyesore, a 1924 Tudor cottage in Midtown Ventura shows what a bit of design savvy can do for a home.

By Lisa Snider

Photo by Gaszton Gal


hristian McCord sees beauty in the most unlikely places. Driving down Poli Street one day in 2005, on a route she’d taken many times from her home in Santa Paula to visit her in-laws in Midtown Ventura, a “for-sale” sign in front of a rundown old house caused her to hit the brakes.

“I always called this the yard sale house, because they had yard sales all the time,” she recalls.

All the windows except two were busted out. The yard was overgrown and full of weeds. But McCord had to have it. After a fair amount of persuading, she and her husband, Bryan, made an offer the very next day.

She remembers telling him, “I know what I will do to this house.” But it was even worse than they thought. The front door had been kicked in and ultimately removed. There was essentially nothing left in the kitchen—no appliances, and the dilapidated cabinets housed a couple dead rodents. Interior and closet doors were either missing or unsalvageable. Old beat-up cars and more weeds littered the backyard.

“It was a total drug house in bad, bad condition,” says McCord, a 41-year-old colon hydrotherapist.

The three-bedroom, one-bath, 1,100-square-foot Tudor cottage needed a lot of work. Though it had been in the same family, it was an old house that hadn’t been touched since it was built in 1924. Before signing on the dotted line, the McCords had two big concerns. Was the foundation cracked, and had meth been cooked in the house? The latter was especially critical because at the time they had a 6-month-old baby girl.

A retired fire captain gave the house a thorough inspection, reporting that the foundation was solid, and that, much to their relief, no drugs had been manufactured on site, which would have been a deal breaker. “That was the part I was super concerned about,” she says.

When escrow closed, the realtor had no keys to hand over; there wasn’t even a front door. Neighbors welcomed them with open arms and told them horror stories of a motorcycle being driven in and out of the house and people taking up residence in tents in the backyard. It took two months to renovate the house to a point that it was livable and the family of three could finally move in.

Having just moved from a 1926 Craftsman bungalow in Santa Paula, and having lived in old houses as a child, McCord felt confident she could use her design savvy to turn the tattered house into a charming home. “I grew up in old houses, so it’s where I feel comfortable,” she explains.

McCord also has a background in retail buying, styling, and designing. She visited her favorite flea market, in Santa Monica, and began searching for pieces that would fit the home’s era and size. She says flea markets are a source of inspiration and are more authentic and less expensive than antique stores. It’s how she designed their Santa Paula home, when her style leaned toward French Country. Today, she favors the more comfortable and less frilly Prairie style. “Since I’ve been married it’s kind of evolved,” she says of her stylistic preference, “so my husband’s not overcome by pink.”

When choosing pieces, she’s fairly particular. But perfection is not for her; scuffs, bumps, and chips are what she covets most. “I have to have original,” she explains. “I won’t even buy it if it’s been touched up. Layers and layers and layers of paint, I love that.” She doesn’t refinish or distress the pieces—she buys them completely untouched. Obvious signs of wear and tear, she says, show authenticity. “It just shows life and personality.”

McCord found that her attachment to “original” had to be compromised when tackling the home’s renovations. The original floors were stripped and stained when they first moved in, but termite damage made them drafty, and the wood was beyond repair. Ultimately, they installed wide-plank hickory floors, stained to a deep, dark chocolate brown and hand distressed.

But the kitchen proved to be the biggest hurdle. “Nothing in the kitchen is original,” she says, “It was really bad.” The couple installed white cabinetry and marble counters. A friend’s European flea market find serves as the kitchen’s center island, lit by a vintage Italian toile chandelier adorned with strawberries. A Dutch door cut into the kitchen’s back wall floods the whole house with natural light and allows gentle breezes to flow through.

Since Bryan is an electrical contractor, his expertise eased many aspects of the renovation. He installed vintage light fixtures throughout the house, including a crystal chandelier over the dining room table and sconces in the living room.

As their household grew (Lily is now 8; her little brother, Noah, is 7) so did the need for functionality. “They can have whatever they want as long as it fits in one toy box and one cabinet,” she says.

A Dutch door floods the kitchen with cool breezes and natural light. The center island arrived in Ventura via a European flea market.

Avoiding clutter drives most of her furniture purchases. “I live by cabinets,” she explains, pointing out that every room has at least one, and that they serve a dual purpose: function and decoration. The small bathroom has a dresser-style sink cabinet. A bathtub/shower does double duty while fulfilling the 1920s design esthetic. McCord found the then-footless tub sitting in the dirt outside a shop on Padaro Lane in Carpinteria for just 75 dollars.

The house, which has been featured on (see sidebar) and in designer Fifi O’Neill’s book “Romantic Prairie Style,” exudes a rustic charm that’s cozy and peaceful. Even the kids’ rooms feel like dreamy sanctuaries. Soft, creamy-white walls offset with muted earthy pastel accents create a subdued color scheme.

Subtle details, including McCord’s collection of turn-of-the-century Barbola mirrors and early-1900s cast iron doorstops, harken to another time. “My great grandmother had those in her house when I was growing up,” she recalls.

An electrical contractor, Bryan McCord installed vintage light fixtures throughout the home, like this crystal chandelier over the dining room table.

More than a dozen English paisley eiderdown quilts drape beds and top cabinetry, providing a mix of textures. Walls are decorated with various architectural pieces, including an upside-down picket fence. A rusted gate piece and corbels from old porches embellish the tops of doorway corners. Recycled porch columns and urns create more visual interest.

cottage style With roots in pastoral England, the Tudor Cottage style calls to mind those cozy abodes of fairytale lore. A 2005 sale marked the beginning of a happy ending for the McCord cottage, built in 1924.

With the home’s interior now finished, McCord turns her gaze out beyond the Dutch door.

“I can’t wait to tear into the yard,” she says, imagining an English garden with elegant roses, hydrangeas, and pea gravel. And like the rest of the house, it will surely feel like it’s been there for nearly a century


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