Arts and Craftsman: A couple rebuilds their dream home after surviving a nightmare.

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The colorful craftsman exterior of their newly rebuilt home.

By Alex Wilson | Photos by Viktor Budnik

When Kevin Wells and Sylvana Guidotti were married in 2000, they bonded over their affinity for the solid and welcoming feel of craftsman architecture. The hillside home they lived in, however, was one of the original 1973 tract houses in Ventura’s Skyline neighborhood, built in a boxy suburban style. That didn’t stop the couple from giving their home some craftsman-style details when they designed an addition, although it wasn’t really the same as having an entirely craftsman-style house, Wells told Ventana Magazine.
“We added a lot of wood trim inside. Kind of redid the outside to give it as much as we could the craftsman look,” Wells said.

Sylvana Guidotti and Kevin Wells share a love for craftsman architecture.

Up in Flames

Then came December 4, 2017.

It was a warm evening for that time of year and the couple barbecued dinner outside. They heard that a fire had broken out near Santa Paula that evening, but at first it seemed impossibly far away for them to worry about. But then the electricity went out, and police went door to door telling people to evacuate, Guidotti recalled.

“We looked out our back window and sure enough, there was this glow on the hills behind us,” said Guidotti, who quickly loaded her dogs, a couple days’ worth of clothing and some important papers into her SUV. “It was kind of chaos up here. People were, you know, just moving, getting stuff out.”

The main living area is now on the second floor, to take advantage of the glorious views of the hillside, city and ocean.

Wells and some other neighbors initially stayed behind to defend their homes, and even felt a sense of relief when the flames seemed to bypass their neighborhood.

“My neighbors and I, we said, ‘Wow, I think we just dodged a bullet,’” Wells explained. “The wind shifted. Started coming right over our house in that direction. And I went up to our backyard and I looked over and there was just a firestorm of embers.”

Wooden bird built and designed by Kevin Wells for his wife’s birthday.
Fun, eclectic and artsy touches, such as this colorful metal frog, add charm and whimsy.

Wells fled and met his wife at a friend’s home in Oxnard. The following morning, they heard the news about the home they had lovingly remodeled into an approximation of the craftsman they desired.

“As we were driving back towards Ventura, one of our neighbors on the cul-de-sac called us,” Guidotti said. “Their house was the only house on our cul-de-sac that survived. So, she felt like she needed to call us and kind of break the bad news to us. We were kind of prepared for the worst.”

LIGHT BRIGHT Creatively vintage touches like this handsome wall sconce help add to the craftsman feel of the home.

Coming Back Craftsman

Guidotti said they got into “rebuild mode” right away and were happy to find out they were better insured than many neighbors. They hired Ventura-based architect Bruce Labins to design the craftsman-style house they had always envisioned in their dreams to fit on the footprint of the destroyed home at 778 Topa Topa Court.

The architect suggested creating the living space on the second floor to maximize views from the lot’s hillside perch. Wells said that sounded strange at first: They were used to having an upstairs bedroom. Once they saw the results after moving in during March 2021, however, they were thrilled.

“It’s an open floor plan. It’s very comfortable, very easy to live in. Yeah, we really enjoy it,” Wells said. “And the little things [Labins] talked us into, like ‘Let’s make the garage a little wider so you can get the two cars in there.’ And just the little things architects think of that just turn out to be a good idea.”

The talented Kevin Wells designed and built this wood and stained glass chandelier.

Guidotti said the best thing about the rebuilding process was how much other Ventura residents cared. “People in the town were very supportive of those who lost their homes. People really reached out to us, just people in our community, which I really appreciated. And it just says a lot about how communities can really join together and support one another, you know, when we really need one another.”

Guidotti related a story about a trip to the Ventura County Government Center to inquire about paying property taxes right after the fire. Guidotti was asking questions about how to readjust the value of their real estate now that the house was gone.

“I guess I had a few little tears in my eyes as I’m trying to describe this,” she recalled. “And then she started crying. And then she looked at me and she said, ‘Can I come around and hug you?’ And she came out of her cubicle and through the door and around into the line area. And she gave me a hug and she told me how sorry she was for my loss. And I thought, you know, I don’t think that would have happened if I had been in a big city like LA…Someone took their time to stop their work and share their sense of sorrow for our loss. And I appreciated that.”

A bit of greenery softens the exterior and adds interest to the landscape.

Tour Ready

Now Guidotti and Wells are giving back to the community in their own way by showcasing their home as part of the Ventura County Library Foundation’s third annual Rising From the Ashes home tour, featuring five homes rebuilt after burning up in the Thomas Fire. In addition to Wells and Guidotti’s craftsman home, the other architectural styles represented this year include French country, Spanish, modern and ranch. The self-guided event is set for April 20 from noon to 4 p.m. Funds raised will support the foundation’s adult literacy programs, STEAM scholarships and a mobile library program. Information on the $50 tickets is available at vclibraryfoundation.org.

Handyman Kevin Wells loves working with wood and adding custom touches to his home.

Wells said he’s looking forward to the Rising From the Ashes home tour and showcasing the work of architect Bruce Labins, his associate Kimberly Cheadle as well as contractor Jason Rawls of Rawls Construction Inc.

“We’re proud of it. We’re proud of the house. We’re really grateful for the people that we had working for us, the architect and the contractor that did all the work and also we had really good finish carpenters,” Wells said. “There’s a little get together with the other people on the tour the night before, and that’ll be interesting just to kind of hear their stories, kind of share our experiences.”

Rising From the Ashes 2024
Saturday, April 20, 12-4 p.m.
Tickets: $50
www.vclibraryfoundation.org