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LA Digs - Northeast LA Real Estate Blog

Welcome to LA Digs, the real estate and Northeast Los Angeles community blog written by Realtors Tracy King and Keely Myres.

Here, we share tips, market updates, and local news bits to keep you informed on what's happening in Northeast Los Angeles and the surrounding neighborhoods. Read on to learn about the latest in your neighborhood!

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Before & After: From Thirsty Lawn to Xero-Garden

Think flippers like Better Shelter are the only people transforming homes in Northeast LA? Think again! We have some fantastic before-and-afters thanks to the buyers coming into the neighborhood.

Remember 5312 Sierra Villa Drive in Eagle Rock? We closed escrow back in June, and since then the buyer, Darla, has been very busy.
Inside, she stained the original hardwood floors a dark color, so they really shine in all the light streaming through the windows. She made more room in the dining area by removing a large closet. She also upgraded the electrical system when she moved in, and upgraded all the old plumbing pipes to copper.

The big project she's been working on, however, has been the landscaping - and what a transformation!

Here are some before shots:

5312 Sierra Villa Before



Darla hired Canterbury Landscaping to do the front and side yards. In her words: "Their crew was amazing, clean, here every day, and they completed the job in the time frame that was established. I would highly recommend them to anyone."

Canterbury took out the lawn and overgrown trees,opening up the front and allowing this charming bungalow to be seen again.

5312 Sierra Villa After




We're all for ripping out thirsty lawns, and this landscaping shows how great it can look!

Click here to view a PDF file of the pictures and names of all the plants that were incorporated into the design.

As for the rest of the house, Darla says, "I think the next project will be to paint the outside of the house. I also want to install crown molding, re-paint inside, redo the kitchen, upgrade the bathroom a little bit and do something with the back area."

If you would like to check out Canterbury Landscaping, the contact there is Ken Bilheimer at 626 577-9999 and their website is They have been in business for 25 years. Michelle Seymoure is the designer.


*Did you make some fantastic changes to your Northeast LA home? We'd love to feature you! Send us an email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with your information.

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Dwell on design

Solar panel on the outside, shutter on the inside. Interesting.

This is from Plug 'n Save Energy Products in San Diego. One of these shutters costs around $400, plugs into a transformer that you can plug into an outlet in your home. The electricity produced is enough to run a computer monitor or a TV. Every little bit helps.
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Dwell on Design

Interesting tile made from recycled materials

Sent from my iPhone

Posted via email from Tracy's LA Real Estate

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Design Within Reach Pasadena Cocktail Reception

This sounds like a fun design/architecture day:
DWR Pasadena Studio invites you to join us for a cocktail reception following the Pasadena Heritage “Modern Works” Lecture and Bus Tour of Modern Non-Residential Buildings designed by Architects Edward Durell Stone and Smith & Williams in celebration of National Historic Preservation Month.

The day begins at 1:00pm with an illustrated lecture by Alan Hess entitled “Hiding in Plain Sight: Edward Durell Stone and Smith & Williams” and continues with stops at Stone’s Stuart Pharmaceutical Company building, Smith & Williams’ Children’s Chapel nursery school and education building, and other modern, non-residential buildings throughout Pasadena.

Following the last stop on the tour, head to DWR Pasadena Studio to reflect on the day’s events while enjoying wine and cheese and crackers.

Space is limited! For lecture and tour tickets or more information about Pasadena Heritage, please visit our website.

Cocktail reception is open to the general public. Please RSVP to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Pasadena Heritage –– Modern Works Cocktail Reception
Saturday, May 21, 2011, 5:30––7:30pm
60 W. Green St.
Pasadena, CA 91105
Phone: 626.432.6700
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Design Tips to Sell Homes

One of the panels we attended at the Inman Connect Real Estate Conference in New York a couple weeks ago featured Vern Yip from HGTV's "Deserving Design." He was fantastic to listen to and had a lot of great tips for showcasing a home to really appeal to its buying audience. Here is his presentation (you can skip ahead to 11:45 to get to the tips): Design Tips to Sell Homes. You can read the transcript of the presentation here.

And here are his "Best Ideas for Staging Your Home":

1. Present an optimal space plan

Optimize every room with a space plan that keeps rooms open and easy to negotiate, while showcasing how to utilize unusual spaces. Moving furniture around doesn't cost anything! This is so critical because not everyone who enters a property has the ability to envision how that property can be fully utilized. Sometimes people just aren't visual people, that's not what they do. Presenting an optimal space plan is the first and most critical portion of really showcasing what makes a property special.

A couple of examples:

  • Take an awkward nook in a bedroom or kitchen and turn it into a home office.

  • Use a dining room table as a place for meals and a desk for projects. In Urban Oasis New York, Vern used a table that seats six, but also served as a desk complete with pedestals for storage and electronics. He points out that it also serves as a prep surface for the open layout kitchen - all to show viewers how to optimize square footage in a small apartment.

  • Hide a laundry unit behind doors in the kitchen, or a hall closet, or a bathroom closet.

It's really about showing people how a space plan can improve their space and what they're actually getting.

2. Stick to a monochromatic scheme

A monochromatic room with minimal contrast looks bigger because the number of visual breaks is minimized. When you diminish contrast you actually expand the visual plane. Neutral colors in tans, warm grays, taupes, and shades of warm white have the most flexibility for adapting rooms to anyone's style and have the broadest appeal. A fresh coat of paint is the best investment when staging a property for sale.

An example:

In one unit from the show Selling New York there were some serious architectural elements in the living area. Everything in this unit is painted a warm white color, even some of the furniture is white. So the structural element blends in with the environment. You can accent it if you want, but painting it the same color as the wall diminishes it so if somebody doesn't necessarily like it, it fades into the background.


3. Incorporate organic elements

Real elements will make a property look well cared for and add an appealing sense of life, vibrancy and vitality to a space. They don't have to necessarily always be fresh flowers or plants. A couple of examples:

  • Instead of fresh flowers, Vern staged three clear jars with different kinds of hard candy in the entry area of the Urban Oasis New York Unit (he also mentioned "candy is questionable as to whether or not it's organic, but again it's injecting that sense of life to a space").

  • A bowl of apples is a great way to go. They can last three to four weeks, are relatively cheap, and they give a lot of life to a space.

  • One of Vern's favorite tricks: Monstera leaves in a vase (placed on a nightstand or bathroom counter looks great). They are a couple dollars each and last for several weeks.


4. Edit to showcase a space

Editing is free and an invaluable tool for expanding the visual volume of a room while also making it look neater, cleaner, and more expensive. When it comes to accessories, fewer items with higher individual impact offers the most bang for your buck.

People have a natural tendency to just accumulate stuff. Before going on the market it's important to go through a home and really edit down your belongings so that a potential buyer can visually understand what's happening in the property they're looking at.

An example:


"This is a bedroom from Urban Oasis New York. It's not the world's largest bedroom, but we've done the monochromatic color scheme and we've really pared it down. We put one large, central bed there, we have these pedestals on either side showcasing these keystones from a demolished brownstone here in Manhattan, and these pedestals also have niches so that they serve as night stands. Fewer things, really substantial things. More meaningful things, but fewer things really help showcase the property."

5. Place visual emphasis on highlights of a room

Whether a space has a fantastic view, a tremendous volume, or incredible floors, the highlight of a room should always be underscored dramatically! This is so important because every room has highlights, it's really up to you to now find out what those are and highlight them.

If, say, the highlight is an unobstructed view - put low furniture near the window and keep a monochromatic scheme to not distract the eye from the view.

6. Remember secondary spaces

Finish and accessorize auxiliary spaces. Bathrooms, guest rooms, and home offices should be treated as primary spaces and showcased with furniture, accessories, and organic items to illustrate that a property has many possibilities.

Everybody thinks about the living room, everybody thinks of the dining room, everybody thinks about the master bedroom. But you have to think about the secondary spaces as well if you really want to sell a property.

A couple of examples:

  • In bathrooms: include artwork on the walls, place fresh towels in a basket, put a plant on the counter.

  • In guest bedrooms: make sure there are fresh linens on the bed, put lamps on the side tables, add an organic element to a dresser.

So those are your tips today on how design can really help sell a property. Of course, if this all sounds like way too much work for you to handle before you sell your home, staging is a great option to showcase your home for the market. We work with a fantastic stager who will come in and make a detailed list of what needs to be done to make your home look fantastic.

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After two years of eco-living, what works and what doesn't

Here are the results of a cool experiment Susan Carpenter, the writer of the Realist Idealist blog for the LA Times, did on eco-living:

After two years of eco-living, what works and what doesn't

After experimenting with solar panels, gray-water systems and chickens for two years, a budget-minded consumer takes stock of what worked and what didn't.

Her favorite eco-friendly home system?  Capturing gray water.  Carpenter says, "It's been the easiest, most sensible, hassle-free, sustainable system I've put in place at my house."  When she first installed the system to capture water from her laundry machine, it wasn't legal; she would have had to get a permit, an extensive filtering system, and a lot of money.  However, in August 2009, laundry-to-landscape systems were made legal in California as long as homeowners followed certain guidelines (you can find them here).

Gray water is something I've wanted to do at my own house.  Have you tried it?  What were your results?

What eco-friendly improvements have you made to your home?
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Doing a remodel right

Can u see where the addition is?

See my post on Facebook later for the answer. Sent from my iPhone

Posted via email from Tracy's LA Real Estate

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I Feel Him Here

Sometimes knowing the story behind a building reveals the beauty:

"I Feel Him Here"

Nathaniel Kahn Returns to His Father's Restored Bath House

By Eric Wills | Online Only | Dec. 6, 2010

Eight years ago, Anne Tyng returned to the Bath House in Ewing, N.J., a modest concrete-block building that she had helped her lover and fellow architect, Louis Kahn, design nearly a half-century earlier. Built for the Trenton Jewish Community Center to give pool-going members a place to shower and change, the structure, at first glance, appears to be nothing more than a low-slung series of four square pavilions. But the commission marked a seminal moment in Kahn's career, launching him on a new trajectory that would win him acclaim as one of the finest architects of the second half of the 20th century.

As Tyng discovered, although the Bath House remained in use, it exuded an air of despair and loneliness, its front door boarded up, its walls mold-covered and crumbling. Tyng, then 82 years old, had come with Kahn's son, Nathaniel, who was making a documentary about his late father. As he filmed, Tyng wandered inside the men's locker room, crowded with stacks of plastic deck chairs. "It's terrible; it's just such a shame," she said, gazing upon the neglect.

The scene made for compelling filmmaking: Tyng's disappointment gradually gave way to remembrances of her partnership with Kahn, and his yearning to design a significant building that would speak to the potential of Modern architecture. But the footage also raised a question: How could such an important building in Kahn's career, and in the history of midcentury architecture, end up forgotten?

On a windswept Saturday afternoon several weeks ago, Nathaniel Kahn returned to the Bath House with his two half-sisters and a busload of architecture enthusiasts from a Philadelphia club. They had come to see the nearly finished $2.1 million restoration of the site, inspired in part by Kahn’s documentary, "My Architect," which was nominated for an Academy Award and helped popularize his father’s career. The gathering proved part family reunion, part architecture tour, part graduate seminar in historic preservation that explained just how, exactly, local officials had managed to save the Bath House from potential demolition.

Even though international architects have flocked to the Bath House over the years, to study how Kahn, on a modest budget and with ordinary materials, managed to create such an influential design, the building does not elicit universal praise. ("This is one of the biggest jokes pulled off on the public in years," an anonymous online commentator wrote in response to a recent story about the restoration.) Which helps explain why Sue Ann Kahn, Louis' oldest daughter, said this as she studied the site from a distance: "I was thinking for so long it would never happen. I think it's a miracle the Bath House was restored."

The Bath House's Origins

Louis Kahn was just a few months removed from the first significant project of his career, the Yale Art Gallery, when he secured the commission from the Trenton Jewish Community Center in 1954. Because the center's members were increasingly leaving inner city Trenton, its board of directors decided to build a new complex on 47 acres in the suburbs of nearby Ewing. Kahn was retained to design the entire complex, including the main community building, but only the Bath House and a day camp site he designed were constructed. In part because of the uncertainty about what, exactly, the center's leaders wanted, the death of one of Kahn's most vocal supporters on the board, and his own innovative (and sometimes uncompromising) vision, he was replaced mid-project by a local architect.

But not before he managed to establish a confident new direction for his career—and for Modern architecture. Philip Johnson and Mies van der Rohe had recently designed Glass House and Farnsworth House, respectively; Gordon Bunshaft's Lever House had just risen on Park Avenue in New York. All were International Style-inspired tributes to steel and glass.

Between 1949 and 1951, Kahn had visited Italy, Greece, Israel, and Egypt during his stint as resident architect of the American Academy in Rome, and, inspired by the ancient ruins he had toured, he began work on the Bath House. He designed four pavilions in the shape of a Greek cross, with an open-air central atrium. The design evoked classical forms, and his choice of concrete block as the main building material stood in sharp contrast to the glassy machine aesthetic of the International Style. Kahn "showed it was possible to have flowing space and mass," writes Susan G. Solomon in Louis I. Kahn's Trenton Jewish Community Center.

In one of his most elegant strokes, Kahn designed floating pyramidal roofs that stopped short of the walls in the locker rooms, leaving a gap that offered views of the sky and trees and let in natural light, but that also obviated the need for an HVAC system because air moved freely through the building. The gap creates the wonderfully paradoxical sensation of being simultaneously inside and out: One feels secure within the concrete-block walls, yet also part of nature.

In essence, Solomon writes, the Bath House represented an amalgam of Kahn's classical training and his modern ideas. Many of the architect's later designs, including the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth and the Richards Medical Research Lab in Philadelphia, directly illustrate his philosophy that coalesced as he worked on the Trenton commission. As Kahn told The New York Times, "The world may have discovered me when I designed the Richards, but I discovered myself when I designed that little concrete Bath House in Trenton."

Despite Solomon's success in getting the Bath House listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984, the Jewish Community Center threatened to demolish Kahn's day camp site in 1996, prompting questions about the survival of the Bath House itself. The center's leaders eventually used grant money to create a preservation plan for the site, but with more and more of their members leaving Ewing, they finally decided to sell.

At the time, Ewing Township was looking to build a new community and senior center. And Mercer County officials were looking to make use of their Open Space Trust Fund. Voters, after a contentious debate, had just passed a referendum that allowed the fund to be used for historic preservation projects in conjunction with land conservation. And the Bath House appeared an ideal project. In 2006, the county purchased the property for $8.1 million, financed almost entirely by the trust fund, and transferred ownership to Ewing Township after protecting the site with historic preservation and conservation easements, to prevent demolition of the Bath House or new development on the site.

At first, some county officials were underwhelmed by the building. "It's a bunch of cinder blocks," Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes admits thinking when the Bath House project first crossed his desk. After he read Solomon's book, however, he began to understand the significance of the site, eventually becoming a leading advocate: "I'll be long gone from Mercer County, and people are still going to be coming to see this building."

Despite the political support from such figures as Ewing Mayor Jack Ball, who has lauded the site as "Ewing's national treasure," some county residents still disapprove of the project. Donna Lewis, Mercer County's planning director, tells people to rent Nathaniel Kahn's film, which brings to life the man behind the buildings. "Watch the movie, and you will get it," Lewis says.

A Son's Return

On the recent Saturday when Nathaniel Kahn returned to the site, the Bath House little resembled the decrepit near-ruin he had filmed eight years earlier. Kahn, dressed in khaki pants and a blue sweater, and the other attendees took in the newly restored structure. They admired the abstract mural featuring fish- and wave-shaped forms, reputedly painted by Louis Kahn and another architect, and long covered over by eight layers of paint, that once again decorated the wall next to the main entrance. They noted that the pyramidal roofs, redone years ago in a gray material, were returned to their original black. They studied the refurbished concrete block walls, the sections beyond repair rebuilt with new blocks made from the same Delaware River stone as the originals, the masons instructed to replicate the sloppy and uneven mortar joints that Kahn favored. And they toured the locker rooms, with their new shower dividers no longer tile but shiny granite, chosen for its durability.

Michael Mills, a partner at the Princeton-based architecture firm Farewell Mills Gatsch LLC, led the project, which included the restoration of the day camp site and the construction of a new snack bar. Kahn and his half-sisters gathered around the architect after the conclusion of the tour. "You have done a fantastic service to our father's legacy," Kahn told Mills, as tears welled in the architect's eyes.

The discussion turned to the wider significance of the project in the context of preserving the legacy of Kahn, who built relatively few buildings in the United States. A group of leading academics and architects was dismayed to hear over the summer about the demolition of Kahn's original entryway of the Temple Beth El in Chappaqua, N.Y. They criticized temple leaders for not engaging the wider community of Kahn scholars before starting demolition as part of a plan to build an addition onto the existing structure.

In contrast, before embarking on the Bath House project, Mills spoke to Anne Tyng about the intent behind the original design (one of the conveniences in preserving Midcentury buildings is that many of the original architects are still alive). One question Mills asked her: Why didn't the Bath House have gutters? Tyng spoke, he says, of the "ritualistic idea of the water washing over the walls," though the walls didn't hold up well over time to the moisture. Workers have now installed gutters in a few strategic spots, concealing them as much as possible under the roofline.

One topic especially loomed large: the landscape plan for the site. Workers installed two rows of trees in front of the Bath House and have done other landscaping work, but nothing approaching the master plan that Kahn designed. That plan was never executed, but Heritage Landscapes LLC, relying on Kahn's original drawings, has drafted new renderings that would help achieve a more complete realization of the architect's vision. But the county and township lack the funds—about $500,000—to implement those drawings, and to establish a public green space adjacent to the Bath House that would help create a formal passageway between it and the community center building. Fronted by a vast expanse of parking-lot blacktop, the Bath House now seems insignificant from afar, an accidental imposition on the landscape that lacks proper context.

But the prevailing sentiment was unabashed enthusiasm, for the enlightened local officials who had recognized the historic import of the building, for how the restoration of the Bath House might signal a growing appreciation for Modernist architecture, for the revival of a key work in Kahn's career. Said Nathaniel Kahn of the project: "It will stand as an extraordinarily important example of what can be done with limited resources and enormous attention and care."

By now the sun appeared low on the horizon, and Kahn stood in the central atrium of the Bath House, his back to the stairs leading to the pool. Shadows fell obliquely across the walls. The site exuded a surprising sense of timeless presence given its construction a mere half century ago from so simple a material as concrete block.

"I am in love with this building," Kahn said. "I so feel my father's assuredness here. You know, the Yale Gallery of Art is such a wonderful building, but it's several different things going on. There's uncertainty. There's no uncertainty here. Here he's absolutely convinced he's doing the right thing. I feel him here. I feel the aliveness of his mind, and his excitement at being able to figure something like this out."

Kahn lingered for a few minutes, then slowly walked to the parking lot with the other remaining day-trippers, leaving the Bath House behind once again, this time secure with the knowledge that the building will survive. Not as a museum piece, but as a living structure, where locals will flock come Memorial Day, and fill the walls with the sounds of summer.

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Decorate Your Digs: Craigslist TV

Obviously I don't know how to dig through Craigslist listings well enough to find some buried treasure... this girl's got the eye!

What great items have you found on Craigslist?

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