HUNTING FOR AN OLDER HOME, I settled on an unassuming, pink-painted midcentury block house. Except for a large elm tree, it had few of the things I’d hoped for, but it was sturdy and admitted plenty of light.
Since age eight, I’ve been obsessed with Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, and it happened that the movie version of the first Hobbit book had just been released. In it, the very English Arts & Crafts house called Bag End gave form to a type I thought lived only in my imagination. Being a nuclear engineer, and a systems architect by avocation, I am somewhat obsessive-compulsive, so I consumed all the information I could, buying a subscription to Arts
& Crafts Homes and all of Paul Duchscherer’s bungalow books.
My first project was the master bedroom, where I worked out fabrication processes for new window casings as I replaced the canary-color tile and jalousie windows. (By now I’ve crafted nearly a mile of vertical-grain fir millwork.) A friend’s home in San Diego in- spired my design for the dining room’s wainscot and plate rail. I ended up writing a software algorithm to determine spacing for the battens and wallpapered panels, to (1) minimize wallpaper waste (the company went defunct before I could buy more), (2) disguise the lack of symmetry in the room, and (3) stay close to golden ratio proportions. The house did not come with a fireplace; however, I’m of the opinion that a home needs four things: music, pets, books, and a warm hearth.
Since mansions down the road have names —“Casa de Something” or “La Maison d’Other,” I decided our house should have one, too, and came up with Toad Hall. (A favorite childhood books was The Wind in the Willows.) We have a game for visiting children: Find over 100 frogs and toads hidden inside and out, along with water birds and dragonflies in tile, wood, stone, and metal. The house has become a kind of aboveground Hobbit Hole, full of comfort.
Views of the remodeled house include an overthe-fireplace mural painted by Jerry, who was inspired by the work of Yoshiko Yamamoto of Arts & Crafts Press. The house sign incorporates Motawi tile. The backyard was planted to remind Julie of Hawaii,...