Alta Laguna 2 , Laguna Beach

As a builder, I have found that every home has a story to tell. Some of the stories are about uncovering the diamond in the rough, others feature a historical perspective with clues to the original owners or the area, and some are more dramatic events which can put a style scene on the map.

One house story in particular was about residence that had been neglected for some time. It sits on a spot that provides a commanding view of the ocean and hills beyond. Sadly, it was one of the ugliest houses in the neighborhood. The light-peach stucco, terra cotta colored roof tile and oddly placed second story addition made it stand out - and not for good reason. I would drive past this house on my morning commute and think about how great it would be to fix the problems and give it the California-modern re-design it definitely needed.

Then fate came knocking.

The new owners who had purchased the house in a foreclosure about 8 months prior were ready to do something about it. Originally they thought maybe paint and landscaping would do it, but soon realized it would take more than that to transform it to something people stopped to look at with envy instead of disdain. As it turned out, the owners reached out to another couple for whom I had just finished a job across the street and seeing how well things turned out I received a call to see what we could do.

Sometimes making big changes involve making big sacrifices. An original ranch style home that had been added to over the years it needed some serious updating. It needed new windows, a few structural fixes, foundation work and was in desperate need of an architectural facelift. After talking with the owners we agreed to gut the house, hire a local architect and turn the tuscan/mediterranean/ranch-style abode into a cool, modern home all while keeping the second story view spot and dramatically changing the front entrance.

Stripped to the studs, new foundation work, new electrical, HVAC, plumbing and interior/exterior finishes were in order. We kept the colors simple with white stucco exterior and white interior walls, opened up a closed space into a gorgeous open kitchen adding lots of new ceiling height and light into the home.

Since the house had a distinct boxy appearance we decided to accentuate this feature by wrapping the garage with 1 x 4 clear cedar siding. The wood brought a warmth to the white stucco exterior and bronze anodized window frames. The front entrance was opened up and decluttered with a glass door that would allow the person entering the home a view straight through to the ocean beyond.

The ugly house on the hill was now a beautiful, sleek, modern home. My clients were thrilled that they took the extra time and thought into turning it around. And I was glad to have the chance to bring good design into the neighborhood.

J. Kramer Corp. has experience with every aspect of custom homes, remodels and multiple family buildings. Our comprehensive service takes projects from start to finish including city inspections, neighborhood meetings, city council meetings, historical reviews and more. Since 1995 J. Kramer Corp. has been building and remodeling modern, classic contemporary and traditional style homes in the South Orange County area.

3075 alta laguna 4.jpg

Using Concrete Block - Sandblasted

Sandblasted block looks amazing - but how to achieve the effect?

The two main types of block for modern houses are grey “4 high” (8x4x16) and “8 high” (8x8x16). Superfine sand blasted against the blocks creates an organic look that you cannot find with regular block. The final surface appears satiny with some of the aggregate exposed and all the concrete “cream” blasted away. The blasting also exposes the fine sand in the grout. We use SPEC MIX exclusively to ensure the grout is consistent. 

It is best to order all of the block (fulls and halves) from the same batch. The half blocks tend to be darker and sandblasting will not mask it. Sure you could just cut full blocks on site with the cut end positioned in, but it’s easier to use factory sizes.


4-inch high block reads much better than the 8-high block. Yes, 4 high is the same cost as 8 high block and only goes half as far but the final result is worth it in my opinion. With standard grey block there is no more fretting about split face, brown, ball burnished or any of that. Simply order grey block, it is far less expensive than the aforementioned material. That savings can be applied toward the sandblasting. 

In Southern California almost all the block comes from either Orco or Angelus Block. Both are good quality and reasonably priced. After sandblasting, one way to tell which block you have, and you might want to consider what color cinder is exposed: Orco block has black cinder and Angelus block has red cinder (maroon). When the block is blasted it is easily identifiable.

28961 Sommet Du Monde 002.jpg

Builder's Notes - Shadow Base

So many times I would start out with the best looking smooth drywall surface, a lot of light, great flooring material only to throw on a base molding that really took my eye away from the overall picture. I tried using molding that matched the floor, molding that had a smaller profile, even no molding if the flooring worked in that type of scenario. But, never did I have the “yeah, that’s it” moment I wanted.

Then came shadow base.

The architect I worked with for a lot of the spec projects we were doing urged me to use a special metal that holds the drywall off the floor space by 1-1.5” depending on the flooring material height. It allows the drywall to stop and leaves a small gap between wall and floor that actually completes the picture. Shadow base takes away the clumsy wood molding that always cluttered up the floor lines. When painted a darker color like charcoal or deep bronze, the shadow base creates almost a floating wall affect.

That was it. I now install shadow base for all interior wall scenarios, whether it’s drywall, wood siding, or stucco. I have also used shadow base metal for where the wall meets the ceiling. This further produces a floating wall effect and acts as the perfect transition between wall, ceilings, exposed beams, and framing out stucco features.

My clients love the clean look of the shadow base and how this one, small detail really elevates the design of their home.

Image 18.jpg