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Santa Rosa woman scrimps and scrapes to refurbish 1914 bungalow and turn it into the home of her youth

  • Patricia Hill in her Santa Rosa home, Thursday Sept. 20, 2012. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

As a girl who grew up in a tiny motor court in Santa Rosa, Patricia Hill remembers visiting the homes of the town's more fortunate, and being drawn to their comforts.

So when she finally had a house to call her own, Hill was compelled to recreate the homey warmth associated with those memories, from the rose-covered arbor in the front to the crocheted doilies on the tables and chairbacks in the snug living room.

"My mother and I would go out and pick fruit on old people's farms," said Hill, a sprightly 69 in overalls. "I would go into the kitchens and there was so much contrast with what my home was like. I wanted that same kind of feeling here that I felt when I walked into those homes."

Recreating Memories

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Her classic two-bedroom, one-bath, 1914 bungalow behind the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens is like a perfect snapshot of 1940s and 1950s home life.

The sofa and upholstered chairs pre-date World War II. Craftsman-era stained glass and mica lamps bathe the room in a warm, soothing glow. There's even a black rotary dial phone on a small table. It won't place a call but Hill likes to pick up the handset and dial a number just to hear that nostalgic sound.

As she speaks, Hill sautees vegetables on her perfectly preserved 1930s gas stove, with its handy drawers strong enough to hold a collection of heavy cast iron skillets. She spent months scouring the classifieds looking for a period stove like this and out of defeat almost didn't bother to respond the morning she spotted a listing three blocks from her job. A man had inherited his mother's house complete with mint-condition 1936 stove he wanted to unload for a new one.

Hill bought her house 16 years ago on a wing and a prayer for $155,000. She and her daughter, both private caregivers working long hours for meager pay, were renting the house next door when their neighbor mentioned he wanted to sell. It sparked Hill's lifetime yearning for a home of her own. The two women pooled their little savings and took the plunge, squeaking in just before real estate started to soar.

But Hill's dream of a comforting and cozy granny cottage would be deferred for another five years. They did move in to their new house but they couldn't enjoy it; they were too busy working. But the two women spent a year scraping five layers of paint off the original fir woodwork. Then Hill's daughter moved out and Hill spent another four years toiling alone in every rare spare moment, stripping, digging at cracks with dental picks, and sanding with the grittiest paper possible.

"Then I just started working constantly to bring in the money to start remodeling the kitchen and buying the windows. I had a very small income and had to work so many hours," she said. "But when you have that creative thrust, it just works."

Remodeling a house on such a modest income requires patience. But Hill says she's happy to wait until she scrapes together the money to do something right. For her that means attention to historical detail, from the retro patterned green Marmoleum floor in the kitchen (Marmoleum is an updated version of the old linoleum, made of natural, non-toxic materials) to the $3,500 custom General Electric refrigerator with a vintage 1940s-style door and handle.


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