Chris Smith: Imagination and trip to hobby store fuel rebuild of Santa Rosa home lost to Tubbs fire

A model of the Santa Rosa home Steve Baker and Melania Kang lost in the Tubbs fire. (Courtesy photo)


Amid all the heartaches and secondary tragedies and acute frustrations, many stunning acts of creative kindness have occurred since the October firestorms.

Imagine the surprise of Steve Baker and Melania Kang, who lost their home of 14 years, upon being presented something unique and mind-blowing from one of their three grown children and her boyfriend.

Laurel Baker-Kang and Jake Eastwood had secretly studied the original construction plans for the house on Fountaingrove’s Bent Tree Place, the house in which Laurel and her brothers, Adrian and Noah, spent most of their childhoods. Then she and Jake rebuilt it.

IN MINIATURE. “It’s just totally accurate,” marvels Steve.

“They got the pitch of the roof right,” he said. The green paint looks to be the exact shade of that on the destroyed house, and the landscaping is accurate. Even the backyard tool shed and air-conditioner compressor are precise, tiny duplicates of the originals.

Flip on the internal mini-LED bulbs and the light reveals the silhouette of the Baker-Kang family dog, Chaco, in a front window. The actual window is the one, Steve said, at which Chaco perched faithfully for 14 years, “waiting for the family to come home.”

Steve said the likeness of Chaco is as true as every other part of the model: “It’s absolutely spot-on; really big ears.”

THE IDEA BEGAN with 23-year-old Laurel, a 2012 Santa Rosa High graduate who’s always loved making art, thinking she’d paint for her family a picture of the home they’d all loved.

She and Jake, both of whom work for the Green Tortoise tour bus company, went to an art supply store to buy the necessary materials.

Jake’s a craftsman who once worked alongside his father, a carpenter. He was looking at the store’s selection of balsa wood when inspiration struck.

“Instead of a painting,” he told Laurel. “We should do a true scale model of the house.”

The pair set to work. Jake did the major construction.

“He had to remake the roof five or six times,” Laurel said. She did the paint-mixing and the painting and she created the plants and stones of the landscaping.

And she painted the window silhouette of Chaco that appears with the flipping on of the interior remote-control lights.

YOU MIGHT IMAGINE that to look at the model of their former house would make Steve and Melania sad. Quite the opposite, Steve said.

He and his wife, who since 1987 have operated Chloe’s Café in San Francisco’s Noe Valley, view it as a 3-D photograph of the family home that for all those years was full of kids and life and joy.

“It was a true home,” Steve said.

He said his family lost to the October fire many pieces of their lives. He’s grateful for every piece that is restored, the replica of the house counting as a major one.

Steve and Melania are staying in Novato and doing what they have to do to prepare for the construction of a new house where the original one stood.

The model is in their bedroom. They last thing they do every night is click on the night-light that makes their miniature house look like the real one did when it was bathed by a full moon.

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and