Rodney Walker Case Study #1

Rodney Walker Residence

The current owner’s parents had this residence commissioned by famed designer Rodney Walker, who was their friend. She was a little girl when the house was finished, so she grew up there. The house was completed in the Summer of 1959 and the roof leaked from the very first rain. From that point forward, they did many superficial fixes to try and fix the leaks. Many layers—and more than half a century—later, the owner wanted to fix it once and for all. The top of the structure was essentially sliced off and replaced the framing. Allen started the roof tear-offs in mid-Summer and the region experienced a surprise pop-up rainstorm in late Summer. This posed a challenge for the project, as it was nearly impossible to tarp the large roof sections. In order to avoid rain infiltration, it was all-hands-on-deck over the weekend—including both the project manager and Allen’s President—to mitigate the issues.

The new roof is nearly bulletproof with mechanically-fastened PVC on the large, flat roof planes. Six months and several rainstorms later, the roof no longer leaks for the first time in 50+ years. Icynene insulation was added to the new roof assembly, which makes the home much more comfortable on a hot day. Eight cast iron roof drains shed water off the roof surfaces and divert rain into the surrounding landscaping. Some of the pre-existing landscaping is already starting to recuperate.

The garage and main house were connected by a 75 foot long steel I beam with old school, first growth, 2×12 nominal redwood rafters. When we began to disassemble the roof, we found that the exposed timbers were really damaged down on their ends, so we couldn’t reuse them for the refurbished roof assembly. But, the remainder of the beams were still in good condition, so we salvaged the beams, cut them to length and used them to clad a new, solar-powered driveway gate. The now-oiled wood has a rustic aesthetic and, if you look closely, you can still see some of the original mill marks.

Beyond the roof, the owner wanted to rehabilitate the interiors and grand room, kitchen, and bathrooms. Both bathrooms were gutted, with modifications to waste line and shower drain locations. Because the home is slab-on-grade, concrete had to be cut in order to move the plumbing beneath the floor. Our internal design team redesigned both bathrooms with new cabinets, tile, and countertops. One bathroom now features a solatube for natural light and the other, an eye-catching chandelier.

The kitchen features new cabinets, countertops, and appliances and reflects the owner’s avant-garde design aesthetic. We retained all of the original concrete floors throughout the home and did some superficial patching where needed. The floors had never been refinished, so when the floors were re-polished with beeswax, the client was brought to tears. The louvered windows, which were in disrepair, have all been replaced with fixed glass windows. The interior garden and pond have been revitalized with lovely, drought-friendly succulents.

The owner loves the outcome of the rejuvenated spaces, saying, “really, I could not possibly be more pleased…I’m thrilled and that’s not easy.” As it relates to the staff that played a role in the remodel, the client raved, “you respected my budget, staff was professional, capable and, dare I say, fun…You did everything you said you would do and you did it well.”

While Rodney Walker designed a variety of homes in Ojai, he is perhaps best known for his Los Angeles area case study residences, which are better documented. Of the trio of Rodney Walker projects that Allen Construction has worked on in Ojai, this residence has remained most true to the original mid-century modern design intent and materials. As a result of the lessons learned from this project, we were able to better anticipate what we would find behind the walls of the other Walker homes when we fixed each roof and opened their walls, enabling us to prep our clients in advance with respect to what damage we would probably find.

One of our favorite parts of building or remodeling a home for clients are “good luck” rituals that add a personal touch to the project. In the concrete flatwork outside the home, we found the owner’s handprints from when she was a young girl and her parents had taken her out of school to “leave her mark” on the home. As a memento of the work she did to breathe new life into the structure, she placed her adult handprints in one of the new concrete slabs we poured nearby her childhood palms.