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Thank You, LiveModern

by richierod last modified Dec 01, 2014 07:41 PM
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Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by richierod at September 26. 2007
Hi All, We are coming to the end of building our new modern house. I did most of the design and building, and this would not have been possible were it not for LiveModern and all the help I have received from this site. I am too busy to blog about it (still working on the house, two kids, etc.), but if there are questions or comments you would like to make I will be happy to answer them here. I'd like to say thank you specifically to Sara Sage, Greg La Vardera, Marshall, Jeffrey Rous, DLavery, Uncle Ho, Creede, Splatgirl and a few other folks who are slipping my mind right at the moment. The house sits over the existing foundation of the previous house, which was a 1938 traditional tract home. We added 500 sq ft more in the back and went up to two stories there. As we live in L.A., we could not afford what contractors are charging for a custom house (currently $300 - $400 sq ft), which at 2100 sq ft would have been, at an average, around $735,000! Yikes. Our budget was a very modest $250,000, which we are still under, and that includes architect fees, structural engineering fees, city fees, construction and (some) furniture. I am proud to have designed and built this house for a modest cost, and I could not have done it without you here at LiveModern. Thank you! -R.

Re: Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by Marshall Mayer at September 27. 2007


Wow! The house looks fantastic. It really turned out well. Before you start your next big project, I wish you would divulge a few secrets about how you kept your costs so low (even in the LA market!).


Re: Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at September 27. 2007
Awesome - I'm so happy for your success. Its a great reminder of why we all came to start this site, to learn from one another, share resources, and make our dreams of a modern home a reality.

Re: Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by Jason at September 28. 2007



Congrats on pulling this off. The house looks great. Can you post more photos or a link to a photo site?


If you were able to pull this off in LA for a little over $100 you a genius.



Re: Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by richierod at September 29. 2007
Hi - Thanks for the comments and compliments. It's definitely been a labor of love - emphasis on the labor part - and a lot of fun, too. Here are a couple more pics of the "great room" and the kitchen. As you can see we are a little rough around the edges still, and we had pancakes this morning for breakfast.... one of these days I'll actually clean the room before I take some shots... -R.

Re: Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by richierod at September 29. 2007
And here are a few more shots. I used Minerit HD cement board on the exterior, in a rainscreen application (thanks eames daedalus). Me and two other guys did the whole house, except for the street facing walls which are stucco. I remember reading SplatGirl's adventures about climbing up ladders with the cement board - I don't know how she did it. I rented scaffolding to shroud the entire house. It was $2000 I didn't expect to spend but worth every single penny. I wanted both of the panels on either side of the post to be glass - I was overruled by my wife. We compromised on one glass, one not. Above the closed side is the only piece of steel in the house. I asked the structural engineer to keep steel use to a minimum to avoid the cost. To make this front facade comply with earthquake standards, there is a simpson strong wall in the far right corner which has rods that go down through the foundation and are embedded in around 16 sq ft of concrete - that's a lot! We didn't splurge on much in this house, but the panels from 3Form just were too hard to resist. The floors are cork, and while not cheap, are so warm and quiet underfoot, and I found a great price. I also got a great price on the "Ladydshade" pendant lamps from DWR, which, if I remember correctly were marked down from $299 to $99! Thank goodness for the internet! Light and volume are the mainstays of the house, and holding this wall down from the ceiling enabled us to see the treetops and sky, while providing a lot of light. Thanks to all the windows in the house, we can read a book on the cloudiest of days without turning on a light. Thanks to IKEA, we got a modern kitchen for a great price - and a little work... -R.

Re: Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by amy at October 23. 2007

Your home looks incredible. How on earth did you keep your costs down? My budget is similar to yours, and I'm getting similarly ridiculous estimates...

Re: Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by richierod at October 24. 2007
Amy - A lot went into keeping the costs down. But, in a nutshell, there were a few approaches that really paid off: 1) We built over the existing foundation (also adding 500 sq ft of new) to keep demo and concrete costs down. 2) I did a lot of the work myself, including electric, windows, house wrap, siding (not the stucco), floors, cabinetry, doors and trim. This is where most folks get stuck. I was lucky enough to have the skills and the time to work on the house for the year that it took. The majority of the savings occurred here. The electric alone saved me around $30,000. But don't be deterred from your dream if you can't do all the work I did. Do what you can, you will still come out ahead. 3) Used ebay for all the plumbing fixtures and much of the lighting fixtures. (eg: my porch light sells for around $130 in town, I got it on ebay for $39!; similair savings on the plumbing fixtures) I saved a LOT of money using ebay. 4) IKEA for the kitchen cabinets and bath cabinets. I am a furniture builder when I have the time, and I have to say I am really impressed with the IKEA kitchen system. The bath stuff, not so much... 5) Websites like and I would scour these places everyday, looking for stuff that was appropriate for our house AND our budget. 6) An ability to make a commitment to the budget and the ability to back down from the ultimate in product for the budget's sake at every turn. For instance: DWR has these great Neutra house numbers for, I think, $79 a piece. But Better Living Through Design hipped me to some other numbers at DWR that were on sale for $8.99 a piece and were still cool, though not as much as the Neutra. Sold. I love the beautiful Italian baths, they are so sleek and minimal. But they are freaking way too expensive. I found some products that are close enough in appearance or can be made to be close enough in appearance to emulate the look without the price. But you have to do the leg work - and for me, that's fun. 7) Use standard building materials. Everything else is still too expensive. Arguably, perhaps. And less so everyday. But for us, there was no comparison. There was another house down the street under construction at the same time as we were. They chose SIP construction. The time (and money) they lost with the city and the contractors and the engineers because of the lack of familiarity with SIPs was astounding. 8) All that said, we did identify three or four areas where we were going to splurge on materials. And we did use a rather new (to residential homes) roofing treatment. So, it's a balancing act. My Grandparents built a Schindler home in the late 1930's or early 1940's. (The Rodriguez House, Glendale CA.) They sold it before I was born. Once, when it was for sale, I went to tour the house. It was an incredible eye opener, and quite emotional as you may imagine. My wife and I could have bought the home, but for financial and lifestyle reasons decided not to buy it. It was tough. However, the profound lesson learned from our visit was this: Schindler wasn't using expensive materials to build. This house was amazing and open and bright and airy and all the things you would want in a modern home. And it was NOT expensive. He used Douglas Fir plywood through much of the house. He used rock from the yard for the facade. He used stucco and 2x4's. Somehow, "modern" has been hijacked to mean "expensive", and I take it kind of personally. It doesn't have to be that way. Good luck in your adventure to build a modern home that won't damage your financial future. Clearly, I think it's a great decision.

Re: Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by amy at October 24. 2007

Thanks so much for the details. Your reply is going into my notebook! And it confirmed some of my ideas: that is, stick with readily available, common materials. And shop around. I can't do electrical work, but I can do the shopping around part.

Re: Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by Splatgirl at December 01. 2007

Just payin it forward, my friend, just payin it forward :)

 I dunno about everyone else, but what, if anything you may have gotten from all my ramblings you've already repaid at least tenfold....your house looks amazing and is just beautiful.  Congrats, congrats, congrats. 

I think that between your project and mine, the point about using simple, common materials to keep costs down and  DIY-ing as much as possible could not be clearer.  Likewise the savvy shopping thing. 


Hopefully someday there WILL be a plug-and-play solution to affordable modern but until then I think we need to start an "If we did it so can you" support group!










Re: Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by Peter Smith at January 28. 2008

You wrote:

"I love the beautiful Italian baths, they are so sleek and minimal. But they are freaking way too expensive. I found some products that are close enough in appearance or can be made to be close enough in appearance to emulate the look without the price."


May I ask you to share your sources for these bath products





Re: Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by richierod at January 28. 2008

My vanity in the master bath was found on ebay. So were the plumbing fixtures.

Grohe makes $400 shower valves. They also make $100 shower valves. Guess which I chose.

The shower pans in the master and guest baths are Swanstone, the largest they make, set 6" down so that their highest point is even with the finished floor. Eventually I will build a teak grate to lay over the shower pan, creating what looks like monolithic floor surface without the drainage headaches.

Master bath lighting from

Toilets by Toto, their dual flush model.

Shower walls are Minerit Lightweight, a cement board that I sealed and attached with construction adhesive.

Hope this is what you are looking for. Good luck!


Re: Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by Jason at January 31. 2008

Richie - again, nice work!

Couple of questions.

1. Are you a licensed electrician? I am assuming you were if you were able to do the electrical work yourself - doesn't look like you are out in the country!

2. How difficult is the plumbing and electrical work? I have done a ton of low voltage computer and network wiring in the past and have always wondered that what it takes to pull this off.


Having worked on several of my own houses, I can appreciate how much work you have done here. Did you factor into your costs your lost wages? :)

How long did this take to build?


Re: Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by richierod at January 31. 2008

Hey Jason, thank you for your compliments.

 1) I am not a licensed electrician. But in my city if you are the "owner/builder", you may do whatever you want on your house. Of course, it must pass inspection.


2) If you have done low voltage and networking, then you can do electric. Signal flow is signal flow. What's more tricky than the actual wiring is making sure you are putting the right boxes in the right places. Ceiling light fixtures and exterior light fixtures tripped me up a little on this, but I worked around my ignorance. ;) There are some general rules to follow regarding the "load" you put on each circuit breaker, but nothing that can't be learned from a book. I am lucky to have a couple of electrician friends who I can call in a pinch.


3) I did NOT factor in my time or lost wages. That would make my bottom line much less impressive!


4) It took one year from move out to move in. The drawback to being your own contractor is that there are still things to do around the house. I'd say we are 95% there. I'm nibbling away at it one day at a time. Once you move in, however, things slow down dramatically.


Although it was grueling at times, I had a great time.



Re: Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by Steve at April 23. 2012

I am really impressed that you managed to do all that with a very modest budget of $250000. I would have thought you would blow your budget looking at how good the finished renovation looks. Was there a need to install radiators, or is the weather at LA warm enough at night?

Steve -

Re: Thank You, LiveModern

Posted by richierod at April 24. 2012

We had a new forced-air heating and cooling system installed, highest efficiency possible. In L.A., from about mid-December to April you need to have heat. SInce we live fairly near the ocean, the air-conditioning is only used for a total of two weeks a year - the house is built to take advantage of the ocean breezes that kick up in the afternoon.




Re: Thank You, LiveModern

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