‘Why throw away perfectly good things
when you can refinish them?’
Written by Leslie Gregory Haukoos Photography by Michael Coons & Iris Smoot
Susan Cross is not one to brag . . . unless she’s telling friends about a great bargain she found or a creative way to repurpose something in her home. “I will never brag about how much I spend,” she said. “I will brag about what I save.”
This is not the first time Susan and her husband, Kevin, have refurbished a home. “My husband says I’m not happy unless I’m ripping something up,” Susan laughs. This time the project was the couple’s Hidden Hills home, purchased in 2008. They chose the house because they needed more room for their family, which now includes three teenage children and four dogs.
But the home’s design was boxy, Susan recalls. The layout was basically a long hallway with rooms attached. The plan was to open up the space and, in doing so, create an entirely different feel. The central hallway, once a closed cavern lined with doorways, was opened up to adjoining rooms on each side.
In the process, Susan’s penchant for refinishing, refurbishing and repurposing came in handy. “Why throw away perfectly good things when you can refinish them?” Plus, she said, older furniture is often a better quality.
Refinishing meant stripping the yellow crackle paint from the living room’s built-in cabinets to uncover the original wood. Susan, who hires local tradesmen whenever possible, brought on BP Custom Finishing to strip, antique and stain the cabinets. But she kept the existing handles. Again, why throw away something that’s perfectly good? Ceiling beams were installed in the living room to add interest, but the curtain rod is original to the home. Susan simply had it refinished.
The kitchen, originally three separate rooms connected by doorways, is now an expansive open space. The Crosses tore down a wall that separated the original kitchen from a large butler’s pantry.
“Who has a butler?” Susan asks. An existing kitchen island that seated two was replaced by an island that runs the length of the room and seats the whole family.
“The kids used to fight over who got to have breakfast in the kitchen,” she says. “Whoever was last ended up in the breakfast room. It was like being banished.”
Now the breakfast room is wide open to the kitchen so no one feels as if they’re eating alone. The family had the cabinetry custom-built and placed Caesarstone counters in the kitchen. Susan says the counters are “practically indestructible.” To add design interest, they used gray countertops for the island and white for the sink surface.
“I love the look of white marble,” Susan says. “But it’s very porous; it stains easily.”
So Susan used white marble as a blacksplash, which is less likely to take a beating.
The chandelier over the breakfast table used to hang in the original kitchen, another example of Susan’s giving new purpose to perfectly fine home elements. And behind the newly built cabinets in the breakfast room is the original refrigerator-freezer, now the family’s spare.
The dining room table came from a neighbor when the Crosses lived in Thousand Oaks. “The wife had contemporary taste,” Susan says. “Her mother-in-law had given them this Drexel Heritage dining room set from the 1940s.” When the neighbor was replacing the set, Susan offered to take it off her hands, then purchased dining room chairs to go with it. “They were really inexpensive, which is my favorite,” she says. The Baker china cabinet, from the Historic Charleston Collection, came from a consignment store.
The master suite is truly a retreat. The Crosses refinished the existing painted cabinetry in the master bath but chose to keep the original wall-to-wall mirror. Again, they put the existing fixtures back on the finished cabinetry because they were quality pieces and in good condition. Rather than replace the window treatments, Susan had the cornice box reupholstered by Daniel’s Design House in Thousand Oaks.
The tub, a luscious place to soak, came from Warehouse Discount Center in Agoura.
Kevin Cross, managing director for a private equity firm, says he knows what he’s good at and home remodeling isn’t at the top of the list. Though he knew what he wanted, he left most of the specific choices to Susan. “I wanted openness, and I love hardwood floors,” says Kevin. But the redesign is primarily Susan’s area of expertise. “When it matters to me I say something.”
“And he weighs in when I ask his opinion,” says Susan. “But then, I never do anything crazy.”
Susan, who has an innate feel for home design and a special talent for mixing new with antique, vintage and refurbished furnishings and fixtures, says shopping for home bargains is like “a treasure hunt, a sport.”
When she’s not buried in remodeling projects, Susan is lifestyle editor for Shape, OK! and Star magazines and in September will release her first book, “The FabYOUList: List It, Live It, Love Your Life.”