Today a reader named Robert is sharing the story of how he convinced his wife Veronica to buy “the most haunted-looking house on the block” in the late 1980s and showing us how they’ve fixed it up over the years.
The family’s Spanish-style home in San Clemente, California, is a real charmer now, but when they first saw it, it was in such bad shape, Veronica told him “Absolutely no way!”
Take a look!
Robert & Veronica’s House
A photo of their house taken in the 1940s.
Here’s Bob’s story:
When we first saw it, the two-story house was very run down, imprisoned by tall weeds in the front yard. I immediately loved it. It was Spanish style but most of the character and charm had been stripped away.
When we opened the front door, the look of horror on Veronica’s face was undeniable. It was way worse on the inside than the outside. The inside was absolutely filthy. Veronica said, “NO WAY, NO WAY, NO WAY,” and stormed out.
Every door in the house was broken. There were holes in the walls and ceiling. There was a 3’ by 3’ saturated spot on the living room ceiling where something had died in the attic. The smell was nauseating.
It had been a rental for decades and any repairs or “improvements” had made things worse. But I believed it could work for us. It had 3 big bedrooms, 1 and ¾ bathrooms, a triple-car garage and a separate apartment that was already rented.
What finally convinced Veronica was that with the apartment producing income for us, she could stay home with the kids. We could spend a few years fixing up the house and move on. We didn’t have to live there forever.
The House in 1988, Cleaned Up Enough to Move In:
On moving day, as my brother and I hoisted the first piece of furniture off of the truck and headed to the front door, one of our new neighbors asked,
“Are you the ones who bought the haunted house?”
I panicked. “Whatever you do, please don’t say that to my wife!” This would surely send her over the edge. I remember thinking, “If she ever finds out about this, she is going to kill me!”
Over the next month, I continued to do necessary repairs to get it in good enough shape for Veronica and the kids to move in. I remember being in the house alone, working in the kitchen late at night, and I can tell you, it became easier to get creeped out once I had it in my head our place could be haunted.
The House with Lower Roof Tiled:
If you were going to pick a house on our street that could be haunted, it would be ours. It was old, run-down, lonely looking and unloved.
It was time for me to secretly talk to the neighbor again. I asked why he said the place was haunted. He said prior people living there had “seen things” like the ghostly figure of a woman walking down the interior hallway. I thought to myself it would have been the perfect spot, as the hallway is about 4’ wide, runs the depth of the house, and was dimly lit.
I later found out that most of these stories came from people who not only did serious drugs, but made them in our house too. So that would explain a lot!
House Freshly Painted and the Beginning of the Hardscape:
The center three are our children Katie, Matt & Andrew.
One day I asked another neighbor named Nancy if she’d heard stories about our house being haunted, and I could see the color drain from her face. She said she wasn’t ever going to mention anything about this to us, but she always thought there was a bad vibe to our house. Whoever lived there ended up having serious marital problems and was divorced within a year.
She also told me her prayer group convened together in my backyard and said some prayers prior to us moving in.
It was time to come clean and tell Veronica. I finally blurted it all out. But she very calmly said, “Well, we will have to break that record of people’s marriages falling apart in this house. And if there is a ghost, it is going to love us because we’re going to fix this place up!” I love that woman.
The Front of the House Today:
Over the years, our house has been updated and added on to. I’ve spent years replenishing the character that was once stripped away. We designed the hardscape and planted the bougainvillea many moons ago. It’s not so spooky or plain anymore.
We added antique hardware on the front door. The 1920s wrought-iron railings were intentionally made to have bent pickets. We call the railings “the Tim Burton Iron” because it looks like something out of the movie “Nightmare Before Christmas.” We had quite a bit of this iron work and utilized it throughout the house.
The Entrance Today:
Circa 1989: Veronica showing the living room. Note the standard flat 8’ ceiling
The plaster ceiling was flat and we tore it out. We put the kids in hard hats, gave them hammers, and let them go to it. They thought it was great. All beams and wood ceiling were added by us.
The Living Room Today:
We slept in our dining room for a year without a kitchen:
Looking from the new kitchen into the dining room today:
The house used to be very compartmentalized with the original kitchen only being about 9’ x 9’. The beams and corbels were not original to the house. They were savaged and installed by us.
The barn doors were a Craigslist find:
I made the transom window above the barn doors from an old door frame and window salvaged from our remodel.
An old map bought on eBay was framed for the den:
The oak cabinet housing the antique apartment mailboxes/buzzers was made from old flooring I saved during a remodeling project (another weekend project).
Shelving in living room with my great-aunt’s sewing machine:
The balcony was salvaged. I made the floor out of wood and stenciled it.
We nicknamed our original garage, “Garagezilla.” It was dry-rotted and termite eaten, and the minimal foundation was pulling away from the slab, but here it is today:
When we were attending a planning commission meeting to get our plans approved, I saw something that surprised me. There was a summary of our house that stated:
“Local lore says this house is haunted.”
Veronica and I don’t think our house is haunted, though. Maybe Nancy and her prayer group are to thank. Or maybe, like Veronica said, if there is a ghost, it loves us because we actually did fix up that wreck of a house.
Our children are now 25, 26 and 28 years old, and they say they could never sell the house when we are gone. It holds too many memories and will always be home.
My daughter Katie told me that when it comes time for her to buy a house, she wants an old Spanish one because “Nothing else feels like home.” I know exactly what she means.
Many thanks to Bob for taking the time to share the story of his home and photos of all the work they’ve done on it over the years. This has to be one of my favorite before and afters because I think this is the kind of slow evolution most of our houses make — over time, with limited budgets and lots of love. 🙂
2020 Update: Bob and Veronica are selling their house!
For all the photos and information check the listing and watch the video tour.
This is fabulous! A true labor of love indeed and done over time which makes me feel good about my own in-process home.
Trust me, their neighbors love them just as much as that ghost 🙂
You’re so right, Fiamma. I know I would! 🙂
They were in it for the long haul and did a beautiful job restoring their house. I have to say the ghost stories would have shaken me up a bit ha!
Oh and I just saw the feature you did on our bungalow pop up under this post. How fun!
We bought a new/old house and have been picking away at it for a little over a year now.
I loved that makeover you gave your old house, Londen. Just went over to your blog and saw your new place — what a charmer! And the front door looks so pretty with the garland and lights for Christmas. 🙂
This is a lovely renovation! One good thing about doing a renovation over time, considering the house’s history, and using antiques and vintage finds, is that the house becomes more timeless.
I love the story and the remodel – the house is lovely – a true family labor of love!
It’s a wonderful labor of love that shows in all the pretty details. As beautiful as the house is, reading Bob’s story was the best part. Glad he felt inspired to share it!
Laura in Sacto says
A wonderful testimony of house love. Thank you for sharing Bob’s story. The home is beautiful!
What a great story! I didn’t want it to end! Thank you to Bob for sending it and to you, Julia, for sharing it with us.
Bob is obviously a talented woodworker. And his wife is amazingly patient. The picture of the bedroom/dining room was a shock! But it’s all just beautiful now.
Candie K says
I just love this! I can feel the love in it! And the result of all those blood, sweat, and tears is amazing. That place is gorgeous!! That courtyard though!! <3 I am swooning over here!
AWESOME HOUSE! We want something like this- that we personalize to make it us and then just enjoy it forever. So inspiring. Great post.
Brandon @ Southgate says
I am always in awe of people who buy a wreck and live in it as they lovingly restore it over a period of years. Our house is only eight years old, but I have a very lengthy list of renovations I want to accomplish, and it drives me INSANE having to be patient as we tackle them one by one.
I love to hear these kind of stories. When you learn of the effort that goes into turning a house into home and the details of a back story, the pictures take on precious meaning.
Donna from Australia says
What a perfectly lovely family with a house and story to match!
Your posts always come at a great time for me, I’ve just about given up on our renovation project BUT now will go home newly inspired.
So lovely to see a normal family achieve with time and effort.
Thank you Bob (and Julia)
Wow. Just wow.
Alie B says
What a charming story! I love that Bob could see the potential. I have restored a couple of homes. it’s a real test of one’s perseverance and patience. The finished results of this home are fabulous! I also love that Veronica embraced the project, once they had begun, and despite the scary feedback from neighbors. You know, I’m pretty sure people don’t do this to be unkind, but I find it rather annoying when neighbors feel the need to tell you something that can only cause concern. The week we bought our current home (the first old home I had bought, which someone else had restored) a neighbor came over and proceeded to tell us all about the decade that our home had sat empty and abandoned, how bad it had looked, and how his kids had played hockey in the basement. I wasn’t impressed, but I refused to let him get me down, and replied, “Oh isn’t that romantic! It’s like the movie It’s a wonderful life!” I don’t think this was the response he was looking for, because he rapidly remembered something he had to do at home. Ha!
Ha. Love it. 🙂
Ruth McArthur says
What a charming and lovely home! This is one of my very favorite remodels/save this house projects that I have seen on your blog. I think Bob and Veronica have displayed great skill and design integrity in all the improvements. It has all the historical charm one might hope for and yet works so well for a contemporary family of five. I really appreciate Bob for sharing his story and you, Julia, for including it in your blog!
I am truly overwhelmed with all the kind words and encouragement provided by Julia and all of the readers. To tell you the truth, when I first submitted this I was a little intimidated. After all, there are homes of movie stars and celebrities on Julia’s site and we are just average people working on our house. When I decided to finally submit it, I figured that would be the end of it. I was surprised when Julia emailed me back with such positive feedback. I am so glad I had the opportunity to share this with all of you. Below is the initial contact email that started our story .
I’ve see-sawed back and forth trying to decide if I should send this to you for at least a month. I’m not so sure this is in your wheelhouse as it is non-professional. I’m not a writer or a designer and don’t want anything from you but I do enjoy your website. It all started with me taking your “Hooked on Houses Quiz”. I did read one of your articles and it inspired me to write the story of our house. I had to reach back almost 3 decades but most of it is was as if it happened just yesterday. Do whatever you want with it. I’m sure it could use some editing. All of the photos were taken by me which probably isn’t a good thing. The house is not staged or professionally decorated but I’ve always known what I like. Most of our guests seem to like our house and always ask a zillion questions. This story is dear to my family and that’s all that really counts. If this is something you really like, let me know. Hopefully you enjoy reading it and if it makes you smile or brings back memories of your own experiences, even better. I have lots of old photos of our house and of ourselves over the years (not currently included). Funny how they both changed over the years. I must admit I am reluctant to send this as I have never done anything like this before and maybe that’s a good thing too! ? Feel free to contact me if you wish.
I’m so glad you did, Bob. I really enjoyed reading the story of your house and seeing your photos. You’ve done an amazing job with it over the years. Thanks again for taking the time to share it with us! 🙂
I enjoy seeing the renovations and homes built with love of the “regular folk” more than a celebrity home. I’ve also been working on my house off and on for 25 years – not nearly as much work as Bob and his family have done – and feel a kindred spirit with those who are also working on their home. I enjoy seeing renovations that make sense and I can gain inspiration from rather than those that involve a kitchen bigger than my entire main level:)
Candie K says
Bob, I feel like you don’t give your decorative and photography abilities enough credit. I think this is all impressive and charming enough that you should definitely consider submitting the story and photos to publications such as House Beautiful and Country Living. I mean that!
Also, I’m dying to know…where do you put your Christmas tree every year? (Assuming that you have one, of course). 🙂
This is just gorgeous. Great work on restoring the house.
Barbara H. says
Loved, loved this post! The finished home reminds me of ours, although ours has not undergone a remodel and is not Spanish style. It is the way the home is furnished – layers of memories, a sense of history and respect for past generations. No designer can do this – it is the product of years, even generations, of collecting and re-purposing things that have meaning. Bravo, Bob and Veronica!
I love everything about this. I find Spanish homes to some of the most beautiful. I wish there were some up here in Canada that I could move into.
Thanks for the compliments! I realize my taste might not be everyone’s “cup of tea” so to speak. I’m thrilled you and other readers like what you see. The décor just kind of happened (over the years), no master plan but I know what I like. It’s a combination of things that are dear to us including family hand-me-downs, flea market finds, Craig’s List scores and EBay auction wins. Just about everything you see in the house has a story to it.
Believe it or not, all of the pictures were taken with my cell phone. The quality I get with it are amazingly clear and it’s so easy to use to boot. I am flattered you think our house is worthy of a major publication. Wouldn’t that be something! I initially just wrote a story of our house and our family. The story was quite lengthy with a few pictures. I found it amazing Julia could condense it, yet capture everything and keep the same feel to it.
Yes, we do have a Christmas tree. When the kids were small it used to go in one of the corners of the living room. These days we use a smaller tree which is located in our den.
Candie K says
Every item telling a story makes it even more unique and sensational! If you do decide to publish, please let Julia know so us readers can follow! 🙂
Thanks again for sharing so much with us!
You have a wonderful holiday season as well!
Nita Lynn says
Oh my! Spanish is not my style, but I LOVE this house! Bob and Veronica did an amazing job all around, but I particularly love the decor. My husband would have that kind of patience, but I’m afraid I don’t (though I’ve always wanted to renovate an old house, I’m sure I’d want it all done on a much quicker time table!).
Beautiful, thank you for sharing. I love to see an unloved house turn into a loved home.
Isabel Guerra says
Great story, I love it! Beautiful house, I myself have a spanish style house as well. I think the best part though is knowing how much it means to your kids. 🙂
Loved this one! Beautiful home and love the story of how it evolved. You can’t manufacture that kind of warmth and sense of family.
Oh, thank you Bob for sharing your story! I love San Clemente and visit often (my Grandmother lives there) and have actually been on two Christmas home tours in the past of several historic San Clemente homes. I love that you have kept your home true to the Spanish Village by the Sea vibe. The tiled steps are beautiful as is the front door. Great job, and again, thank you for sharing as I have an extra Yay! it’s local to me excitement when reading it.
The old Spanish style homes in San Clemente are locally known as “Ole Hanson” homes (named after the city founder).
Love! My favorite style of house and this one is a stunner. I really like that you “raised the roof” in the living room, and that front patio gets a lot of use, I’m sure. Well written, too. Lucky kids to have parents like you and Veronica.
A great remodel and gives me hope as we are also on the “27 year plan.” I get so envious of friends who buy a run down house as we did (foreclosure) and pour thousands and thousands into it up front so it is gorgeous before they even move in. Meanwhile we raise four kids and my husband does everything on our house himself, so 27 years might even be optimistic . . .