Project Overview

In a race against an inflating housing market in the popular vacation city of San Diego, architect Sean Canning and his wife Margaret, a project manager, dove head first into a modern renovation of a 1925 bungalow in a neighborhood previously featured on Gangland.

Minimalist Interior

This project is designed in the minimalist architectural style, focussing on eliminating unnecessary ornament + clutter, making everything easy to keep clean.

Energy Efficient Design

We choose to use spray foam insulation to create an air-sealed home. This super insulation makes the home very inexpensive to heat + cool.

Privacy Features

It can be difficult to achieve privacy on tight, urban lots. This particular home has an 18" setback so we implemented a variety of strategies to make this home very private.

Passive Rental Income

This duplex is a perfect example of "house hacking." The front rental unit covers most of the mortgage making this a cash flow positive property.

The Property

This lot was a substandard 25’ wide by 100’ deep lot which had been strangely subdivided from a standard 50’ by 140’ lot. While the lot was strange, it had most of the important characteristics we look for in the property we own: (a) Residential Multifamily (RM) zoning, Transit Priority Area, + a small but permitted duplex structure. 

After we had purchased it the zone was also designated a national Opportunity Zone. The lot came with a set of challenges though. There was an 18” setback where the 1925 bungalow was located, requiring partial access from the neighboring lot. This is considered an access easement, perpetual access by California State law.

Harrison Home Floor Plans

Doing the Math
on House Hacking

“We knew the neighborhood had potential, and we had some friends who gave us specific areas to avoid, but it was our research of the zoning code change which led us to this home,” says Sean. They made an over-asking price offer on the duplex after only being allowed a 10-minute walk through for $325,000. This can be common practice when the market is hot in San Diego. “There were two units and a driveway. Those are the things that interested us the most. Everything else I knew we’d change. Within San Diego’s strict development regulations, those are the most critical.”

$325,000 Purchase
$75,000 Renovations


$625,000 Appraisal

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Harrison Notebook drawing imageHarrison Notebook Drawing zoomed inHarrison home notebook photo sketch

Key Design Concepts

Although the house was in bad shape - the floors were sloped almost 3” under the center bearing wall - the couple quickly began work.

They came up with a concept to design a minimalist interior, vaulting the ceiling to expose the historic redwood tie beams. Other design criteria included being easy to clean and a white-on-white interior contrasting a black exterior.  

The Renovation Process

With assistance from a local contractor, the couple became weekend warriors, starting mornings with a trip to Home Depot and of course to the local coffee shop. “We basically started demolition as soon as we confirmed the home wasn’t historic. Then we got an over-the-counter permit for a renovation which also gave us the option to move in while we were finishing up the final tasks, before final inspection,” explained Margaret, who had previously spend 5 years working for that same building department.

The Finished Product

The plan was to do a full renovation of the 575sf 1-bedroom bungalow, repairing the foundation, changing the entire layout within the existing envelope (considering the existing window locations), new kitchen, new 3/4 bathroom, including replacing the electrical, plumbing, and heater.

photo of minimalist kitchen

Minimalist Kitchen

The kitchen was an easy selection, Ikea’s gloss white to match. The oven and built-in microwave are carefully positioned so they can’t be seen from the living room which enforces the minimalist nature of the interior.  

“Basically the entire interior is white then the accent color is off-white,” Sean said about the living room cabinets. “I think that’s tongue in cheek!”

Vintage lights

Historic Redwood Tie Beams

We choose to renovate the bungalow, which was originally built in 1925, to showcase the natural historic character. The exterior siding was stripped off + replaced with composite lap siding, much closer to the original wood lap siding.

Meanwhile, in the interior, we choose to create a serene minimalist space with except for the original redwood ceiling joists. These were preserved to function as tie beams while the new space vaulted the ceiling, creating a very unique space with ties to history.

photo of the bathroom and closet
Photo of bathroom with closet door closed

The Bathroom

To achieve an easy to clean, grout-less bathroom, the home has solid surface shower walls and the sink is integral with the countertop. This proved to be both an aesthetic and cost-effective solution.

Photo of bedroom privacy windows

Privacy Windows in a Tight Setback

Working with tight setbacks can be a challenge. This is something we specialize in + have developed a few creative tricks to create privacy where there is not much space. On the side yard on the side of the duplex where the bedrooms sit there is 29” to the neighbor's property.  

We choose to install privacy glass sliding windows. When the windows are closed there is complete privacy. We also installed a 9-foot tall fence on the property line. When the windows are open they look onto this fence, maintaining a component of privacy in the bedroom spaces.  

Photo of dark exterior

Contrasting Interiors + Exteriors

While the inside of the house is mostly all white, we choose to do the opposite with the exterior -paint it black. Historically black was a common color for house exteriors, however it has dropped out of style in the last few decades. The Logan Heights neighborhood has some of the most eclectic colors of homes in San Diego. It’s common to see a bright orange home, purple, green, yellow, or electric blue here. In some ways black was our eclectic color of choice. 

Later we acquired a Mario Torero mural of prince which happened to be mostly black too. It complimented the home perfectly.

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