San Antonio couple turns a dated 1970s home into a dramatic, retro-chic haven with barn doors, indoor zen garden


Andrew and Lara Osborn call themselves “professional, live-in flippers,” meaning they buy a house, fix it up and, instead of quickly turning it to make a fast buck, they live in it for several years before selling it for a bigger profit.

Over their 22-year marriage, the couple has done this five or six times (they couldn’t decide). But it’s been six years now, and they’re still living in their latest project, waiting until their son, a senior, graduates high school to decide what their next move will be.

“We like to get in a house, renovate it and then live in it for a number of years so we can enjoy the changes we’ve made,” said Andrew, a cybersecurity expert. “The goal is always to take a rundown place and bring it to a state that corresponds to its history. We don’t, for example, try to turn a 1930s Monte Vista home into something midcentury modern.”

Their current home is a five-bedroom, 2 ½-bath house in the Bluffview neighborhood near West Avenue and Bitters. Built in the late 1970s, it had all the earmarks of the time — good and bad — when they bought it. The good included the open, second-level walkway overlooking the ground floor and the sloping wood ceilings that provide a warm glow in the living room and in the owner’s bedroom.

Among the negatives were the heavy, swagged draperies; the thick, blah-beige carpet; and the so-of-its-time popcorn ceilings.

“The house had been on the market for over a year when we bought it,” said Lara, an interior designer who owns Strictly Redesign. “It had good bones, but no one could see it.”

They started renovating the place almost immediately after moving in, with an eye toward modernizing the kitchen, updating the bathrooms and freshening up the rest, all the while still retaining that 1970s feel.

They initially allocated $100,000 for the renovation, but then their wants got the better of them, and they decided to add a pool to the backyard, ballooning the budget to about $150,000. “We spend what we need to spend to double the value of the house,” Andrew explained.

So far, their know-when-to-hold-’em, know-when-to-sell-’em strategy has worked out well, thanks to San Antonio’s skyrocketing real estate values.

“We bought the house for just north of $100 per square foot,” Andrew said. “Now high-end, well-done homes in the neighborhood are selling for as much as $265 per square foot.”

The backyard pool is visible from the main living area. Building it increased the couple’s initial renovation budget by about 50 percent.

The backyard pool is visible from the main living area. Building it increased the couple’s initial renovation budget by about 50 percent.

William Luther, Staff

The house opens to the two-story living area, which is dominated by large, black and brown barn doors at one end leading to a smaller room they suspect was once an outdoor patio. The diamond pattern of the wood echoes the pattern of the wood panel that hangs above the fireplace.

The black portion of the doors isn’t painted; it was done using the Japanese technique of shou sugi ban, which involves torching and gently charring the wood’s surface. The vivid contrast between the natural brown wood and the blackened wood really draws the eye.

“It’s what everyone comments on when they walk in,” Lara said. “They’re usually like, ‘That’s so cool.’ ”

They were installed before barn doors became such a go-to home decorating choice, so they had to be custom made. The metal railing that runs along the top, for example, came from an old ranch gate.

The enclosed patio room behind the barn doors created something of a conundrum, with doors leading to the living room, the kitchen and the backyard, all of which they kept.

“The room didn’t make any sense,” Lara said. “It was like, what do you do with it?”

They decided to keep things simple and created a comfortable second living area. “I sit in here a lot and read,” she said. “It’s smaller than the living room, so it’s cozier.”

The dining room has

The dining room

The dining room

William Luther, Staff

a partial, mirrored wall that seemed such a ’70s cliche, they initially wanted to get rid of it. “We eventually realized how much the mirror opens the room and makes it feel so much larger than it actually is,” Lara said. “We’re happy we kept it.”

In the kitchen, they painted the cabinets black, transforming what had been a country look into a sleek, elegant kitchen with a hint of Asian style. They also painted the floorboards and door frames black, a look they both love.

“I think it give the house a nice, updated look, compared to keeping all the natural wood color,” Lara explained.

In addition to removing the dated popcorn ceiling, they also redesigned the exaggerated soffits, which extended beyond the cabinets and made the kitchen feel like a cave, the couple said.

About the only thing that remains is the black, brown and tan granite countertops, which they concede they don’t love. “It was a budgetary decision,” explained Lara.

They also took what is often an underutilized space — the area under the U-shaped stairway — and turned it into a zen garden, with a swath of artificial turf bordered by shiny black rocks and stepping stones. On the back wall, they used drywall mud to craft realistic-looking limestone blocks that match the home’s exterior and added a recirculating fountain that provides soothing, gurgling background sound.

In the ground floor owners bedroom, they retained the sloped wood ceiling that mirrors the one in the living room, replacing old-fashioned heavy drapes with zebra shades, which can be easily adjusted to allow in more light or less, depending on the mood.

Sometime back in the ’90s, they suspect, the owner’s bathroom had been redesigned in a faux-Tuscan style, with travertine flooring and oiled bronze hardware. That’s all gone, and the bathroom is now lighter and brighter, with white subway tile walls in the shower accented by a stripe of geometric-pattern tile in brown and gray.

“I had those (geometric-pattern) tiles for a long time because I loved them so much, but I couldn’t find a place to use them,” she said. “Fortunately, I’d bought enough to do this here, and I love the look.”

The new owners surely will, too.

[email protected] | Twitter: @RichardMarini


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