John and Jenny Dewey's home in San Clemente. Photo: Rachel Wilford
John and Jenny Dewey’s home in San Clemente. Photo: Rachel Wilford

By Rachel Wilford

When 20-year residents John and Jenny Dewey bought a 1950’s ranch-style home near Lasuens Beach in San Clemente, they knew they wanted to make renovations.

At the time, their home was a long, single-story structure that stretched across two lots. When the house was built, homeowners were allowed to build across a double lot without being forced to merge them into one. Later on once the Dewey’s acquired the property, they went to the city to discuss splitting the lot, of which the city allowed them to move forward with their renovations as planned. Now, the city does not allow for such construction.

Today, all remnants of the 1950’s ranch-style home are gone due to a full makeover project. In its place are two structures: the Dewey’s main house and their guest home, spliced by a grass yard and a basketball court.

Transforming the guest home

The guest house was built as the smallest possible structure the Dewey’s were allowed to build so that they could maximize their backyard space. The yard backs up against a canyon, which is comprised of layers of terraces. Plum, lime, lemon and avocado trees grow on different levels of the terraces leading down the canyon.

“Part of the reason we decided to buy this house was because of the two lots, but the other reason was because of all of this land that we have in the back,” Jenny said. “You can’t get terraces like this anymore. Most people just have land that slants down into the canyon.”

The Dewey’s originally planned to use the guest house as a place where family and friends could stay but instead, they acquired permanent residents. The top floor is the residents’ living area and the bottom is used as the family’s gym. The guest house structure was required to have a garage which the Dewey’s didn’t need, so they decided to transform that space into their exercise area. Jenny, who is a personal trainer through her business Orange Door Fitness, is an exercise advocate and loves having the extra work out space at home.

Enlisting experts in renovation

Because John is a concrete contractor for Urban Concrete Inc., he was able to enlist the expertise of professionals in the business when he and Jenny decided they were going to take on the project. The Dewey’s had also conducted renovations to their previous home, so they had a clear idea of what they wanted and what the process was going to look like.

From start to finish, the complete renewal only took 10 months.

“Know your finishes ahead of time,” Jenny said. “Pick out your tiles, your lights, your backsplashes, everything, before they’re ready to be installed. That way, when that part of the process is ready to start, you are prepared. You can tell them exactly what you want and those components can be installed immediately.”

The inside of the Dewey’s house is ornamented with light, especially in the main living area that connects to the kitchen. From the wood doors to the tile-accented stairs to the kitchen’s center white, marble island, the house embodies a distinctly fresh elegance.

Jenny chose most of the interior designs and decorations herself while John focused on the structure. Her proudest accomplishment is the mud room, which most Southern California homes don’t have.

The mud room has a door on the outside for returning beach goers to shower off before entering the hallway. The mud room hallway also incorporates cupboards and cubbies where John, Jenny and their two children can store different daily items.

The upstairs master bed and bath is located in the back corner of the house with a view of the backyard. When designing the master bathroom, Jenny decided to position the sinks and vanity area overlooking the backyard, but kept the mirror small in size and in the center of the vanity so two windows could be positioned on either side, creating a subtle view of the expanse behind the house.

Knowing family habits before designing

The Dewey’s paid attention to a lot of details when they designed their home, particularly their habits. For example, Jenny knew they only ate at the kitchen island in their previous home and the dining table was rarely used. When they renovated this home, she created a separate dining area that would only be used for special occasions and designed her island for everyday use.

“There are a lot of little decisions that you don’t realize you’re going to have to make,” Jenny said. “Really know how you live and know what you like to do in your house before you start designing.”

From their experience, the Dewey’s recommend studying examples of newly renovated homes of modest and high-end calibers before tackling any major renovation project.

“Go to high-end model homes throughout Orange County,” John said. “Walk through them with a tape measure and figure out those details early. That is a good way to gather ideas of what you want to do.”

Read more about design in this special section titled, “Inside/Outside” here:

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