The Olmos Park Tudor that Kali and Thor Tripp bought in March was built in 1929, had a massive extension added in 1959 and underwent an extensive renovation in the ’80s.
So they knew they had their work cut out for them when they set off on what Thor said was a six-month, “well over $200,000” renovation to both update the place and retain as many of the home’s historical elements from the ’20s and ’50s as possible.
These included the original white oak flooring in much of the first and second floors, the pink 1959-era tub and sink they reglazed in the second floor guest bathroom and the intricately patterned plaster-faced fireplace in the dining room from 1929.
“The bones of the house were good. It was the circulatory system that was bad,” Thor said. “The electric was all knob and tube wiring, and the plumbing was so bad the foundation was soaking in water.”
The couple met several years ago in Lincoln, Neb., where he was a sports anchor on one TV station and she was a news anchor on another. They moved to San Antonio earlier this year to be closer to Kali’s family — her mother is from here and Kali graduated from Texas A&M University. They have a 3-year-old son, Rhett, and for now, they work full time buying and flipping houses.
Rather than shrink from the challenge of their new home, the couple embraced it, taking advantage of the extensive work the house needed to make several major structural changes at the same time.
From the outside, the three-story house has several storybook elements, including spindles between the windows and a section that pops out from the facade. They emphasized these details by painting the window trim black to contrast with the white plaster of the rest.
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On the inside of the house, the projects were more extensive, from adding and closing several doorways, getting rid of two of the home’s seven bathrooms and moving the kitchen to a bigger, better spot.
A lot of what they did was to remove the superfluous. Take the three doors that greeted visitors in the entryway. One opened to a tiny powder room (“You could sit on the john and wash your hands at the same time,” Thor said), while the other two led to separate coat closets.
“How many coat closets do you need in South Texas?” Kali asked.
They removed one of the closets, added during that 1980s renovation, returning it to its original role as a decorative niche. “It’ll be a perfect spot for a Christmas tree,” Kali said.
They also gutted the under-size powder room, removing all bathroom traces. They turned it into a Harry Potter room instead, complete with a shelf full of Harry Potter books and an old-fashioned school desk they recovered from the first house they ever flipped.
“Harry lives in the cupboard under the stairs, so this is almost the same thing,” she said. “Thor’s not into Harry Potter, so this will be Rhett’s and my thing.”
When they bought the house, the living room was to the left of the entryway, the dining room to the right. The couple switched them to improve traffic flow and to have the dining room closer to the new kitchen.
The new dining room is dominated by a large fireplace and the walls curve to meet the ceiling. “We like that the transition is smooth; there’s no line between the walls and the ceiling,” Kali said.
The room’s long, white ceiling was so overpowering, however, they decided to install a faux inset using wood trim and foil wallpaper to break up the expanse. “We’ve never done anything like that before, but we really like the look,” said Kali, who found the glitzy wallpaper at Wayfair.com.
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But the biggest part of the job was moving the kitchen. What would normally be a prohibitively expensive task was made more manageable by the fact that they were already replumbing the whole house, so running water and drainage lines to the new location wasn’t as complex as it would be otherwise.
For a 4,600-square-foot house, the original galley kitchen was surprisingly small — only 9 feet wide — and located in an inconvenient spot. When entering the house from the garage, you had to walk through the living room to get to the mudroom to drop off all your dirty gear. Not the most desirable situation.
“It made no sense,” Thor said.
They moved the kitchen to what was originally an outdoor courtyard that had been enclosed during the 1959 expansion. The new space is much larger and can accommodate the massive, 12-foot island that’s topped with white quartz with thick, gold veining.
“There’s a certain elegance to the quartz we selected,” Thor Tripp said. “You can’t get that with granite, which has more activity and feels more masculine than we want.”
They made the large room look even larger by installing a mirrored wall behind the sink and stove. “That was the only thing our contractor said he didn’t like about the job,” Kali said. “But I love it.”
She said she also loves the two vintage, clear glass crystal pendant lights reclaimed from the living room and dining room that now hang over the island. The metal detailing along the top of the pendants also was originally gold, but she had them repainted black.
Upstairs, the master bedroom is a distinct departure from the rest of the house. Part of the 1959 expansion, it feels modern, with an 18-foot-high vaulted ceiling and a wooden crossbeam, giving the room the feel of a small chapel.
What was a short and stumpy gas fireplace, little more than a firebox, got lost in the large bedroom. So they added a mantle and built a faux chimney that runs up the wall to the vaulted ceiling.
“The goal was to bring your eyes up to the raised ceilings, while turning the fireplace into a focal point of the room,” Thor said.
Also decidedly modern are the master bath and closet. The bathroom was created by removing the wall between what were separate his and hers bathrooms. That created one huge room, and they filled it with tile walls and flooring, a runway-length double sink and a glass-enclosed, 6-by-4-foot shower.
“I don’t need a separate bathroom,” Kali said. “I don’t mind brushing my teeth standing next to Thor.”
The closet is large enough to make even Carrie Bradshaw swoon, with huge, library-style shelving accessible from both sides. “We’ve worked with a lot of older houses in the past and it’s nice having something like this that’s almost too big for a change,” Thor said.
There are plenty of other delightful details scattered throughout.
Where the kitchen used to be, they built what Thor likes to call “Kali’s wine closet.” Fronted by two glassdoors that originally served as back doors to the house, the closet looks like a storefront display of wine-related wares with a wine cooler, bottle hangers and a pink neon sign reading, “Rosé all day.”
“It’ll be a cool stop in between the kitchen and the living room,” Thor said. “When we’re able to start entertaining again, that is.”
And when they removed the galley kitchen cabinets, they discovered the remnants of what looked to be a short servants’ staircase leading to the kitchen. They had it rebuilt, and it’s now one more original feature saved from oblivion.
While the couple tried to save as much from the original house as they could, that wasn’t always possible. Rewiring and replumbing the place meant removing huge chunks of wall throughout.
“When it came time to close things up, we had to retexture and replaster the whole house, otherwise you’d have 1920s plaster next to the current stuff and it wouldn’t look the same,” Thor Tripp said.