Philmer J. Ellerbroek’s personal home in the Tustin foothills of Orange County, California, went on the market last year. After a few different homeowners gave it undesirable makeovers, it lost its charm. Homeowner Casey Lesher’s dreamed of restoring it to its original beauty. Casey has renovated several Midcentury Modern homes in Palm Springs since 2005. He and his partner, Thomas Fountain, felt ready to take on this 1960 gem. They plan to restore it as homeowners who truly appreciate its history and value.
Luck and Timing
The couple had recently moved into and completely renovated a mid century ranch home. Shortly after, they learned about the availability of this Ellerbroek treasure. “A real estate agent dropped off a flyer on our doorstep after we’d been living in our other home for just three months,” says Casey. “I have known and loved this home for 30 years, but initially we just weren’t ready to move again.”
A few weeks later, Casey checked in on the status and learned it had fallen out of escrow. That same day, they put fear aside and decided to take a look at the house. “We walked up the circular drive, and my heart stopped,” says Casey. “This home is custom built—one of a kind.” They put in an offer that night and put their house up for sale. Then they embarked on the long journey of restoring this mistreated beauty.
A New Generation
Ellerbroek’s granddaughter found Casey and Thomas’ Instagram account, which featured the home. She reached out to share some of her memories. “She’s an MCM fan and loves the history of her grandfather. So, she appreciated that we’re bringing it back,” says Casey. “She’s looking for more pictures to send us. And she’s going to bring the original builder by the home, as he is a family friend.”
History of Homeowners
They learned that Ellerbroek died in 1969, and the family sold the home shortly after that. It had various owners, some of whom loved MCM design and others who proved they did not. “I’d driven by it throughout the years, and the previous owners had done some unattractive updates to it,” admits Casey. “It had significant deferred maintenance and a poor Home Depot semi-modern update eight years prior.”
The homeowners before them had removed original travertine and replaced it with onyx. They also painted the walls salmon and plastered over original brick. “It was a disaster,” he says.
Casey and Thomas became the fifth homeowners of this original MCM marvel in 2019. By the time they got their hands on it, it had completely changed from its original design. “There’s not a surface or wall that wasn’t redone,” Casey says.
Not Done Yet
To avoid becoming overwhelmed, Casey and Thomas focused on peeling back the new and revealing the old. Some of the major renovations included redoing the irrigation, pulling out the overgrown landscape, painting the walls and replacing carpet and flooring.
After four months of renovations and only living in half the house at a time, their work on the restoration has really just begun. “We have gotten the base together, but there’s still a lot we want to do,” says Casey. Using original photos as their guide, they plan to hardscape the entire property, expand the spa, add tiered steps around the pool and redo the decking, bathrooms and kitchen.
There will also be some furniture changes, as some of the current pieces are simply stand-ins. “We have purchased furnishings from all over the country,” says Casey. “And we’re waiting on some pieces that are currently being restored and others that just haven’t arrived yet.” The furniture they have now is due largely to the help of two interior designers. “Lisa Cameron and Shelly Hayward from The Modern Vault, a leading MCM shop in Orange County, were a big part in helping us source and restore many pieces we needed quickly,” says Casey.
Even with these modifications ahead, they’ve already managed to reveal a great deal of the home’s original beauty. So, we can see and rest assured it’s in the right hands.
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