The Way We Live / Aug/Sep 2012
The Cullen Home
The nice thing about dealing with a really tiny house is that you can pick it up and move it. When Frank Cullen and his wife, Kristen, purchased the Western Cedar Shingle home originally built in 1926, escrow closed in 2007 on the same day their first daughter was born. The house was just 580 square feet, one bedroom and one bath. The growing Cullen Family needed more room and planned to add a second story, which meant a new foundation was needed. So a crane rolled down Islay Street to hoist the last property in San Luis Obispo’s Old Town Historic District.
According to Cullen, a contractor and owner of Cullen Construction, “The whole neighborhood showed up to watch the crane literally pick up the home… the crane came back when they were done with the new foundation and then just set the home back down.” The second story and an addition to the backside of the house included a second bedroom and bathroom. For Cullen, who specializes in the construction of straw bale buildings, it was a unique opportunity to put his expertise in sustainable building to work. But, his desire to be sustainable while also preserving the historic character of the home were about to run headlong into the many restrictions imposed by the Department of Interior’s Guidelines to Restoring Historic Structures.
For starters, Cullen was not allowed to build a porch because he had to maintain the original street-facing structure. And instead of going with some more sustainable options, he had to use materials consistent with the period of the original construction, including using all-wood windows and wood siding. So, he decided to re-use the original windows and salvage as many of the original shingles as possible. The city planning department did approve a variance, however, that allowed Cullen to have a zero lot line at the back of the property so that he could expand the home’s footprint.
The home, now 1,325 square feet is still relatively small, but Cullen opted for many space-saving features including a hidden walk-in closet inside the downstairs powder room; a clothes hamper built into the half-wall facing the stairs; and a clever method for building in the washer and dryer at the top of the stairs. Additionally, the kitchen cabinets and the fireplace mantle were built out of reclaimed redwood from the original roof. After many creative and resourceful techniques mixed to preserve history and promote sustainability, the Cullen Family now enjoys their house, which is just big enough.
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