Amazing home transformations

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Paradise found

A young couple turns a condemned beach shack into their dream home

Paradise found

Joe Rivers Altieri with his family in their indoor-outdoor dining space wanted a garden that was visible from every room in the house.

Thomas J. Story

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There are fixer-uppers, and then there are complete wrecks. Joe and Kalli Rivers Altieri were determined to put down roots in the desirable beach town of Venice, California.

But given their $300,000 budget, their dream seemed like a long shot ― until the couple found a place that required an absolute leap of faith.

More photos: Pieces of paradise

The house, an uninhabitable 1920s shack with no studs or insulation, had served as base camp for 39 squatters and a taco truck. The side yard had been used as an outhouse; the living room was beset with bamboo. Infested with rats, it had been condemned by the city several times over.

"Joe cried when he first saw it, but I always knew it had potential," says Kalli, an actress. With previous experience as a woodworker on film sets, Joe (who now fronts his own rock band, Piracy) soon came around to the idea of a massive remodel. "We were young, poor, and crazy," he says with a smile.

Not only did the couple take on the unwieldy project themselves, they also camped out on the property throughout most of the more than four-year process. The first order of business was to apply some much-needed first aid ― erecting poles to hold the roof up, as well as positioning five car jacks under the house to keep it from collapsing. "I wish we could have demoed the lot, but we couldn't afford to," Joe says.

Instead, he removed mold- and fire-damaged interior walls and stripped off the exterior wood siding, which he later recycled as beams, baseboards, and door casings. He cut down the indoor bamboo forest and reemployed it in a gallery area above daughter Ocelli's bedroom.

Next: The footprint stays about the same


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