February 20, 2016

Better Homes and Gardens


Another Man’s Treasure
By Beth Eslinger

Photographer: Robert Brown
Builder: Don McBride
Field Editor: Kimberly Daugherty

Don McBride toted the porthole around for most of his professional life. The bronze relic,  scavenged from a Portland, Oregon, salvage yard 20 years ago, weighed anchor with each of don’s moves. As a builder and remodeler in northern California, Don transforms house after house, instilling them with classic style, special details, and enduring comfort and appeal. But he could never find a home for the wayward porthole.

Then came the cottage in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

“I walked in and thought, This is the house to put it in. The whole house kind of talked to me. It just all went together.” Don says.

Although the 1965 tract house whispered promised, it shrieked outdated. Low ceilings, poor window placement, bland surfaces and a prevailing dark attitude concealed a decent layout and good siting on the plot. “It didn’t really have any architectural detail–nothing to give it any character,” Don says.

Thus, the 1,275 square-foot house provided an ideal project and home for Don. By freshening  up the interior and exterior spaces, he could create a house with all the charm of the surrounding seaside community.

Part of Don’s skill is working with what’s already in a home. So rather than ripping apart the cottage’s floor plan, he left it basically intact; the only major change was the master bathroom addition. “I could see the house had basically good balance, and the room sizes looked pretty good,” Don says.

So to gain a sense of openness, he vaulted the ceilings in the main living and private areas and enlarged and curved once narrow openings. He added skylights and French doors to increase light levels in the house. He also discerningly replaced windows. “I took all the windows out on the left side of the house, so you don’t see the neighbors, then put all the new windows and French doors in areas that looked out into privacy.”


As a contractor, Don McBride has access to all the latest building materials. But he’d rather know around salvage yards for old windows, doors and other details that give his homes distinctive character.

Guests awaken to breathtaking views of the back patio. A genius at recycling, Don created the patio by breaking up a concrete slab, then repositioning the chunks on a bed of sand. To fix the stones, he poured the concrete between the pavers.


A new skylight and window over the sink, as well as white appliances and white countertop and backsplash tiles, brighten up the kitchen. Underfoot, the vinyl flooring has the look of real brick and continues the cottage theme.

While new building materials brings homes up-to-date, don adds character with recycled items. he added a 150-year old picture window to the dining area; it blends perfectly with the new brick-look vinyl flooring. Out back, he broke up and old patio with a jackhammer, then used the pavers for a new patio with the look of real stone. And in the master bedroom, Don
integrated a pair of rustic shutters from a Pennsylvania farmhouse. He framed in the wall to  fit the shutters, which serve as cabinet doors and a visual focal point in the room.

Don even found space for the favored porthole in the living room wall. Now, it focuses on a nearby tree. “It’s like looking through the lens of a camera,” he says.


Vaulting the ceiling and enlarging the opening between living and dining areas create a more open feel for this once-dark space;
the vault also provides display space in the recessed nooks.

To update the exterior, Don combined new elements with character giving old ones. He replaced the stucco finish with board-and-batten siding, a common surface on Carmel homes. In addition, he added new trim and enlarged a 2X4 porch support post to 6X6, giving the beam a more substantial look.

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For detail on the home’s front, Don boxed out one window and added a window box to another front-facing window. The garage door, one of Don’s great finds costing just $200, is made of the best sections from cast-off doors.Don continued the board-and-batten siding into the interior, instantly creating a cozy cottage feel. New molding adds detail to ceiling lines. He also removed dated pink carpeting and refinished the wood flooring throughout the home.

To gain space in the petite kitchen, Don removed some unwelcome appliances: The water heater vacated to the garage, and the washer and dryer settled in a new utility closet. Within the freed-up space at the end of the kitchen, Don added a pantry and refrigerator with wine storage above. Now, the kitchen functions much more efficiently, with range, sink, and refrigerator just steps apart. Finally, to create a new look for the old pine cabinetry, Don sanded the fronts, grooved them with a router, panted the surfaces green, and added new knobs.

After completing the main living areas, Don tackled the bedrooms. He vaulted the ceilings and added French doors to two bedrooms; both rooms now open to private patios in the backyard. Don’s design savvy allowed for such private spaces: By placing the new master bath-which juts out almost 13 feet- directly behind both bedrooms, he created a dividing wall between the two patios.

As part of the home’s makeover, Don began a new landscape design soon after he bought the property. This hobby gardener started in the front yard, adding borders filled with plants that thrive in this moderate climate. He also replaced the cracked asphalt driveway with new interlocking pavers.

But Don’s real pride is out back. Vibrant blooms pack garden beds, and potted plants spill with color. “I like a multitude of colors. I put in a lot of plants, and I group them pretty tight together, and then everything intermingles so it looks natural,” he says. The recycled-concrete patio and its dining area, an outdoor fireplace, a new cedar privacy fence, and an artist’s shack serve as structural focal points in the landscape.

With the home and the landscaping done, Don is now working on a new project in Carmel-reviving a “beater” down by the sea. As for the porthole, it’s parted ways with Don and is now the focal point of the landlocked living room. But in a way, the porthole will always be with Don.

“It’s become my trademark,” he says.



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