Where some people toil over writing romantic letters for the person they love, Joel Contreras decided to pour his heart into a home, renovating a house in Phoenix's Coronado district that serves as not only a shelter for, but a serenade to, his young family.
As a Realtor and designer who is making a name for himself in the historic community, Contreras is finally living in one of the houses he renovated. It's a first for him.
Before this house, he had never experienced for himself one of the teak-style showers he had installed in other homes he's renovated and sold. When he finally did get that moment of luxury, he admits he felt like he didn’t quite deserve it.
Epay wood shower aside, the Contreras house pays homage to its 1940s structure while injecting an urban-industrial vibe. It’s almost as if Contreras is living in a live-action portfolio of the work for which he’s become known.
“I’ve never torn anything down. I’ve only saved stuff,” Contreras said, revealing the balance he keeps between preservation and progression. “If it’s been preserved, it should stay preserved. I keep anything that has stood the test of time.”
And it was with that mantra that he and his wife, Angie, embarked on a year-long renovation of a house that Contreras felt was necessary for them following his wife’s breast cancer diagnosis. The life-changing experience completely altered their perspectives on work, money and time.
“If anything ever happened to my wife, I wanted to know I did everything I could for her,” Contreras said, recalling his motivation for paying a bit too much for the home and then investing in it in a way he hadn’t before. “This house is a collection of experiences.”
That first experience starts at the entry, where steel-framed doors and windows are encased by decades-old brick in a façade that gives the illusion of a dainty home. But once inside, the home stretches toward the back of the lot, up to about 2,100 square feet in all, and features a decidedly industrial backside that serves as a generational juxtaposition from the home’s entry.
A minimalist galley kitchen opens to the home’s front room thanks to the removal of a wall that had closed off the space. Vaulted ceilings, anchored by still-visible beams, and exposed brick add to the home’s loftlike feel.
And then there's the actual loft that doubles as a master bedroom and a day’s-end retreat for a busy 3-year-old boy.
“He has triple the play space,” Contreras said of his son, Brody, and the additional square footage they scored on the house. “And Angie loves that, too.”
That loft, which was once open, sprouts from the ceiling over the living room at the back of the house. Contreras decided to enclose what was a half-railing at the top of the loft with glass after seeing Brody lean over that railing during the renovation to say “Hi” to his dad.
The windowed loft, which can be closed with a set of textured, rose-colored curtains that hang from the ceiling, is connected to a master bath that features that epay shower. And inside that shower, perched atop the wood, is a luxurious soaking tub.
The family room below is actually part of an addition that was grandfathered in before Contreras purchased the home. The barn door that separates it from a small, funky transition room is actually sliding on what used to be the exterior of the house. Contreras loves the addition, which now features a wood-burning chimney he found on another project.
“I don’t think anyone knew what to do with it,” he said of the added space, which leads to the home’s backyard and includes an office and another full bath.
As for the home’s layout, the Contreras couple appreciates that they have a distinct living space separate from their son.
Brody's space includes a lush, dinosaur-themed bedroom and a playroom with pink flamingo wallpaper. His bathroom sports a vintage-inspired wallpaper that features images of Brooklyn and the rapper known as the Notorious B.I.G. Contreras saw the unique wallpaper in a home owned by one of the Beastie Boys and decided to track it down.
Inside Brody’s playroom is a door that leads to a ladder that leads to a loft Contreras built in the rafters.
“This is his version of heaven,” Contreras said of the space, which is ventilated and enclosed on two sides by gates that offer a view over the kitchen. “It’s my version of hell, because I’m 6-4. But, I like utilizing the space.”
Contreras said he also likes finally living in a space he created. He has found a new way to invest in a neighborhood he adores by planting roots with a love-letter-style family home that is still a work in progress.
“Everything I spent extra money on, I’m happy about it,” he said. “On your own house, you can get creative.”
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