By Lisa Van Loo| October 07th, 2019
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Corrections & Clarifications: The historic district's name was incorrect in an earlier version of this article. 

There’s something insanely intriguing and somewhat magical about a trap door. Just the name ignites the imagination. Bill and Ginger Sandweg don’t have to imagine what it would be like to have one.

The kitchen inside their Portland Street Historic District home in Phoenix hides one. The wood floor lifts in the corner, to reveal a staircase that leads to a 200-square-foot underground hideaway, where they plan to install an espresso maker.

And when it’s closed, no one would be the wiser.

“It’s nice and cool,” Sandweg said of the utility cellar, which was used by a previous owner as a ventilated smoking lounge. “We put a couch and a TV down there. We didn’t want to soil the walls upstairs with a giant TV.”

The Sandwegs have only been in the 1,400-square foot craftsman bungalow, where they are new owners, for a few months. They relocated from a Melrose District home when they realized the house they considered their “forever home” wouldn’t accommodate the renovation they needed to make it fit their lives.

Construction issues and permitting problems sent them searching for something bigger and more suited for their family of three.

Standing the test of time

“We like charm. We like history. We like a story. But, what we also like is a lot of integrity,” Sandweg said. “I’ve been using the same damn chef’s knife since 1994. You buy something of quality and you don’t have to buy another one.”

So, Sandweg and his wife were on a mission to find a home that was the equivalent of that chef’s knife. And they quickly realized that a tight market for historic homes exposed them to a broad spectrum of quality.

Most of it did not excite them.

“Every time we turned around, there was some sort of remodel or addition that wasn’t done well,” Sandweg said. “It was kind of like, ‘Why’d they do that?’”

The 1914 bungalow stopped them in their tracks. They knew they wanted a fireplace and hardwood floors, and they knew they wanted to stay in Phoenix, near Copper Star Coffee, which they own.

“What struck us was the integrity of the house,” he said.

The Sandwegs appreciated the prominence of the home’s original design, which is still felt throughout more than 100 years after it was first built. The roofline is original. The kitchen cabinets are original. And a “T”-shaped motif echoes throughout the home, touching the windows, the hutch and the cabinets in the kitchen.

“The windows in the front, other than one pane here or there, you can see how they cut it from one piece of glass because of the flaws in the original glass running into the next pane,” Sandweg said. “It’s almost a mosaic of glass windows. You look at all these amazing things.”

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Renovation done right

Previous owners did transform a southern-facing sunroom into a master suite, which didn’t impact the footprint of the home but did create more functional, livable space. And, it basically makes Sandweg’s day, every day.

“Our bedroom is the best,” he said, recalling the moment he first saw it, when he declared he wanted to “wake up in this bedroom.”

The room includes an exposed brick wall, and a number of windows that allow in a healthy splash of natural light and provide a view of the backyard.

“There’s so much natural light in this house. It’s amazing,” he said. “You can’t buy that.”

The quality of that expansion signaled the integrity of the house. An inspector they had hired as part of the purchase process actually offered compliments for the construction. Sandweg knew that wasn’t common.

“They did a really good job. They did it right,” Sandweg said. “The walls they removed, they shored them up. And when an inspector takes the extra steps to say someone did a good job on something, it must have been done right. We made an offer the first day.”

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Adding their touch

The Sandwegs still have work to do, though. They miss the pool they had at their old place, and plan to install one at their new bungalow. Down the road, they’ll probably retrofit an upper level room into a dormer.

When they make those changes, they’ll do them right.  

“These were real carpenters who built this house. They were doing things that they just don’t do anymore,” he said. “Somebody thought about this, and put this together and built it.”

Know of a unique home in metro Phoenix that is not on the market that should be featured? Email [email protected].

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