The Big Brown House on the Corner

Story by Conchita Perales

Award Recipients: Kristen Batten and Jerrold Connors, Owners; Govers Sidewall Shingling, Berkeley; Olson’s Painting Company, Alameda, Contractors.

Every transformation starts in an instant. That moment came for Kristen Batten and her 
husband Jerrold Connors one windy day at the corner of Broadway and San Jose Avenue in Alameda. While standing outside their Colonial Revival home, a cedar shingle suddenly blew right off the siding of their house. It wasn’t the first shingle to fall off, but it was the first time they saw it happen. Kristen remembered thinking, “Okay, we can’t put this off any longer; we may have already waited too long.”

After deciding they wanted to find a house in Alameda, Jerrold and Kristen discovered the handsome property at 2531 San Jose Avenue built in 1906 by the Alameda Land Company. When they walked through the open house, they knew this was the house for them. Kristen describes how “The bones of the house were great and it had so many unique details. The windows were huge and brought in lots of light, and the trim around the windows and doors were gorgeous. We didn’t have kids at the time, so the three-bedroom house felt big for the two of us, but we knew it would be a fantastic forever home as our family grew.” 

While the inside of their newly purchased home was in good shape, the exterior of the 100-year-old Pitched Gable Colonial Revival gem was a different story. The house desperately needed re-shingling. Kristen described how “The previous owners had painted the shingles with a very thick layer of paint which over time caused them to warp and bend outwards. At that point, the shingles were no longer layered tightly together, and missing spaces began appearing where they had fallen off leaving flakes of paint and shingles strewn throughout the yard. “Ultimately, we knew it was time to address the problem, but we also worried there would be water damage underneath once we started to remove them.”

After extensive research, Govers Sidewall Shingling in Berkeley emerged as the only company that focused specifically on shingle installation and repair. “They have excellent reviews, and their portfolio was incredible”, Kristen recounts. “Oliver Govers, who owns the business, came out to look at the house and discuss our options. Fortunately, the job was straightforward because we just wanted to replace the shingles ‘in-kind’ and we weren’t looking to do anything different with patterns.”

Kristen and Jerrold had another issue that needed to be addressed by Govers. Mysteriously, the previous owners of the house had installed large pieces of wood covering part of the brackets underneath the eaves. “It was really strange,” describes Kristen, “I don’t know if they put the boards up because birds were nesting up there or if they had other concerns. So this was an opportunity to finally remove those boards and see what the original brackets looked like.”

Once they booked and scheduled Govers, it took about six weeks for his crew to tackle the job. “The first step was to remove all of the old shingles. I can’t tell you what an enormous relief it was for us to learn that there was absolutely no water damage to the underlying redwood or structure! Then, the crew wrapped the house in building paper before installing the new #1 Cedar shingles. They also did a fantastic job repairing trim and uncovering the original brackets.”

Kristen and Jerrold then chose another expert tradesman for the next step of the project when they contracted with Olson’s Painting Company of Alameda. Olson’s would paint the trim, the rafter tails under the eaves, and the newly exposed original brackets under the pitched roof. “It took Olson’s about three weeks to complete the painting. Now the white paint highlights the trim and the now exposed brackets stand out beautifully. We never did understand why they’d been hidden, they are not only a structural feature of the house, they also have a unique style to them we haven’t seen in other houses of the same period.” Kristen recounts.

Govers recommended letting the shingles cure for a year before being stained because new shingles release natural oils, so it’s important to let them breathe and dry out. So a full year later, Olson’s crew came back to stain the shingles.

“I loved the light color and all the different gradients of the new shingles”, says Kristen, “however, because we waited a year before we stained them, we could see how they discolored over that time. We also noticed where rainwater would pour off the roof and down on the shingles turning them black. So it was a good reminder that the shingles need stain as a layer of protection, and darker stains would also hide discoloration.

I honestly feel like we gave new life and light to the house, which it really needed. And I’m so happy that we were finally able to do it.” 

With the completion of this transformation Kristen describes the happy ending: “The whole family just adores the house, it’s become the family home we always envisioned it would be. And I’m thrilled that we chose to stain the shingles the same dark brown that it was before, because the kids always loved that we were known as the ‘big brown house on the corner’, and it’s very nice that it will continue to be known that way”.