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Phoenix home designer aims to blend old, new in neighborhoods

LISTEN: Joel Contreras, Phoenix home designer

PHOENIX — A Phoenix designer has a vision for how he’d like some of Phoenix’s neighborhoods to look, even if it’s not always popular.

Joel Contreras is a home designer who has recently begun undertaking residential remodels in Phoenix’s Coronado neighborhood near Seventh Street and McDowell Road.

These remodels, though, are not simple upgrades, and they involve a lot of custom work to create unique hodgepodges of old and new.

“We have all these historic houses that you can go modern on, and that’s my favorite look,” he said. “You see it a lot in New York, because that’s all they have is red-brick properties. I kind of thought, ‘Let’s start this off.'”

Contreras undertook his first project with the purchase of a home at 13th and Oak streets.

Built in 1927 and costing $110,000, Contreras said he worked to honor the vintage red-brick styling of the bungalow-style home, but to cross that with modern amenities in an entirely new wing.

“What I like about (historic houses) is the textures — the brick, the wood — you can’t get that look today,” he said. “But what I don’t like about historic houses is usually they all have attics that are worthless now. They have small pantries … They’re a maze when you walk in. There’s usually one small opening in the back to get to the backyard.

“I would rather open it up, vault the ceilings, give it good pantries and closet sizes … Part of what I try to do is add this wing that fuses modernism with historic.”

Contreras provides modern comfort through unique designs, state-of-the-art appliances, larger bedrooms, full baths and a focus on natural light, while preserving as much of the house’s original integrity as possible.

After beginning the project more than a year and a half ago, Contreras said a buyer is expected to close sale on the home in the next few weeks after appraisal.

Contreras, architect Johan Busick and the team that helped remodel the house have put considerable time and effort into making it the unique home it is now.

“I had to get every different type of grading and draining, mechanical, plumbing, engineering. Every different plan that you could ever think of got thrown at me,” he said about dealing with inspections and meeting requirements for the city of Phoenix.

The goal behind Contreras’ projects is to eventually sell the homes he rebuilds, and while his first project is unlikely to net a profit, it has given him the ability to begin a second endeavor.

“This project here was a lot of learning lessons (and) I think I’ve got it down right for my next one,” he said.

Contreras said while he has received pushback from some who do not like to see historic homes tampered with, he said most responses are positive, especially once people see the finished product.

He said he hopes to see others look to take similar design elements that blend historic and modern homes, so that new life can be brought into historic neighborhoods.

“I don’t expect everyone in the community to start doing exactly what I do,” he said. “I think that every now and then it’s inspiring to see what you could do with (historic homes), more so when I look at people who are moving to the outskirts of town … all the people moving who say, ‘I could get a much bigger house the further out I go.’ I want to be this drive or push back to the inner city.”