Restoring Turn-of-the-Century L.A., Part 2

After 35 years of hard work and restoration, Barbara Thornberg is still in love—with her husband and her Victorian home in Los Angeles, California.

Andy’s background and training as a mechanical engineer was instrumental in the Thornbergs’ being able to do so much of the work themselves. Although the previous owner, a developer, had put up drywall, the house was just bare bones—there was no kitchen and the roof needed to be replaced, as did all of the plumbing and electricity. Barbara took over stripping all the paint from the house and has given many a lecture on restoring Victorian woodwork.


modern art piece

Barbara’s husband bought her this modern art piece by Gerry McMillan,
a California artist. She likes juxtaposing the
contemporary pieces with the antiques.

“I used blowtorches, sanders and something that looked like a hopped-up hairdryer,” she explains. “I scraped off every layer of paint, caulked each nail hole, sanded it all, primed and finally painted. It took five years!” But Andy, with his many skills, did the rest of the restoration—with Barbara steadfast by his side. The only hired help used for the house was for the forced air heating.

Barbara’s interior-design training came into play when the kitchen needed to be designed. For the first year, it had been like camping, living only in the master bedroom while they remodeled the rest of the house. Andy had cobbled together a makeshift kitchen with sawhorses and plywood and a few inexpensive cabinets from Sears, but it was very crude.

When it came time to build the kitchen, they worked together to create a kitchen that utilized the 12-foot ceilings, inspired by a photograph Barbara found in one of her Victoriana books. Barbara’s interior-design background complemented Andy’s engineering skills perfectly when coming up with the design.

victorian kitchen

Barbara’s kitchen was inspired by the green Viking stove and her yellow Rookwood pottery. The tiles were custom-made, but the stained-glass window is one of two from a pair of doors from Scotland. The other has been integrated into the Thornbergs’ pantry.


Since there were only a few remaining interior doors, the Thornbergs had a blade manufactured that could cut new doors to match the originals as well as make kitchen cabinets to match. Barbara pulled her color scheme from her collection of yellow Rookwood pottery and her green Viking stove, and chose a brick color for balance.

But the tiles had to be custom-made, and luckily Barbara had heard of Richard Keit and his RTK Studios, a master of the Spanish “cuerda seca” tilemaking technique (see sidebar on page 50). She presented her color scheme and her design, which was based on a Victorian pattern she’d found in a reference book and the cornflower detail on the tile of one of the house’s fireplace mantels. Richard, by applying a wax outline and using a bulb syringe to inject the color into the empty areas, tried over and over to get the tiles to look perfect. “It was very difficult, but Richard just kept making tiles until he finally got it just right. He’s an amazing craftsman,” Barbara recalls.

For the conclusion of Barbara and Andy’s story, click here.


by Jennifer Myers

Photography by Mark Tanner



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