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HOMEOWNERS - Liz and Jeff Buffington

BUILT - Broke ground in January 2004 and completed in September 2004

STYLE - Old World French chateau

UNIQUE FEATURES - An outdoor kitchen (with a sink, refrigerator, grill and plasma television), spotlighting on the roof, an 11' by 5' island in the kitchen, and authentic French hardware throughout

HOME SITE - Two and one-half acres at the base of the Santa Rosa Plateau

LIVING SPACE - 6,150 square feet

HOUSEBUILDING TIP - "Be sure to spend time thinking about the details and then do your research. Details are what make a home uniquely yours. Details. Details. Details."

CUSTOMER QUOTATION - "We love the grandness of Frontgate items, particularly the estate-size things. The quality Frontgate offers is perfect for the quality of our home." — Liz Buffington
The Master Bedroom

The Great Room

The Kitchen
Design - Le Chateau Design and D�cor Murrietta, CA

Framers - Hillcrest Framing Murrietta, CA

Cabinetmakers - Karmichael Cabinetry Quail Valley, CA

Flooring and Carpeting - J.S.M. Hardwood Flooring Murrietta, CA

Murrieta, CA � It was March of 2003 when the Jeff and Liz Buffington first learned about the 2 �-acre tract of prime, undeveloped land at the base of the Santa Rosa Plateau. The piece had just been listed, and rumor had it the land would surely sell quickly.

On January 21st of the following year, they broke ground. And on September 17th-only 9 months later-the Buffington family moved in to the 6,200-square foot home they had just finished building on the property. The story of what happened from the day they purchased the land to the day they moved in is really a remarkable one; it's a story of "research, planning, hard work, good communication, and lots of fun," according to Liz Buffington.

And she should know.

"Instead of a traditionally gabled roof,
we wanted one with flared eaves."

"Jeff was just awesome when I asked him what he thought about my being the contractor. It was so great! Not only were we going to build a new home, but I was going to be the contractor and my husband was completely supportive of the plan. I had so many ideas, so much research to do, and I was dying to get started." From the very beginning, Liz viewed building the house as a gift and a challenge, and she challenged herself accordingly to do her very best.

The wrought iron front doors have hinged, interior glass doors that open separately to allow the breezes in. Shop Entry Décor.

THE EARLY MONTHS

Her first stop was the bookstore to buy a copy of How to be Your Own Contractor: The Complete Guide to Hiring and Overseeing. With her background in design, Liz was well versed in the decorative arts, but she had to learn the language used in construction if she was going to be the contractor. "I was going to have to be able to communicate as clearly as possible with the team of craftsmen we were assembling. It was obvious that each of them was a professional who knew what he was doing. I wanted to prove that I did, too. The fact that I had spoken Spanish since I was a little girl also helped, I think. Speaking the same language made us feel even more like a team."

As Liz was learning terms and techniques, Jeff helped build a budget that would cover the project completely from start to finish-including the decorating. They had heard stories of people who spent all their money building a house and didn't have enough left to decorate it. Jeff and Liz wanted to make sure that didn't happen to them.

In her research, Liz relied heavily on books on French architecture and landscaping, because they had decided to build a house that would resemble a rustic French chateau. They wanted the house to appear old and established and have as much authentic detailing as possible. "We were able to find authentic French hardware. Details like that are so important to me. They're what make a home uniquely yours, so I spent hours researching details, details, details."

Liz added medallions, fleur-de-lis and other distinguishing touches when designing the iron gates. Shop Outdoor Décor.

BREAKING GROUND

After four months of planning and meeting with the architect again and again, it was time to begin working the plan. But even as they broke ground in January, careful coordinating was continuing on all aspects of the project. While the framing progressed, custom wrought iron doors, railings and all the internal lighting fixtures were being forged in Mexico; copper spires for the roof were being constructed and finished in Georgia; draperies were ordered and sewn; and cabinets were being built and antiqued to fit the style. Even the dome for the dining room ceiling was being painted offsite, so that, as soon as the ceiling was installed, the finished dome could be set directly into place.

Meanwhile, onsite, the stucco exterior was being trimmed at the doorways and windows with cast stones and keystones that had been antiqued, pitted and then crackled to achieve an aged look. For the roof, Liz and Jeff chose slate-colored concrete tiles that were listed as part of a European collection. "One of the changes we had made to the architect's original plan was the roof," says Liz. "Instead of a traditionally gabled roof, we wanted one with flared eaves. Gently sloping eaves create a more French-looking roofline, I think."

To accentuate the roofline and distinguish its silhouette from the darkened backdrop of the Santa Rosa hills at night, they decided to highlight the roof beyond what ground lighting was able to do. Though he had never done it before, their landscaper tried running the wiring through the gutters so that it would be less conspicuous. The plan worked, and the effect created by illuminating the roof valleys was dramatic.

For the wrought iron front doors, Liz and Jeff chose a pattern from one of her European architecture books. On the inside of the doors, they mounted hinged, glass doors that open separately. "It's a design that allows the breezes the blow in while the outer doors stay closed and it works very well, particularly if you live in an area that doesn't have a lot of flying bugs and insects."

The same wrought iron design is repeated in the Juliet balcony railings just above. But for the entrance gates to the property, Liz embellished an ironwork pattern she had seen in a photograph of a southern California estate by adding medallions and fleurs-de-lis for greater ornamentation.

The antiquing treatment of the exterior trimmings was also used to finish the great room's mantelpiece, which encases a 50" firebox, the largest they could find. The antiquing, pitting and crackling technique was also used to finish the nine Romanesque columns that separate rooms or distinguish areas on the first floor of the house.

NO OFF-LIMIT SPACES

In keeping with European styling, the ceilings of the first-floor rooms were ornamented for greater interest. The 22' coiffure ceilings in the great room were covered with embossed wallpaper that Liz antiqued so it would blend more effectively with the rest of the rustic chateau. For ease and efficiency, she also had the 22-ft. drapes hung in the great room while the scaffolding she and other workers had used was still in place.

"I have a lot of good memories of building our house
and about the people who helped us do it."

In the dining room, a dome rises in the center of the recessed ceiling, both of which are painted in the style of some European cathedral ceilings. At the Buffington's request, the artist added a small dove to his painting, because a dove is a significant symbol for the family. The ceiling of the master bedroom, which is the only room that Liz describes as 'ornate', is trimmed with multiple crown moldings and gilt finish. Someday soon they plan to have a mural painted on that ceiling as well.

The ceiling of the kitchen has large wooden beams for added rustic effect and a sense of warmth. "Our kitchen is absolutely the heart of our home. It's not only where we eat, it's where we spend a lot of time together as a family. We wanted a really big kitchen for that reason, along with a big island. An island is a great place to eat and read or just relax and talk while breakfast is being made or dinner is being cooked."

The old French chateau feeling is enhanced in the master bath by the travertine floor that is set on cobblestones to achieve a more rustic look. The triple-paned, leaded glass in the bath cabinetry was handcrafted by an 80-year old artisan who designed and worked with seeded glass as a hobby. "We were lucky to come upon him. He's a real craftsman."

"I have a lot of good memories of building our house and about the people who helped us do it. They were a really good group of workers who we appreciated and respected a lot. Right before we moved in, I made lunch for them and we all stood around the island in the kitchen eating together and sharing stories and memories."

IN THE END, IT'S WORTH IT

It's tempting to wonder if, at the conclusion of a project such as building and completely furnishing a home in just 12 months, there's a real sense of letdown. But to hear Liz and Jeff tell it, that's just when the real life story begins. "We've always loved having family and friends over. And now we have a home where we can do that easily and very comfortably. We can have our youth group over to swim and grill out on a Sunday afternoon or host an end-of-the year party for 150 kids with no problem. And while they're eating or watching a movie in the outdoor kitchen, we can sit around the pool and visit with our friends."

"We're so thankful to have a lifestyle like this. Building this house was a lot of hard work and a lot of fun. But living here is the best part of all. It's a really great place to be family."

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