The Tyler Home: Minimizing Space, Maximizing Life
For the Tylers, downsizing from a large country property to a small fixer-upper near downtown Exeter was a welcome challenge, and one they were well equipped to tackle. As a general contractor by trade, Jim Tyler has built and remodeled countless homes, while his wife Sarah has an eye for design and knack for organization. You just might say they’re Tulare County’s very own ‘Chip and Joanna.’
As with many remodels, one of the Tylers’ biggest challenges was discovering how to make the existing space more efficient while maintaining the home’s architectural integrity. From the kitchen and Master Suite redesign to the front and backyard layout, it’s clear the Tylers were mindful of this each step of the way.
“With everything in this house, we tried to think about how to make the best use of every inch of space,” said Sarah. “We went from having the largest house in our family to the smallest house, but somehow, we continue and love to host holidays here, even though it’s so much smaller.”
When the Tylers lived in the country, their home featured a large open floor plan. Sarah says she now much prefers the smaller, more intimate spaces in their home, which promote togetherness rather than competition.
“I love when we have a lot of people over, and there are some people in the kitchen cooking, the teenagers are playing games at the dining room table, and the guys have the TV on in the living room around a warm fire,” said Sarah. “But it still feels like we’re all together in our cozy home.”
Coming from large families, it’s important for Jim and Sarah’s home to be a place where people can comfortably gather. One of the ways they’ve done this is by rethinking the layout and function of their yard spaces. Even though the back yard isn’t particularly huge, it features a new covered patio, a raised hot tub, a pool, and several lawn and seating areas, making it a great spot for large and small gatherings.
For the past two years, the Tylers have successfully hosted dozens of people in their yard for what they hope will become an annual 4th of July party. In Exeter, the street they live on is known by locals as the “4th of July Street,” since the traditional Exeter Lions Club fireworks are shot off right across the way. While hundreds of people line the street in front of their home to see the fireworks, the Tylers, along with their house full of guests, can watch the show from the comfort of their pool.
“We had a big pool party with about 30 people over, and we watched fireworks in the front yard, backyard, pool, and hot tub,” said Jim. “We’ve had a lot of people back here and it has never felt cramped. Sarah added, “We’ve had much bigger yards with the same amount of people where it has felt cramped compared to this yard because of the way it’s broken up—it’s a good use of space.”
Jim and Sarah also wanted the backyard to feel like it flowed into the interior of the home, so they intentionally installed a waterfall in the pool that they could see from the kitchen, the dining room, and the Master Bedroom. Of all of the rooms in the home, the kitchen’s extensive remodel successfully reflects bringing the outdoors in, extending the space into the backyard.
When the Tylers first bought the home, the kitchen, according to Jim, was “very challenging.” It was extremely small with very few, bright yellow painted cupboards and an oddly placed storage closet. They opened up the room by taking out the storage closet and adding large windows and a sink to the exterior wall facing the backyard. Originally deemed impossible by their framer, the Tylers managed to fit a farmhouse sink, dishwasher, French door, and charming laundry area on that wall so the sink could overlook the backyard.
“It was important that the kitchen work area look out, so we took on the challenge and played with it until it worked,” said Sarah. “We added the waterfall in the pool, making sure we could see it from here and the dining room. Because it’s a smaller house, we felt like it was really important to see as much of the outside as we could from all of the rooms.”
While the kitchen got a complete makeover—including new travertine floors, off-white subway tile backsplash, quartzite countertops with a leathered finish, seeded glass cabinets, and modern appliances—it still has hints of “old” throughout. Jim and Sarah found the vintage light fixtures above the sink, and many of their kitchen décor pieces were passed down from Sarah’s grandparents. One of her favorite pieces is an old crock where her great grandmother used to store her wooden spoons; now, years later, Sarah does the same.
“Many of the collectibles you’ll see—the glassware, things on the counter, in the china cabinet and throughout—are things that belonged to my great grandmothers that have been handed down to me through the generations,” said Sarah. “These are cherished family treasures that will be passed on to our children and grandchildren.”
Just as they preserved special family heirlooms, Jim and Sarah wanted to maintain their home’s original architecture as much as possible. When it comes to the home’s 1938 design, they speculate it was along the lines of a Mission or Spanish Revival style, characterized by overhanging eaves, smooth stucco, exposed rafter beams, and arched entryways.
During the remodel in 2015, Jim and Sarah were careful to incorporate these architectural elements wherever they could throughout the home. They duplicated the entryway’s original arch in several other rooms and hallways, added a red tile roof and exposed beams under the eaves, kept the original wood floors, redesigned the Master Bedroom with a vaulted ceiling and exposed beams, and installed wood and casement windows throughout the entire house.
Though the Tylers have yet to discover the full history of the home, the grandchildren of a previous homeowner—Edna Berry—who had lived there from 1958 to 1990, recently got in touch with the family. Back then, Edna and her husband Raymond—who passed away in 1962—bought the home fully furnished for just $10,000.
“One Sunday we were sitting here, when some people knocked on the door and said their grandmother used to live here,” said Jim. “They just wanted to walk through and be nostalgic about where their grandmother used to live and where they used to play as kids.”
Not only is the home’s history of interest to the Tylers, but the neighborhood’s history, which dates back to the 1800s, has peaked their interest. In fact, the house right next door was Exeter’s very first hospital, and it’s rumored that most of the homes on their street were built to house nurses and doctors around that time.
“One of my favorite things about the backyard is the mature landscaping that surrounds it from these older homes,” said Sarah. “We love the history in our neighborhood, and our wonderful neighbors who work hard to preserve this piece of Exeter’s history.”
While most of the home is original to its 1938 build, the Master Suite was added on sometime during the 80s. When Jim started work on the bedroom, he discovered it was built with some serious structural issues that caused water damage and dry rot, so they decided to rebuild this portion of the house from the ground up.
“When I was taking out the tile the first day we started working in there, I took two pieces out and then took a step to take out another one, and I fell through the floor,” said Jim. “The tile was the only thing holding it up.”
The bedroom’s unexpected demise may have presented a challenge, but in the end, it worked out in the Tylers’ favor as they were able to make the space completely their own. They vaulted the ceiling, installed faux wood beams, expanded the bathroom, bedroom and walk-in closet, and added a quaint built-in bookshelf with a window seat.
Having built two previous homes for themselves, Jim and Sarah enjoyed the process of the remodel the most, despite the hiccups along the way. As the owner of Jim Tyler Construction and Solar, Jim works on a wide range of projects, but what he loves most are the home remodels.
“When you build a new house, it’s kind of like putting a puzzle together. It’s pretty easy,” said Jim. “I like digging into a wall and not knowing what I’m going to find. I’ve worked on a lot of the old houses in the area, and I’ve really enjoyed trying to bring something back to the house.”
When Jim and Sarah first purchased the home in November 2015, it had close to 100 cracks in the ceilings and walls and, other than a few changes, hadn’t been updated much since it was built in the 1930s. While most people would have walked in and immediately walked out, the Tylers saw the home’s potential and knew they could bring it back to life both for themselves and for the City of Exeter.
Even though Jim and Sarah are both from other Central Valley towns, they have called Exeter home for almost 20 years. Originally, they moved to Exeter because they wanted to send their children—Christopher and Holly—to school in a smaller community. Throughout the years, they’ve become immersed into the Exeter community, especially since Sarah started working at the Exeter Chamber of Commerce nine years ago.
“I’m proud to tell people that we’re from Exeter, and I feel like the people we work with and interact with have definitely become family,” said Sarah. “We intend for this to be our forever home.”
For the Tylers, taking on this remodel was a blessing on multiple levels—they got to work together doing something they love, they restored a historic piece of their community, created a beautiful home for themselves, and made their lives easier by downsizing.
“If anybody is considering downsizing, I would highly recommend it—it completely changed our lives,” said Sarah. “Once our remodel was done, we started traveling more, and we started spending more time in our yard, not working on our yard. Now, we spend less time maintaining our home and property and more time enjoying our home and property.”