Text by Lisa McEwen I Photos by Steve Cory
There are three acres in central Visalia that host what is arguably the most socially active neighborhood in town. Pool parties, Sunday barbecues and evenings spent around a campfire with a glass of wine in one hand and dessert in the other are some of the common activities.
Connie and Jim Kautz, longtime Visalia residents, joined the fun a few years ago when they abruptly downsized from the home where they raised their five children — and haven’t skipped a beat since,“It’s been a great move for us,” said Connie, who took a few hours away from her busy schedule as a Realtor and co-owner of First Stage Homes to talk with Lifestyle Magazine. She likened Green Acres Square, with its 12 two-bedroom, two-bathroom bungalows, to “the ‘90210’ of the older generation of Visalia,” she said, citing the popular ‘90s television show. “It is so social, and it’s a great community to hang out in.”
Jim, an agronomist with Barkley Seed Inc., describes it like this: “It’s not a retirement community; it is a down-size community.”
A UNIQUE PART OF VISALIA
Built in 1966, the bungalows sit on the southern border of the Visalia Country Club on acreage that previously was part of Hyde Ranch. In fact, the main entrance to the Country Club Estates neighborhood is Ranch Road, so named because it was the original entryway to the ranch.
While the bungalows are not on the city’s historical register, Associate City Planner Cristobal Carrillo said the units are known colloquially as an older neighborhood designed uniquely. Additional units to the west of the Kautz home are painted in bright colors and known as “the Teepees.”
Anchored by a large expanse of lawn and the community pool, the Green Acres Square units form an L-shape with back patios that open to each other, promoting gatherings and the camaraderie that the couple enjoys. Majestic valley oak trees provide ample shade in the common area, and a walking path leads to the country club, where residents can indulge in a round of golf or a delicious meal just steps from their back doors. When the Kautz grandchildren come to visit, the grass is an instant draw for hours of outdoor play.
Viewing the area from Border Links Drive, the stand-alone, 1,800-square-foot units emit a sense of welcome, with broad entryways and paths leading to the front doors.
Encompassed by a homeowners association, the pool, sidewalks and grounds are professionally maintained to sustain a unified appearance, not to mention ease of living for the residents.
Less work around the house was definitely a selling point for the Kautzes, who jettisoned not only lawn and pool care from their previous home, but many belongings that filled 3,000 square feet and a three-car garage.
“The simplicity is amazing,” Connie said. “It is amazing what you can live without.”
COUNTRY MOUSE, TOWN MOUSE
Jim is the storyteller of the duo and shared how a country boy like himself has adjusted to city living over the course of their 30-year marriage.
When they met in 1990, he was still actively farming his family’s acreage in Visalia. For 11 years, the couple’s blended family of five children filled their home. In 2001, they moved to Sutter Court in the Country Club Estates neighborhood, just a few blocks from their current residence.
A stipulation of moving into town was that they choose not just any neighborhood, but one with character, and a home that afforded space and privacy.
They found that on Sutter Court with its half-acre lots and have many fond memories of their 17 years there.
“I took one look at that backyard and that was it,” Jim recalled. “We didn’t even look inside the house.” The couple kept the home and grounds in immaculate condition, and the yard was featured on the YMCA’s Garden Tour.
But in 2018, they had committed to an extensive remodel of the home that would require them to move out for three months.
“The night before the project was to start, we looked at each other and said, ‘We don’t want to do this!’” Connie said.
She made one phone call and quickly sold the home overnight. Again, Jim wasn’t going to settle for a cookie-cutter neighborhood. So she told him to pull the golf cart around so they could look at a bungalow that had just hit the market.
“Within 20 minutes, we had a sale,” Connie said. They also had a lightning-fast 20-day escrow, so they got to work streamlining their belongings. The bungalow offers a simple carport, so storing items in a garage was not an option. A flurry of packing, purging and reorganizing ensued.
“I was so tired I wanted to cry!” Connie said.
They admit that their children were a little shocked at the speed of events, but once they saw the bungalow, they knew that their parents had made the right choice. Even though the Kautzes do not have a guest room anymore, sleepovers with the grandkids are even more fun, Connie said, as they just pull out air mattresses and sleep on the floor.
Friends, co-workers and contemporaries delight in the fact that Connie and Jim live in the same unit that longtime Visalia philanthropist Jeanne Hoey resided in for several decades. She often hosted fundraisers on the back patio and lawn, including the popular “Wine and Wags,” a benefit for the Valley Oak SPCA.
“People will tell us they’ve been to parties here,” Connie said.
Fortunately, the bungalow had recently been updated and refreshed by the owner at the time of their purchase. They didn’t even have to paint or change the flooring.
“All we had to do was move in, and bring our personality and design,” Connie said.
MAKING A HOME
Connie’s natural knack for staging and decorating shines through with bright, airy design, lots of texture in every room and a fresh, inviting look.
Connie said her love of home design started at age 16, when her parents allowed her to decorate her room the way she wanted. It has now grown into a business, First Stage Homes, which she runs with Maureen Hester, an interior design graduate of Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. The venture complements her real estate sales as staging is offered to every client.
A few family treasures made the two-block journey to the bungalow, including a European armoire that Connie acquired in her 20s, and Jim’s favorite red leather couch that helps fill the second bedroom, his home office. Neither was ready to part with their respective item, so thankfully they fit in the house.
The couple is committed to filling their home with unique items and locally made art. Several paintings by former Visalia watercolorist Varian Mace line the hallway and kitchen wall.
“These things have made this house our home,” Jim said.
That also includes Jim’s collection of Native American mortars and pestles, one of which sits on the fireplace hearth underneath a gorgeous tamarack mantle from a Springville sawmill. Lining a fence outside, guests can view Jim’s impressive collection of hand-forged cattle brands found throughout the West in his business travels. An eye-catching collection of garden gates also dots the yard.
Both Connie and Jim are deemed essential workers during the coronavirus pandemic. Connie also is serving as president of the Tulare County Association of Realtors and said she is sad to miss the many conferences and conventions that she would have participated in.
“There have been a lot of changes but a lot of silver linings,” she said. “Technology allows us to move even faster in real estate. It is amazing what we can get done in the middle of a pandemic.”
As fall descends on Visalia, both Connie and Jim look forward to partaking in annual family traditions. One of those is making German sausage with their children and grandchildren. Using Jim’s grandmother’s hand-crank press, they follow a family recipe and churn out 200 pounds of sausage each November, vacuum-sealed and labeled.
All year-round, but especially in late fall, evenings are a favorite time of day.
Jim builds a fire with wood collected around their mountain cabin, which thankfully escaped damage from the SQF Complex Fire. Neighbors know that when the fire is lit, they are welcome to drop by for conversation and a glass of wine.
“We have the best time out here,” Connie said.
And with a little more time on their hands, the couple anticipates spending more time at their cabin, which is especially beautiful in winter.
“Friends would ask us if we moved because we’re getting older,” Jim said. “That is true, but what it also allows is time for other pursuits. We always thought getting older would take longer.”