Q&A with Denise Donlon on Lobo Castle build.

February 10, 2010 Blog Lobo in the Media

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Q&A with Lobo Castle owner Denise Donlon

Interview from September 2006


Denise Donlon


Age & type of home you’re renovating: Our home was built in 1979; it is a ranch style large cabin in the woods in Lobo Canyon, which is located in the Santa Monica Mountains. It is a 2 and a half-acre hillside property. Estimated final cost of renovation: 1,200,000.00

  1. What made you decide to renovate & why now? We have been in the process of renovating our home since we purchased it in 1999. It has been my dream to make it into a castle. We started the major construction (retaining walls, pool, etc., in 2005 right before Christmas and then the rains came and did not stop coming until March. It set us back about a year. We picked it up again in April of last year and hope to be finished by June in time for my son’s graduation Party.

  1. How will your home be transformed ? The original house was 3200 square feet. This was made up of the downstairs that is a large entertainment room, sitting room, bathroom and bedroom (This floor was remodeled when we first moved in. It was the garage, a cellar room and a room with a closet toilet.) And the second floor which had the master bedroom, two other bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, the living room and Kitchen.

We are adding a garage in the back, (second floor level) over the garage will be our new master bedroom tower. This tower is attached to the main house via a catwalk that goes over the entry on the main floor and connects to the front stair tower. A new 35 feet high round stair tower will connect all of the three floors. The old downstairs is being transformed into the dungeon that leads out to a courtyard with a well fountain, stonewalls and stairs that lead up to the second level in front of the garage. The main floor (old second floor) will have a guest wing, entry, kitchen, living room, morning room and of course the Dinning Hall. The dinning hall (old master bedroom) will have doors on either side of the new fireplace that lead out onto an outdoor patio, which will also have a fireplace and be connected to the outdoor kitchen. From this patio and outdoor kitchen you can see the pool and the cave waterfall that goes up to the hillside as well as our hillside vegetable gardens. Stonewalls are everywhere you look. The garden walls are stone the retaining walls are stone the towers will all be stone. We are using real stone from our canyon. We have 6 masons working 5 days a week cutting and putting stone on the structures. The master bedroom tower suite will consist of a bathroom, walk in closet, bedroom, sitting area, bar mini kitchen and a private library. Across the courtyard from the dungeon is the guest tower. This tower will stand 30 feet high. The first level is a car port, the second level which can only be accessed from the deck that spans the front of the castle is the main level and round iron stairs will lead up to the loft or third level. The guest tower will have a small kitchen and full bath. I am including the floor plans and rendering. The rendering is not exactly how things are turning out. As we build we realize some things needed to be done differently or changed do to design elements that were not keeping to our 17th century castle theme. The eaves on the old house for instance are not going to remain, in stead we will be cutting them off and doing a roof detail that is more to the period. The rendering has the guest tower being two stories, it is now three.

  1. What phase of the project are you in right now (be specific please)? We have framed the 3 towers and are in the process of gutting the original house and reframing it. We are still putting in windows and waterproofing.  We do have pictures and video of every phase of construction. I am attaching a few.
  1. Where are you going to live during the renovation? We are living in the dungeon at the moment and plan to stay there until we can move into the guest tower. I have made walls of boxes for my room. It is very cozy!

  1. How involved do you, as the owners, expect to be in the renovation process? Very involved. I dreamed it, designed it, (with my architect) and decide all design issues and challenges with my contractor as needed.  How often will you be visiting the site?    I am living there daily.

  1. What are some of the major challenges of the renovation (be specific please)? There has been so many. I would need to write a book. I will tell you the main one. We are on a hillside; we needed to build large retaining walls, put in 22, 30 feet deep caissons to hold up the towers and the weight of the stone on the towers.  It was a challenge bringing in the heavy equipment that was needed to dig, put in steel and pour the concrete. We needed to do the pool before we started the house or we could not get the digging equipment to the pool location. Our original house was built in 1979. The building codes were different and the existing wiring left a lot to be desired.

  1. What scares you most about the renovation? The masons putting up the stone on the upper levels of the towers.

  1. Are you using any particular building materials or techniques that are especially unique or new ? We are using only rock from our canyon and putting it up the way they did hundreds of years ago. It is a very slow process.

  1. Are any of the rooms featuring a particularly unique or clever project ? The whole house is a unique project. We are trying to stick to the 17 century Jacobean theme throughout the whole Castle. The downstairs is the dungeon, the dinning room is the dinning hall, the breakfast room is a larger morning/reading room, etc.

  1. When do you expect your home to be finished? Hopefully by June 1, 2007.

  1. How firm are these dates? I hope they are firm, but you know how construction goes.

  1. How comfortable are you sharing budget information with the viewer? I am Ok with it to a point.

  1. Who is your architect/designer, and why was he or she chosen? I started out with my friend and neighbor Michael Layman of Mical Company, I finished with John Mulcahy who worked for Mical and is now with Carson Architects. John and I sat together for many hours designing and redesigning but many of Michael’s original ideas remain. The design started with drawings that I made. I have them numbered from the first ideas to the one that is most similar to the one we ended up with.

  1. Is this the first home you have renovated? No

  1. What are you keeping of the old home? The guest bathroom, brick in the living room, the fireplaces in the kitchen and the living room. – Why? There was nothing wrong with the guest bathroom and I think the brick will work (although we are thinking about changing it to stone) and I love the fireplaces. We are adding 3 more.

  1. Is there any additional information that makes your story especially compelling or unique? We have been creating this Castle since we moved into the house in June of 1999. We have done it stone by stone. I think it isn’t every day that some one builds a Castle in the Canyon. We are calling it “Castello Dontico”.  The Donlon – Antico Castle.

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