The Smart Life
The Smart Life

Built in 1913, the Smart’s home on South Shaffer was once occupied by a successful local ranching family, the Luhrs, until 1946. The Prairie Style home features two porches where the Smart family likes to dine alfresco.

When Dale and Rosie Smart acquired their historic Prairie Style house on South Shaffer in 2006, they had completely forgotten about the special connection they shared with the house on their wedding day 16 years before. An old photo taken by Rosie triggered the memory years later.

“It was our wedding day, and Rosie went out in the morning to take photos to document her day,” recalls Dale. “She was drawn to the corner of Shaffer and Washington because of the way the sunlight was streaming through the giant redwood tree behind the house. The house itself was in disrepair back then. Little did she know that nine years later, she would be in love with that house and raising our two kids in it. We found the photo not long ago and thought it was ironic.”

Longtime Old Towne residents, the couple first lived in a starter home on the north side of town on North Harwood Street. They enjoyed the process of transforming an older home into something beautiful. When it came time to upsize to a larger place for their growing family, they waited for just the right house to come along. When the home on South Shaffer went on the market, it felt like destiny.

“Rosie enjoys finding beauty in simplicity,” says Dale of his wife.

The focal point of the living room, the fireplace is flanked by the home’s original bookcases, which are made of gumwood. In keeping with the era, the homeowners commissioned lamps and fixtures made by Orange-based Old California Lantern Company.

Dale says their two children, Isaak and Elise, are like “two peas in a pod.” They are pictured here reading a book in the backyard.

Built in 1913, the distinctive residence epitomizes the Prairie style of architecture with its connection to the landscape, open floor plan, strong horizontal lines, sheltering eaves and bands of windows that illuminate the interior. There are only a few examples of Prairie Style architecture in Old Towne. Made popular by Frank Lloyd Wright, Prairie Style architecture was considered progressive in its day.

“We had become particularly intrigued with the Prairie Style and even talked about the home on Shaffer and Washington and how it would be a great place to renovate,” Dale says. “Then literally days later, Rosie called me and said, ‘You will never guess which house just went up for sale.’ We did a walk-through and it wasn’t too big, it wasn’t too small; it was just right for a family with two kids.”

With three bedrooms and one-and-a-half baths, the home still retains the original gumwood pocket doors, trim, mantle, bookcase and built-in buffet hutches in the dining room and kitchen, as well as the original red oak flooring. The exterior, however, required extensive renovation involving the removal of Spanish lace stucco that had been applied in 1958 by a previous owner. The Smarts replaced it with smooth stucco characteristic of the home’s style.

The open kitchen includes an original buffet hutch made of gumwood.

“The process was quite extensive,” Dale says. “We had to remove it layer by layer and get each layer approved by the City so as not to compromise the historic fabric of the house. Our poor neighbors were very patient with us because there was sandblasting going on for several days. We wanted to make sure that the new layers were appropriate to the style that was intentionally installed during that era.”

After the stucco work was completed, the Smarts chose a color palette inspired by a controversial house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright known as “The Harem,” considered by many to be Wright’s first Prairie Style home. Local painter Brett Jackson completed the job while the Smarts left for a fall trip to New England.

For their efforts, the Smarts earned the Sweet, Sweet Orange Award in 2010 from the Old Towne Preservation Association.

The Smarts purchased this Tiffany-style lamp at the Antique Station in Old Towne.

Ideal for entertaining, the home provides a welcoming place for friends and family to gather. Here, the Smarts share dinner with longtime friends, the Lawrence family (Crystal, Levi, Reagan and Luke).

Rescued two years ago, Molly Mae is a sweet addition to the Smart family.

The home’s past ownership is unusual. The house was built in 1913, but the original owner, J.H. McConnell, didn’t live in it. Rather, he rented it out to several different families until 1926, at which point he sold it to E.A. Knaak, who traded the home in the beginning of 1928 to Mr. and Mrs. Erin Engal as part of a deal to acquire their ranch off South Parker Street. Before the end of the year, the Engals traded the house again as part of another land deal. The new owner, successful local rancher, Louis Luhr, lived in the home with his family until his death in 1946. A series of owners occupied the home after that until the Smarts purchased it.

Although the exterior is different from most historic homes in Old Towne, the interior resembles that of a Craftsman bungalow. For lighting, the Smarts commissioned locally based Old California Lantern Company to create historic-style porch lights, chandeliers and light fixtures. Furnishings include Stickley pieces that reflect the Arts & Crafts movement.

Summer months are spent in and around the pool, says Dale. “The kids especially enjoy the shallow beach entry area.”

“The Prairie Style also features interior design elements that make use of geometric lines and natural materials,” Dale says. “We had a craftsman from Pasadena make the settle and TV cabinet. My dad is a woodworker, and he had fun doing projects for the house, like the porch swing and the woodwork on the gates. We repainted the entire inside in earth tones of golds, yellows and greens.”

An entrepreneur, Dale owns a packaging business that has a local office in Old Towne located behind Starbucks in the Plaza. He is also a partner in a creative business called Big Storm, a Web development and brand identity company. Rosie enjoys crafting and sewing and is an avid cook. Their children attend St. John’s Lutheran School just a stone’s throw away from the house. Active with Grace Fellowship Church in Costa Mesa, the couple frequently entertains at home by hosting their close-knit group of friends for dinner and gatherings.

Reflecting the homeowner’s love of nature, the backyard includes a 100-year-old redwood tree, flagstone paths, a council ring and fire pit, plus a fountain table. The Smarts purchased some of their outdoor accessories from the Garden Gallery in Old Towne.

“We are thankful to God for our kids and our friends, who we consider to be our extended family,” Rosie says. “We love welcoming them into our home to enjoy good food.”

For Rosie and Dale, living in a Prairie Style home represents longevity and a feeling of being rooted.

“I once heard that Prairie Style is ‘rooted in the land,’ ” says Dale. “This home certainly fills our need to put down roots. And for us, there is no better place in Orange County to do that than in Old Towne Orange.”

Article Published in the
Nov / Dec 13 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review
Written by Karen Anderson Photos by Jeanine Hill
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