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But the two things Aaron wanted most would stretch his skills and his budget: a big, airy kitchen with plenty of storage, natural light, and traffic flow for entertaining; and a second-floor master suite with ample closet space and a spa-like bath.

A wild thought took hold: To compensate for the cost of the two-story addition—a pro job that in California would involve adhering to earthquake code—he'd make all the cabinetry himself.

After rebuilding the half-wall bookcases between the living room and the foyer, all the columns, and the sections of wainscoting that had been damaged, he set about refinishing them.

"But every stain I applied made the wood look like tiger-striped plywood," he recalls.

Having done plenty of tile work on previous renovations, he could do the tiling that the new baths would require.

And he had mastered the art of low-cost concrete countertops.

So I thought, Aaron created all his design drawings for the floor plans and the cabinetry in Adobe Illustrator, software he used extensively in his Web-design business; he exported his drawings for the addition into CAD (computer-aided design) software to send to a structural engineer, who specified a steel beam in the new kitchen ceiling to satisfy building and earthquake code.And deciding to do all the cabinetry himself nearly did him in. With four Dallas house renovations and two San Diego, California, redos under his belt, he set his sights on the two-story stucco-and-shingle Craftsman with its compelling location—directly across the street from a golf course, overlooking Balboa Park and, in the distance, the San Diego harbor.The house was a hard-luck fixer-upper: Previous owners had chopped up the layout in order to rent rooms to college students.Shown: The 1916 Craftsman's facade has its original cedar shingles, which had been preserved under aluminum siding, on the upper story.

The stucco covering the first floor needed repair; the street-level walls are new.

For serial remodelers, the "next one" always holds the promise of being the "best one"—a chance to learn from past mistakes, improve DIY techniques, and reap the satisfaction of a glorious end result.

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