When Sony and Cher had their first string of musical hits, they moved from a dingy Hollywood rental into a model home in Encino in 1966. It was small, about 2,700 square feet, but it had a pool and space for their family and careers- both of which were growing.
It was in this home that the couple filmed their movie, "Good Times," which shows Cher frolicking in the backyard pool encircled by a metal fence with their initials, "S" and "C."
Within four years, they were at the top of the charts and had a hit television series, so a flush Sonny and Cher moved on up to a mansion in Beverly Hills.
"The architect is a champ for redoing it with us in mind," says Cher, who now lives in Malibu. "We had a lot of terrific times in that house."
A woman purchased the home from the rising stars, but found as the years went by that she couldn't afford to keep it up. Then in 2004, a fire started in the kitchen and spread throughout much of the house.
Enter architect Kenneth David Lee.
"I heard it was up for sale and I went to see it," he recalls during a tour of the finished home. "It was a wreck. What wasn't burned had bad smoke damage, the back yard was a mess, the fence was falling down.
"A decision had to be made-tear it down or fix it. It would have been a lot less expensive to tear it down, but I knew who had lived there and I thought it would be a challenge to restore it to its previous condition."
Lee actually purchased it as a home that he and his wife would eventually move into, and renovations began. It took him two years to redo it all. Here's how he performed an architectural miracle: "I tried to salvage as much of the remaining structure as possible, and I think I did."
But he had to rip out all the old electric wiring-which may have caused the fire- and the plumbing. He shored up the roof and walls. He also banged out some of the walls in the kitchen and master bedroom to add about 500 square feet, and notes that "the addition of studio space, expansion of existing closet space and creation of a truly gourmet kitchen flow effortlessly into the original footprint of the home."
Where others may have added a second story to the home, Lee decided against it. "I knew anyone else would have added. It isn't against any city ordinance and it would have been easy to do," he says. "But I wanted to maintain the integrity and history of the house. The open floor plan takes full advantage of the morning sun and stunning views. I'm happy I kept it a one-story."
This wasn't the first celebrity home for Lee, who opened his own firm in 1978 after getting an architectural degree from USC and working with noted So Cal architects Edward Niles and Philip Jon Brown.
Of the 500-plus residences Lee has designed, some notable clients include guitarist Steve Vai, Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, Barbra Streisand and celebrity publicist Howard Bragman.
His firm creates and renovates everything from Mediterranean estates to mid-century modern homes to cutting-edge contemporary structures.
Like all forward-thinking architects, Lee always has his eye on conservation. For his new home, he double-insulated every window and door, and installed solar panels on the roof.
"The [monthly] energy bills for a house of this size and the pool are only about $300, thanks to the solar panels and insulation," he says. "About 75 percent of the home's energy is produced by the solar panels, and with the 1960s flat style roof, the panels bring the home into the 21st century."
Lee's daughter, Catie Casazza, who followed in her father's academic footsteps and studied at USC (although her master's degree is in landscape architecture), was in charge of the backyard.
But she concedes she's learning on the job, as her initial instinct was to get rid of the pool. "The place was desolate and sad, so my first thought was to tear down the back yard and start from scratch," she says. "But my dad was dead set against tearing this pool out."
Casazza worked around the small pool in the 1,000-foot long yard, re-tiling it instead and putting in an elevated spa/fountain in order to transform the desolate feeling into a peaceful one.
Cracked hardscaping surrounded the pool, and there was the matter of the "S" and "C" fence, rusting and falling down. Casazza replaced the hardscape with native plants, installed a built-in barbecue and created a koi pond. As for the fence, she had it sanded, reposted into the ground, and painted blue. The letters are still in place.
"The good news about this place," Casazza says, "was that it was bought by my father, someone who loves it and will always take care of it."