Meant to be, in Old Towne Orange
Meant to be, in Old Towne Orange

When updating the property, the couple had fun sprucing up the outside of the home with a lovely blue-and-white theme.

A synchronistic series of events led this San Diego couple to embark on an entirely new life in Old Towne, where they recently transformed a 100-year-old fixer-upper on East Van Bibber Street into an absolute charm house.

It all started when Stephane Voitzwinkler, a sales rep for Milwaukee Tool Company, was promoted to regional manager in February 2020 and needed to relocate immediately. He and his partner, Isabella Martin, had only three weeks to find a place in Orange County. The rest, as they say, is history—history on the outskirts of Old Towne’s Historic District, that is.    

“We’d never even been to Old Towne before, but we found this house on Van Bibber,” says Isabella, a former sales rep in the medical device industry. “It was actually a little worse for wear and quite unkempt at the time. We moved in right before COVID hit, and then I got laid off because of the pandemic.”

The good news is they had plenty of time while in lockdown to turn the property into a showplace. Working daily inside and out, they brought the old house back to life with paint, projects, plants and perseverance.

The pink door in the living room helps brighten the space, says Isabella, who specializes in interior design and recently opened her own design-services business in town. “The vibrant colors really make this space come alive.”

In the dining room, Isabella, Stephane and their dog Rufus gather for breakfast at the vintage Tulip table-and-chair set that belonged to Isabella’s grandparents.  The vintage couch is reupholstered in Sunbrella outdoor fabric for easy cleanup.

Rescue-dog Rupert sits at his favorite spot in the French-inspired guest bedroom that doubles as office space.

“It became really fun to have a project to be passionate about together,” says Isabella. “We love the fact that this house is more than 100 years old and has character.”

The first big undertaking was in the yard, which was all dirt in the front and a lot of sand and debris in the back. They started planting vines for greenery and hydrangeas for color, along with drought-resistant succulents, lantana and roses. They added a patch of lawn for their dog, relying on DIY resourcefulness to get it done.

“That was fun, and we did it for the dog because he needed a place to roll around on the lawn,” said Stephane. “I once planted lawn for a neighbor when I was 10 years old, so I relied on the ‘expertise’ of my 10-year-old ‘me’ to get it done.”

As the old saying goes, when one door closes another one opens. For Isabella, the loss of her previous job opened up the opportunity to pursue her true passion for interior design, a talent she acquired from her mother, a professional interior designer. The Van Bibber property became a blank canvas for the couple, both inside and out. When the neighbors began to admire the transformation, she decided to open her own interior design service in October 2020 called Ella’s Finds & Design.

Isabella shares the couch with Rufus amid the blue-and-white themed decor.  “Stephane’s favorite part about this room is our Frame TV that looks like a picture frame,” she said.

“We have a neighbor, Karl Bonham, who owns Old Towne Plumbing and has connected me with clients,” she says. “I’ve mostly been working with residents in Orange who want to keep the historical aspects of their home. I work on space planning, maintaining the details while modernizing things. The older homes generally have small closets and hallways. I like being able to make a space bright and open.”

Isabella describes the exterior of their Van Bibber property as a little bit of shabby chic and a bit country living, showcasing repurposed furniture and colorful accents. The interior is a mix of mid-century in the dining room and kitchen, while the living room features an upscale “beachy” look.

The couple likes to “upcycle” discarded pieces they’ve come across in Old Towne, such as the amazing iron gate they found laying on the sidewalk with a “free” sign on it in front of Rutabegorz. It now serves as a trellis for vines.

The covered backyard area offers a shaded tropical hideaway with a Jacuzzi tub, cocktail bar and TV.  “This is basically our family room,” said Isabella.

“A lot of people in town were liquidating their furniture and giving away their vintage stuff during the pandemic, and we were able to capitalize on that,” she says. “We love being able to find old pieces in Orange. We spruced up the front porch into a cozy nook with a blue-cushioned rattan sofa. I work out there on my computer, and it’s so nice to always see people walking by. Our street is quiet and tucked away, yet neighborly. We feel like we are in the perfect spot.”

The historic two-bedroom home retains the original windows, doors and crown molding. Several built-ins are also original to the home. Handsome vinyl flooring was added 10 years ago. The dining room features a large picture window with views of the neighborhood. The kitchen is light and airy.

Both Stephane and Isabella were born and raised in San Diego. They grew up 20 minutes apart and had friends in common but never knew each other. They met at a taco shop one day in Point Loma four years ago and have been together ever since. An accomplished cook, Stephane says his favorite room in the house is the kitchen. His father, who was raised in France, is a chef at a French restaurant in San Diego. Stephane learned how to cook from his grandmother during annual summer vacations in Alsace, France.

Isabella and Stephane transformed the previously dark front porch into a vibrant sitting area perfect for enjoying a glass of wine in the evenings.  They found the rattan sofa in an alley, and repainted and reupholstered it with Toile Blue fabric.

“The kitchen is where I spend most of my free time,” he says. “I was raised around French cooking, chefs and restaurants. I have a passion for it.”

As newcomers to Old Towne, the couple appreciates their friendship with longtime Orange resident Greg Bonning, who has a family connection to the house, has introduced them to neighbors and has been their “old home consultant” throughout the home improvement process. Meanwhile, their poodle-mix, Rufus, needed a pal, so they rescued another poodle-mix, Rupert, from the pound in Orange and now they are inseparable. Daily walks to the Plaza or Hart Park are filled with adventure.

“We love exploring Old Towne and visiting the retailers, especially Country Roads Antiques where we’ve purchased a lot of items for the house,” says Isabella. “We’ve gotten to know our neighbors and recently attended a big block party here. It’s a close-knit neighborhood. When people come over and see the before and after, they are amazed. Everything in our lives has fallen into place here in Old Towne—almost like it was meant to be.”

Article Published in the
Jul / Aug 21 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review
Written by Karen Anderson Photographs by Sonserae Leese
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