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Hidden Gem

A Fresno couple breathes new life into their 50's era, Mission Revival home in a stylish makeover.

The moment still makes Allison Cristando wince.

Proud of the Mission Revival-styled home in Fresno, Calif., that her husband Joe and she had just bought, she used a picture of it as her computer screensaver. A co-worker walked past, saw it and said, "Oh, that's your new house. It looks like one of the old Taco Bells."

It's an unfortunate association that amuses Joe Cristando more than it does his wife. "Yeah, we're going to pave the side over here and start selling burritos out the window," he quips.

Saying the Cristandos' home looks like a Taco Bell is sort of like suggesting Ansel Adams' "Moon Over Half Dome" looks like a photo of a big rock. There's some truth to it, but it doesn't begin to tell the story.

Like many Mission Revival homes, the front has curvilinear gables, the walls are stucco, a porch is covered by a red-tiled shed roof and some of the openings are arched.

New paint gives the walls a velvety texture unexpected for such a basic brown. Perhaps it's the sharp brick trim that sets it off. Inside, the wooden floors gleam. Beveled windows sparkle in the sunshine.

It wasn't always this way. The Cristandos spent the better part of a year restoring the 2,300-square-foot, single-story home to former glory.

"When we were painting the outside, people would drive by and slow down and clap," Allison says. "There was a lot of pressure to do things the right way. But we're pleased with the way it turned out."

The couple met with some skepticism when they moved to the house. It was built in 1921.

"It was the ugliest house on the block when we bought it," Allison says. "I had people pull me aside and say, 'What are you doing? Do you know how much work this is going to be?' " Though the home was purchased from the family of the original owners, it had been rented out and fallen into disrepair.

Other prospective buyers had "walked through it and just thought it was hideous," Allison says. "I saw the light fixtures and the electrical outlets with the original plates and knew it was a great house. But it was hard to tell. You could walk through here, and you didn't even see the fireplace."

Tile-work inspired by the arts-and-crafts movement gives the fireplace a stony charm. A large horizontal tile directly over the hearth depicts a basket overflowing with vines. It's a detail echoed on the front facade outside, near the roof, where a basket filled with fruit is etched into the stucco.

The Cristandos slept in the dining room for several months while wall-to-wall carpets were yanked out, leaving wood floors that had not only tack strips but glue that had been squirted all over.

Much remains to be done, particularly in the kitchen, where gaudy wallpaper and bright yellow dominate the senses.

At least there are kitchen plugs for the microwave and garbage disposal now. And the front porch and backyard patio are breezy, popular destinations whenever the Cristandos have large family gatherings.

Just make sure to check the crunchy-taco jokes at the door.

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