Rising From the Ashes — the Bates Family

Carla (left) and Bruce Bates stand in their future art studio, in the footprint of their former home that burned in the November 2018 Woolsey Fire.

Carla Bates stands on the cement foundation of her future art studio and points up at a row of openings in the plywood wall: the future windows that will illuminate a future loft. She points out the wall where a slop sink will be installed and the opening that one day will feature a door leading toward her future home—which for now is still a flat patch of gravel in the center of the lot.

The art studio seems very real to Bates—a Malibu-based artist and art instructor who has been awaiting this project with her husband Bruce for more than two years—although as of February 2021 only the bones of it exist. Still, the existence of poured concrete and timber framing marks a huge advancement for the Bates family, whose home was destroyed in the November 2018 Woolsey Fire.

Carla and Bruce chose the modular home company Sillwater Dwellings to take on their project, and say they have been pleased with the work so far.

“We liked the look of it—I said, ‘If I was going to design a home, this is what it would look like!’” Carla said, pointing to architectural details like angled rooflines and large windows.

“All we want as burnouts—I hate that term—is for someone to hold our hand,” she explained, saying that Stillwater was with them every step of the way.

Bruce rattled off the factors that drew them to the company: “Faster, less waste, control the cost—we knew what it would cost up front. Faster to build and ecologically sound.” Though Bruce admitted the project was “a little bit more expensive” than some other modular offerings, he said it was “worth the investment.”

“Now, we’re getting really excited,” Carla said. On a recent weekend trip to Santa Barbara, she added, “we just talked about couches the whole time.” Carla’s Pinterest boards are overflowing with ideas as every day the house seems closer to reality. After an agonizing two-year wait, the Bates’ lot in Malibu Park has come alive with construction as their modular structures are pieced together.

In 2019, The Malibu Times began chronicling the rebuilds of four local families who lost their homes in the devastating fire. The series, “Rising From the Ashes,” last checked in with Carla and Bruce in November 2019.

“I just don’t picture us moving in before September 1 [2020],” Carla said at the time.

Now, with a garage, art studio and ADU (a one-bedroom accessory dwelling unit where Bruce’s mom will live) very recently pieced together, Carla just has to laugh.

“Well, I was right!” she said, when reminded of the quote.

The positivity surrounding the project is palpable, although the Bates family has dealt with its share of hardships in the 15 months since they were last interviewed in the series—they ran out of insurance money for living expenses in November, so their Paradise Cove rental home is now a hefty expense that will not be going away any time soon. “Paying out-of-pocket for rent hurts,” Carla said, adding that “there’s a lot of people in that situation.”

One fear from 2019 was the cost of tree removals, which the family estimated could reach $8,000-$9,000. Unfortunately, over the summer, the stately eucalyptus tree in the center of their property appeared to have died, adding another out-of-pocket expense.

The pandemic has also put a dent in their schedule.

“I think a lag really was felt after COVID hit, because they [city staff] have to do their whole operation remotely,” Carla said.

“The city’s trying very hard to help—the system is broken, that’s the problem,” Bruce said, suggesting that “what they need is to have somebody who just expedites in the city.”

Add to that cement and timber shortages caused by the virus and a week-long pause in work after two team members tested positive—both have thankfully recovered—and the Bates’ journey to this moment of optimism takes on a whole new light.

On Dec. 24, Carla posted a family photo to her social media account: The Bates family perches on a stack of lumber piled up in front of a brand new wood framed ADU, aglow in orange sunset light—all smiles. “Merry Christmas to all and we wish you all a grand 2021” Carla wrote. Next Christmas, they hope to host another family gathering—this one indoors at their new home.