37th Homes of the Year: Jimmy Sullivan - Making Connections

An architect and his clients find links in a Hillcrest property — in more ways than one



When Jimmy Sullivan was attending NewSchool of Architecture + Design, he would ride his bicycle past a house being built in Hillcrest. He even stopped to talk with the architect who was building the house for his family. Little could Jimmy have suspected that, some 15 years later, his redesign of that house would be a Homes of the Year winner.

Making the victory sweeter still, home-owners Darin Osborne and Mike Sparaco were among his first clients when, following several years practicing in San Francisco, he returned to San Diego and opened CitiZen Design Studio in 2008.

“Darin and Mike had bought a penthouse in the East Village,” Jimmy recalls of a second home for the couple, who owned a house and an AlphaGraphics franchise in Arizona. The couple made a reverse move there concurrent with their transition from an East Village penthouse to a Hillcrest house.

“We went from a home with a pool in Paradise Valley to a high rise in Phoenix to make that life easier,” Darin explains. “I said, ‘I am only going to manage one house and one pool.’

“We love San Diego. It’s a real escape for us,” he continues, noting that he flies here for three or four days a week, and both he and Mike visit at least a couple of times a month.

“We loved what Jimmy had done down-town, but we wanted a house with a pool and wanted to be in the heart of Hillcrest,” Darin says. In 2010, they were driving through the area with a real estate agent when they saw a house “in the right part of the neighborhood and with the right look.”

“We drove by it every time we came to Hillcrest,” Mike adds. Nine months after first spotting it, the real estate agent informed them the house was about to go on the market. Within a week, they made an offer.

“They were happy with the large lot size and lines of the home, but the exterior finishes and floor plan did not work for their aesthetic,” Jimmy says. “There was no relationship with the outside.”

The house sits sideways on the west side of the property. The addition of a canopy extending from the entry across the front of the property not only lends the home greater street presence, but also created an anchor for shading a seating area on the other side of the translucent glass wall.  

With the addition of floor-to-ceiling glass doors along the east-facing façade, the vast side yard — now with a pool/spa, outdoor dining deck and multiple seating areas — has become a core element of the home.

“Before, there was a patch of green grass and no sliders; there was one door to get out,” Darin says. “That is the first thing we said we wanted to have: the outside as a product of the interior.”

“Another important goal was to make the home not just beautiful and functional, but also sustainable for the 21st century,” Jimmy adds. The net-zero property includes solar panels; a smart-home automation system; automated skylights; LED lighting; bamboo flooring on the second level; a solar-heated, saltwater swimming pool; and drought-tolerant landscaping.

Jimmy opened up the floor plan so that the living room, kitchen and lounge/media area flow as one large space from front to back. Although the flooring throughout this area is commercial-grade porcelain in three shades of gray to resemble concrete, highly textured area rugs, walnut wood in the floating staircase and kitchen, and strategically placed down lighting that can be programmed for white or colored light warm the crispness in design.

“The kitchen ceiling was a challenge, because existing plumbing was cost prohibitive to move,” Jimmy says. “The solution was to pitch the ceiling.”

The Bulthaup kitchen encompasses a stainless steel island top, quartz countertops, aluminum-front appliances, a glass back-splash, Gaggenau full-service induction cooktop and open shelving for a sleek look.

Michael Borrelli custom crafted the walnut ceiling over the kitchen, the stairs and the cabinetry throughout the rest of the house. In the living room, his work includes an aquarium that replaced a wood-burning fireplace that Darin and Mike seldom used.

Both ends of the ground floor feature panels designed by Darin and Mike and made at AlphaGraphics. In front, laser-cut panels slide across windows to divert light and provide privacy. Behind the media lounge, frosted acrylic was printed in shades of green, cut into strips and mounted in stainless steel to create vertical louvers. Behind the media area lies a bathroom and, to the right, a guest bedroom.

At the top of the stairs is the part of the house that Jimmy recalls set the whole-house remodel gears in motion.

“This project started when Darin called me: ‘Say, Jimmy, we just bought this house. We are thinking of putting in a pool and maybe redoing the home office.’”

“Then we decided the rest of the house demanded matching,” Darin says with obvious amusement.

Beyond the office, to the front of the house, they opted for a decidedly uncon-ventional treatment to a master suite. On prominent display is a small-room-sized steam room/shower with clear glass on the two longest sides. Lined with fossilized quartz, this luxurious amenity offers rain shower/waterfall options, a full mister, steam shower, chromatherapy and aromatherapy.

The quartz continues as flooring throughout the bathroom area and into the “closet” — a doorless section with ebony custom cabinetry behind an AlphaGraphics wall that doubles as a massive headboard behind the bed. A recessed mirror base gives the underlit, ebony bed plat-form the appearance of floating.

“This,” Darin says of the printed acrylic, “was one image [of trees] that we bought on Getty and kept cutting apart and manipulating to get the density of the branches just right.”

Past the office toward the back of the house is a laundry area with a stackable washer/dryer closet and a sink vanity.

“We wanted it to look like a wet bar,” Darin says. Indeed, the only giveaway is that where a cocktail shaker and ice bucket might sit resides a trio of glass jars filled with laundry detergent pods.

The second-floor guest room sports a new balcony overlooking the green roof of the first-floor guest room and the pool/deck side yard. This room’s other added attraction is a loft edged by a glass front punctuated with circular cutouts. “We call it ‘the incubator,’” Darin says with a laugh.

Outside, the showcase element is a concrete dining table with an integrated fountain whose cantilevered lines bring to mind a diving board. Jimmy designed the table, which complements a fire pit with large glazed balls, but credits Adam Smith for the execution of both.

A color scheme of aqua and green in chair cushions, pillows and drought-tolerant plantings enhances the serenity of the outdoor setting.

Jimmy bonded the side yard to the house with a generous use of ipe: as decking, fencing, shade covering, the upper-level façade and the underside of the upper-level overhang.

As Homes of the Year judge Steven Florman notes, Jimmy’s redesign of a structure he admired years ago clearly achieved an essential goal:

“The interior and exterior speak of the same object and space. The spacial relation-ships, forms and details are choreographed beautifully.”

 

 

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