A Breath of Fresh Air

A design team gives a young couple "something really different" in Encinitas



Pablo Mason

The raw-edged granite walk- way over a grid-tiled pool of water leading to a glass-fronted tower with a 4-by-8-foot pivot door more than hints of interior grandeur. But even the door with a slab of suar wood framed in mahogany does not quite prepare one for the gallery that begins under a 22-foot ceiling, from which hangs a quintet of Tom Dixon Mirror Ball lights.

Although artworks lining the grand entry hall beckon, the exterior-to-interior columns of travertine demand attention. Because the planks were too narrow for the scale of the house, they were matched with precise attention to color variations to appear wider than they are.

“We had the mason miter the edges between the paired planks to complete the visual effect,” points out Fred Gemmell, whose Matrix Design Studio formulated all the architectural and interior design on the Encinitas home. Matrix architect Lauren Williams served as the “driver” of the project, he says, while Nico Gemmell Wallace curated the artwork.

“The homeowners had initial ideas on design, but they were very open. They’re young and enthusiastic and wanted some-thing really different,” Lauren says. “Initially, the house was going to be a lot smaller. But once we got into the design process, they discovered more things they wanted. We started talking about how they live. They love to entertain and have a lot of friends over, which had an impact on the design.”

Nico worked closely with the couple to “reflect their emerging taste in art,” she says. Large-scale images of nature by local photographers David Fokos and Aaron Chang line the entry gallery. A wall sculpture assembled from pointy pieces of steel and powder-coated black — the work of former San Diegan Matt Devine — contrasts with the frameless, printed-acrylic imagery and the two-sided, built-in aquarium.

To the left at the end of the entry hall lies the game room, so called because this is where the homeowners — avid sports fans — watch games on five TV screens above custom subwoofers/speakers built into a wall of koa (the wood chosen in part because the homeowners also love Hawaii). The leather Roche Bobois sectional with motorized back and foot rests offers theater-like seating. A thickly napped area rug on the Jerusalem bone limestone flooring adds more comfort to the arrangement.

Another koa wall — this one serving as the back of the bar, where bottle-lined shelves surround another television — bookends the room. Gem-quality white quartz tops the gray PentalQuartz island bar, in front of which sits a bar-height table.

“Our clients wanted to make sure there was plenty of room for their friends,” Lauren says. “The game room can easily seat 20 people.”

A whiskey room adjacent to the bar contains shelves of premium whiskeys and other spirits.

“We typically do wine rooms,” Lauren says. “Our clients felt like they had to have one for resale value, but weren’t crazy about it. Once we started calling it ‘the whiskey room,’ they got enthused.”

Because there are a lot of hard surfaces in the house, Matrix Design Studio gave the soffit ceiling an acoustical touch with ribbed mahogany. This inset makes a visual impact as well, especially by way of its customized lighting assemblage of Artemide’s Mercury “pebbles.” A trio of smaller, suspended pebbles shine light up to bounce off the chrome finish.

As beautiful as the room is by itself, there’s no ignoring the view across an infinity-edge pool and out to the ocean. Sapele-framed pocket doors open across the expanse, as well as on either side of the bar, leaving the illusion that the bar back alone supports the second story.

“When the doors are open, there’s no corner structure. The house is cantilevered out with steel,” Fred explains. 

“It was a structural feat, because the master bath sits over that corner,” Lauren says. “But it was an important design feature that everybody got excited about. If you have a big door system that is capped on the end, it still feels like a doorway. When we got rid of a corner structure, it opened up the view to the north toward the garden.”

The open ends also make visible the casita, which mirrors the open corner and which encompasses an exercise room, oversized steam shower, full bathroom and laundry facilities.

On the other side of the game room lies a large space that includes a family room, dining room and kitchen. On this side of the wall dividing the two spaces, koa sits atop and frames three side-by-side TV screens. The façade of the fireplace below is book-matched Seafoam quartzite over a PentalQuartz base. 

Furnished with a Freeform sectional upholstered in a viscose/linen/cotton and a shag area rug, the family room offers casual comfort. Overhead is a smaller assemblage of Mercury light pebbles installed on another ribbed-mahogany ceiling. 

Seafoam quartzite tops the kitchen island, whose koa base sets off the glossy white, acrylic cabinetry and white-glass Miele appliances, which include two standard ovens, a steam oven and a micro-convection oven.

Matrix Design Studio created the dining room table with a live-edge suar slab from the David Alan Collection in Solana Beach. Suspended over it are three more Mirror Ball lights.

Pocket doors open to a covered patio with a large seating group for alfresco relaxation and an outdoor dining table. A staircase along the back of the house leads to a roof garden planted with succulents and a glass- walled patio offering ocean views. The space, which includes a travertine fire pit, also affords a view of the lot below purchased by the homeowners to preserve space surrounding their house.

Other rooms on the main level include a guest suite with an indoor/outdoor shower, a powder room, laundry room, and his-and-her offices divided by a hallway and bathroom.

The staircase is a work of art on its own, with underlit Jerusalem bone limestone treads, koa risers, and a mahogany handrail and baseboard.

At the top of the stairs to the left lies an open playroom for the homeowners’ 3-year-old son. To the right, a glass wall affords an eye-level view of the entry chandelier and views out upper-level windows. 

The master suite at the end of the hall-way again features a ribbed-mahogany ceiling, but hip-vaulted to “bring in as much volume as possible,” Lauren says.

The bedroom also echoes the lower-level’s use of koa: as a wall behind the bed and in custom cabinetry. Along the wall opposite the bed are a Taj Mahal quartzite-faced fireplace and two painted-glass panels — the work of Fred Gemmell — that slide together to hide a large TV screen. (Fred was one of San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles’ 2012 Stars of San Diego.)

“The homeowners expressed that they would like a piece by Fred and took our guidance on where to put it,” Nico says.

 “They also expressed that they really loved having separate dressing areas and bathrooms,” Lauren adds. Hers features a herringbone-laid marble floor; light gray, solid acrylic cabinetry; a custom mirror with integrated lighting; and a tub wrapped in white marble set in front of a window with a view to the ocean. In black and white, his bathroom includes an Italian porcelain tile floor, leather-finish Virginia black granite countertop and indoor/outdoor shower with a Rainforest Green granite wall.

As large as the house is, it retains a comfortable feel. 

“One of the biggest factors in the design was that our clients didn’t want an imposing house on top of a hill,” Lauren says.

“We take care to not just make a big cube and fill it with the pieces. We like to create layers of texture and form.

“It’s a nice surprise when you come into the house and discover what every volume is,” she continues. “We wanted it to feel like a new idea.”

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