A Fresh Approach
Designer John McCulley and landscape architect Marcie Harris created multiple levels and spaces to relax around the outside of the house. Glass pocket doors on the sides of the dining pavilion can be closed to offer protection from cool ocean breezes without blocking views.
On a recent sunny day, vases of orange gerberas, chartreuse hydrangeas and yellow tulips splashed cheerful color throughout Ken Baca’s refined contemporary residence in Del Mar. Bouquets first blossomed in his life in the 1970s, when the native Californian bought cut flowers from North County growers to sell to florists and other retailers. That business evolved into Kendal Floral Supply, which distributes fresh flowers to clients all along the West Coast. Ken’s devotion to a modern minimalism aesthetic is deep rooted as well. “In my life, there’s disorder everywhere — kids, business, you name it,” he says. “I like contemporary. I like simple. I like uncluttered. I find it soothing and relaxing.” Five years ago, Ken bought his residence to be close to Del Mar’s walkable village and surfing beaches but removed from its bustling thoroughfare. The contemporary bones of the low-slung, oceanview house appealed to him. But over time, he dis-covered, “Although it looked good, it just didn’t feel good.”
A self-taught chef who collects cook-books and fine wine, Ken especially dis-liked feeling isolated from his guests when he and his partner, Isabelle Guy, entertain. He had a kitchen remodel in mind, but expanded the makeover to the entire house and landscape after conversations with John McCulley of McCulley Design Lab and John’s frequent collaborator, landscape architect Marcie Harris. “I realized that John and Marcie could bring this property up to what it could be,” Ken says. “I decided to do it all and do it right.” With the three-year-long renovation complete, the home’s airy interiors flow seamlessly onto welcoming terraces, spacious patios and a new outdoor kitchen and dining pavilion. From every room, verdant, color-flecked gardens beckon, all in the sheltering embrace of a decades-old Moreton Bay fig tree (Ficus macrophylla), its long limbs laced into a towering, living sculpture.
Inside and out, there’s unity in the shared palette of neutrals (gray, white and black) and sensuous materials (polished marbles, glossy laminates and warm woods). Furnishings range from mid-century Knoll classics to sleek pieces that John designed to mix easily with Ken’s curated art and collectibles from around the world.
Visiting friends and family are now greeted by a contemporary entry garden that replaced lawn, flowerbeds and an ungainly eucalyptus tree. Feathery cassia and two varieties of ornamental grass lap at the driveway and pewter gray privacy wall, “replacing stark, hard edges with softness and texture,” Marcie says. Seasonal color flares from hesperaloe, steel blue agave and aloe rosettes. Past a serene granite fountain with floating water lilies and swaying papyrus, stairs climb to the multilevel, tiled terraces that stretch across the front of the house. Built-in planters and stylish Atelier Vierkant containers overflow with dinner plate aeonium, ‘Golden Sword’ yucca, ‘Blue Glow’ agave and other bold succulents, some mulched with smooth Mexican beach pebbles.
“I wanted variety and elements of sur-prise to keep this area interesting, but not chaotic,” Marcie says. Along the terraces, French, folding and pivot doors open to invite ocean views and breezes into the home’s reconfigured public rooms, divided by a bright hallway and watched over by an antique Cambodian guardian figure. On one side, adjacent to the updated kitchen, lies a spacious dining room created when walls for a home office just inside the front door came down. “They blocked one of the best ocean views in the house,” John says. “Often what’s most important isn’t what you add, but what you take away.”
When Ken fires up his new Thermador range top, he overlooks a gleaming white, custom dining table that seats 10 and a sleek Calacatta marble-topped buffet. Across the hall, the former dining room is now a relaxed sunken living room where a wall of folding doors opens to the Endless exercise pool and garden — all easily viewed from Ken’s kitchen perch. Steps away from the kitchen’s built-in Miele appliances, a new pantry and wine chiller, folding doors glide open to a new outdoor kitchen deck where a Lynx grill is housed in a black steel and Caesarstone counter that had to be craned into place. “It makes sense to have the kitchens next to each other,” Ken says. “These are beautiful, functional spaces where everyone likes to congregate.”
Another favorite gathering place is the outdoor dining pavilion nestled between the pool and lower terrace. A custom, white quartz-topped table and leatherlike Knoll chairs are centered beneath a black steel pergola that John designed with pocket doors on two sides to shield the space from wind and ocean breezes. To encourage alfresco conversations after dinner, Marcie added a fire pit and seating nearby, in the sloped garden that fills the secluded south side of the property. “I envisioned a haven here,” she says of the garden’s soft-hued westringia, flax lilies, ‘Blue Pacific’ junipers and dymondia accented with fragrant ‘India’ plumeria. All thrive in the dappled light of the Moreton Bay fig, its sinuous, above-ground roots carpeted with emerald Korean grass and encircled by a stone wall. Along the rear of the home, past the spa and deck outside the master bedroom, the garden takes on a Zen quality as the property’s ficus privacy hedge gives way to a wall of golden bamboo.
Caribbean copper trees, purple iris, lily turf and wine-leaf glow next to another granite fountain, all visible from the master shower and new soak tub and the entry to the new, freestanding, white cedar dry sauna. “Our goal,” John says, “was the feel of a private suite in a boutique hotel.” Music plays here and throughout the home and garden via a sophisticated audio system housed in the home’s music room, once a little-used formal living room and now one of Ken’s favorites interior spaces. He and Isabelle often relax on the comfortable chaises here in the warm glow of a wood-burning fireplace. “The house now works when there are just two people here or when there’s a large party,” Ken says. “It all feels good.”