Set near the top of a steep bluff on a narrow lot with spectacular views of the ever-changing color
palette of sky and sea, a San Diego home is a testament to function over form.
Because of the slope, there’s little to view from the street — only a sturdy driveway leading to this modern aerie. But nearer the entry of the three-level home, a peaceful waterfall emerges. Trickling over individually cut Apache Cloud flagstones, the water feature visually speaks volumes, especially when lit at night.
Surprises abound in this nearly 7,000-square-foot contem- porary that is custom designed down to the cantilevered legs of an 850-pound dining room table.
Homeowners Stephen and Suzanne gave Art Harris, the project’s architect and builder, free reign to embellish their ideas.
“Right from our first meeting, I knew this was going to be a special ride. They both had done a lot of research work prior to our meeting,” says Art, who bases his AJH Construction firm in La Mesa. “Usually I ask the client to start a photo album of pictures that might express their dreams for their new home. But they had already started one — what a great surprise.”
A world-class scientist, Stephen had delineated in specific detail the architecture and natural feel he wanted on one of the last coastal empty lots in San Diego. Suzanne downplayed her creative role, insisting she’d be happy with two things: a laundry chute and a gift-wrapping station. She got more — a lot more.
During two years of designing and acquiring building permits, Art gained an understanding for what Stephen and Suzanne liked and disliked about places where they had lived before and what they wanted from their home on a daily basis.
The couple’s detailed criteria included no boxy spaces, ocean views from every room, smooth traffic flow that would be the envy of any flight controller and meeting LEED specifications for all energy usage.
The trio collaboratively chose structural elements of the house, such as the bluish stacked flagstone throughout and thick planks of imported bubinga, a nonendangered, rosewood-like hardwood common to equatorial Africa. The planks were hand tooled into a show-stopping collection that encompasses the kitchen bar, dining room table and breakfast nook — and two electric guitars. The bubinga, which was special ordered from Africa, measured 6 feet wide by 26 feet long.
For choosing interior furnish- ings, Art suggested bringing in interior designer Janine Thierry Brown.
“Janine did a fantastic con- sulting job that saved us count- less hours in choosing the right materials, furnishings and colors for the home, as well as having furniture made,” Suzanne says. “Since both she and Art had raised families, they brought endless insight into the subtleties that make a house a home that’s functional to live in.”
Janine was tasked with com- plementing the modern archi- tecture with furnishings. She chose fabrics mostly from com- panies under the Kravet label.
“I worked the lines and curves of the house to repeat in the furniture,” she says. “Also, the large use of rich red-browns in the cabinetry and kitchen countertop warmed up the interior.”
Art, Janine, Stephen and Suzanne met three to four times a week for several months before construction began.
“From these brainstorming sessions, I learned that Suzanne really wanted a laundry chute, which turned out to be the most difficult item to design because it had to be invisible and have access to all three floors,” Art says.
The discussions produced creative surprises, like having the front door made of Torrey pine acquired from a licensed broker who deals in naturally fallen trees, a large video screen that lowers from a hidden niche in the ceiling and radiant heating beneath the sapele flooring.
The planning sessions also produced seven fireplaces (four inside and one on each terrace); four bedrooms with ocean views; seven bathrooms with different stone-tile flooring and granite countertops; two laundry rooms, including one off the master suite; cantilevered stairs; and an entry waterfall designed by Art with green, hand-cut crystalline from New Mexico.
The 4,400-square-foot middle level is a triumph of Art’s free- form contemporary design.
“This area, especially the kitchen area, went through many conceptual designs,” he says. “We had to make it pretty and extremely functional for both entertaining and daily living.”
The expansive space connects with a powder room and a bed- room — designed to serve as a self-contained guest suite
with a private entrance, mini kitchenette and balcony.
Windows dominate the south and west sides of the great room. When the couple wishes to enjoy sea breezes, they can electronically open 18-foot sliders. “That is our air conditioning!” Stephen says.
Next to the large custom dining room table, sapele cabinet doors open to reveal storage for 10 table leaves. Tall cabinetry throughout also hides electronic components and the entry to the 400-bottle wine room.
A massive backlit wall of onyx creates a dramatic backdrop for viewing the iron wine racks behind a wall of glass. Another large slab of onyx is installed over the fireplace in lieu of the traditional painting.
An accomplished chef, Stephen enjoys his own cooking zone, which allows him easy access to the stove, refrigerators, sink and a large granite-topped island for preparing meals. The area on the other side of the island is for guests.
“They have their own space that does not encroach while I’m getting dinner ready,” he says. “The third zone is a combination of the bar area, where guests can sit and talk to me while others can be working around the center island. This keeps everyone together.”
The kitchen design includes a separate area where Suzanne can show off her pastry-baking talent, so they can work simul- taneously without getting in each other’s way.Making the kitchen a chef’s delight are Thermador appliances and Miele built-in coffee maker, microwave and warming drawer.
“The sheer number of cabinets throughout the home was a big design issue for them,” Art says. “They wanted every inch usable.” As a result, kitchen cabinets soar to 11 feet. To reach upper shelves, Art designed a library ladder that can be pulled
from a hidden space in the kitchen. But it’s the lighting that catches the eye.
“In every home I get to design and build, I try to give the client something special and unique,” Art says. “Because I have been blowing art glass for 15 years, I made all the drop lighting for the kitchen and the chandelier for the main powder room.”
The 2,500-square-foot lower level includes the garage, an exercise room, a laundry room, a walk-in cedar closet and a bonus room with a full bath. The bonus room has a wall bed for guests and a craft and sewing area.Upstairs are three bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. The southwest corner became the master suite.
“As a child I used to lie on the carpet by the windows where the sun came in to nap in the afternoon, and I wanted a more comfortable version of that,” Suzanne says. “As it turned out, Stephen used to do the same thing as a child.”
Taking that cue, Art and Janine fashioned a large chaise in a corner nook, where the couple can read or nap or lazily take in the sky, the sun and the sea.
By Thomas Shess
For more photos from this Home of the Year feature, check it out in our digital edition.
One can only imagine what the neighbors thought when nine big rigs showed up at a residential plot in La Jolla. In 48 hours, they saw something even more curious: the structure of a house composed of modules built in Utah, trucked to California and lifted into place with a crane. The homeowners — architect Heather Johnston and her husband, environmental engineer David Dickins —call the domicile “Casabrava.”
“Venturing into unknown territory, we felt we needed to be brave,” Heather says. “I have been practicing architecture over 25 years, and there are always the same questions asked by clients: why it takes so long and costs so much. So we looked at ways to answer those questions and decided to try a modular approach ourselves — to really see where to get efficiencies in terms of everythingfrom the site to framing and finishing.”
Before Heather and David could recognize efficiencies, however, they underwent a three-year coastal permitting process to replace the buildings on their one-thirdacre site: a beach cottage from the 1920s that, according to Heather, “had been badly remodeled” and a garage that had been converted into a rental unit. In the teardown, building materials and appliances were sent where they could be recycled or reused, including to Habitat for Humanity.
“On April 1, 2012, in the factory, the modules started to be built; and the same date here we began deconstruction and site preparation. So you see the efficiencies in the piggybacking of building in two locations,” Heather says. She handed her design to the factory and worked with them to determine how the house could be manufactured in rectangles no wider than 14 feet 9 inches and no longer than 60 feet so it could be transported by semi-trailer and fit under bridges. During the four months prior to delivery, Heather and David got footings poured and lined up permits for their 4,100-square-foot residence.
“People think of modular as, ‘Oh, trailers.’ It’s important to note this meets all the codes, just like any site-built home,” Heather says. “Our contract was for them to deliver the modules with drywall only. I wanted to be sure the finishes were installed to our very high standards. I have built up a lot of great relationships with local suppliers, and I wanted to be sure to involve them in this very exciting project.”
Homes of the Year judge Scot Frontis commends the “interesting use of forms that inspire movement throughout the house. It’s a good example of prefab construction that doesn’t look prefab.”
“I do work that reflects our times and doesn’t look like another era or another country,” Heather notes. “I wanted it to look like a modern house in the United States. Every finish had to be great inside and outside, easy to clean and installed through high tolerances.”
The couple chose Western red cedar for a curvaceous ceiling, soffits and outdoor deck and siding. “It’s beautiful, is rot- and
insect-resistant and does well in a marine environment,” Heather says. For flooring, they opted for hard white Canadian maple and Italian porcelain tile with 1/16th-inch joints for a polished finish. “It looks like Carrera marble,” Heather says.That look was created by printing a photograph of Carrera marble onto the porcelain. Heather also used closely spaced Italian porcelain tile in the bathroom, but in watery turquoise hues. “I haven’t been able to find those jewel-like colors anywhere else,” she says. And in keeping with the sleek, contemporary look, the kitchen features Caesarstone and Silestone countertops and high-glaze, white laminate cabinets with a shot of translucent magenta film.
“One of the things we can do as architects and being our own clients is try things that might be more difficult to convince a client to do,” Heather says. “Bright color, if done right, has a dynamic effect.” The pivoting front door, which is 4 feet wide by 8 feet tall, looks like mahogany, but is fiberglass, which will better stand up to the marine environment. Other doors and windows are low-E, dual- glazed glass. “We try to have operable openings in all sides of a room,” Heather says. “All sliders, if they don’t go all the way to the ceiling, will have an operational transom. Cross-ventilation is the key to a livable interior environment.”
Judge Richard Gatling comments on Heather’s smart design: “The strong horizontal planes of the deck, overhangs and rooflines effectively expand and lighten the feeling of this house. ... The thoughtful balance between materials and colors on the exterior carries through to the interior.” Casabrava’s upper level comprises a guest bedroom and a large office that could be divided into two rooms, each with decks joined by a walkway. The first floor encompasses the main living areas: the master suite and deck, living room, kitchen, dining room, three-car garage and two courtyards.
“The courtyards become outdoor rooms that work with the landscape,” Heather says. “Outside the master bedroom is grass, which provides movement and is a wonderful counterpoint to the succulents. The landscape becomes part of the architecture.” As judge
Jennifer Bolyn notes, “It is a pleasure to see experimentation in technology, especially when it is executed in such a nicely crafted and detailed manner.”
For more photos from this Home of the Year feature, check it out in our digital edition.