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Solid Space

Fusing London flats and San Diego geology into a Mission Hills masterpiece


AFTER ATTENDING USC ARCHITECTURE SCHOOL, 20-year-old Coronado native Patrick McInerney moved to London in 1990, intending to stay only a year. He ended up establishing a family and designing houses in England, returning to San Diego with a wife and two children in 2007. The sharp-edged, angular house he designed and completed for his family in Mission Hills in 2012 looks nothing like the tall and narrow Georgian houses that he upgraded and modernized in Europe. But it is definitely a fusion of the Old World and the new.


“In Europe, where we worked with old buildings, there was a tension created between a new interior and the original exterior,” he explains. “You started with half a sentence. Here, you have to start with a whole new sentence.”
McInerney knew he wanted to incorporate the 12-foot ceilings from the flats he occupied in London, where narrow row houseswere tied together in “horizontal extensions” by knocking down walls to make long apartments on the first, second or third levels. In San Diego, the ends of long, horizontal spaces could be made into outdoor terraces. “But here, I don’t have that existing older context,” he says. “How do I create the dynamic, which isn’t necessarily a contrast, between outside/inside?”


Mission Hills houses are so eclectic — early Craftsman, Victorian, Spanish Colonial, Mission Revival, mongrel — they couldn’t provide a coherent context, a continuity from which McInerney could draw. “What do I respond to?” he wondered. “What’s the first word of the new sentence?


“I had to create the story,” he says. “I needed a metaphor to get into this, and the truest place to look was nature.” It hit him one day as he and his wife were hiking in Torrey Pines State Park. Cobbles. Sand. Smooth hillsides, rough gulches. Geology. Bingo.


They bought a Colonial-style house overlooking Mission Valley and tore it down. The 8,000-square-foot lot sloped toward the valley. McInerney used colored paper cubes — he calls them “volumes” — to represent sections of the imaginary 5,000-square-foot house containing the kitchen, living/family room, two children’s bedrooms, a master suite, a studio where he could work on designing fashion boutiques in China and galleries and homes in Europe and a garage. Looking up toward one of two terraces from a rectangular, British-style patch of lawn outside his lower-level studio, McInerney points out how the lava-stone flooring used on the veranda and throughout the house folds downward onto the outside back wall. “Geology again,” he observes.


“Rocks” turned out to be the first word of the new sentence he drew from San Diego’s topography. The house ended up being four main volumes, which he pictures as rocks in a sandy trail. Pulverized rock produced the smooth, light gray stucco exterior, and powdered rock became the massive white plaster walls of the interior — the same plaster used to line the galleries of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. He left the walls blank and unpainted because “paint would neutralize them, make them flat, take away the depth.” He also eliminated protruding switch plates and those ubiquitous plastic, metal or wood coverings around wall sockets, which he’s always hated.
This subtle elimination and the banishment of color creates a surprisingly warm and softly enveloping feeling inside the soaring white rooms. As the sun moves over the flat roof, the floor-to-ceiling glass windows and doors usher in subtly changing colors of light throughout the day, giving the walls a cornflower bluish tinge in the forenoon, shifting to buttery topaz as the day progresses.


“I design for the back of the brain, not the front,” McInerney says. “I want the home to be a settling place where your mind and body relax with a calming palette of colors. It’s 15 things all coming together subliminally into a subtle, continually revealing sense of peace with nature.”

Homes: By Neal Matthews • Photography by David Harrison

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