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The Right Combination

Condo owners snap up one unit and then another, joining them for a grand space

TWO YEARS AGO, two busy professionals and partners in a Cortez Hill high-rise enjoyed being in the heart of downtown. The view from their 14th floor aerie was hard to beat. And the 10-year-old Discovery condominiums were built well to keep out noise from those midnight trains to Georgia and jets on the flight path to Lindbergh Field.

While attending one of Discovery’s homeowner asso-ciation meetings, Joe Belisari, a medical sales executive, and John Jenrette, a hospital administrator, learned that a 12th-floor unit had become available. Though two floors below, it featured a 1,800-square-foot, wraparound terrace to go along with sweep-ing panoramas of Pacific Beach, Point Loma, Balboa Park, North San Diego Bay and Coronado Bridge.

“We had to have that unit,” Joe says. “We made an immediate offer that was accepted. It never went on the market.”

Even with the terrace doubling the square footage of their previous unit, they felt a bit squeezed. While upscale, the condo was plagued with minimal storage space, a constrained kitchen and master bath suite, and a laundry closet in the foyer.

Then fate struck again. The unit next door hit the market, and Joe made the winning bid at a courthouse steps auction.

“Once we landed the next-door unit, we started dreaming about how fast we could combine them,” Joe says.

The partners hired b+d architecture, the firm of Todd Brazzon and Charles Danek. Having worked with Todd before, the homeowners immediately asked the architects to examine the floor plans and offer solutions to open up views and remove as many interior walls as structurally feasible, while being mindful that residents of condominium high-rises share pipes, vent stacks and more.

Additionally, Joe and John wanted an enlarged master closet and bathroom suite, a dual-cook kitchen with epicurean appliances (steam oven, warming drawers, hidden microwave and soft-water dishwasher) and a new family/game room that included a fully equipped wet bar with a Sub-Zero wine refrigeration system.

After getting plans approved by their clients, the homeowners association and the city, Todd, as lead architect, began the project in January 2011.

Design goals were to create an open, functional and warm contemporary living and enter-tainment environment. “We invite guests over four to six times a month,” Joe says. “John is a great cook, and it’s not unusual for us to have 20 guests come by.”

To create a bigger, better space, many of the interior walls were demolished, including walls of a bedroom that became the new dining room. The precious square footage gained from removing the laundry closet from the foyer was incorporated into an enlarged kitchen. And an art wall took the place of the dull, bi-fold closet door.

Walls that created a path to the living room were removed to expand views from the kitchen, where an island with tiles on three sides was created to expand food-preparation space. The island defines a circulation path to skirt walking through the kitchen to get to the public rooms.

The couple felt the hall bathroom was dingy. They gladly removed it and used the space to install a two-person steam and shower room.

The connection between the two condominiums was a challenge, Todd admits. “Though we attempted to minimize disruption to the existing building, there were a few pipes and conduit stacks that had to be relocated,” he says. “Thankfully, new glass mosaic-clad walls hid all the remaining vertical piping and stacks.”

The remodel involved a floor-to-ceiling makeover. The project team opened the space between the units as widely as possible to create the feeling of one large, continuous space. “Now that it is done, very few first-time visitors realize we joined two units,” Joe says.

To create that unifying flow between units, Design Advice Studio interior designer Lauren Jenrette (John’s daughter) focused heavily on modern lighting and glass-tile walls. The project was completed in five months, despite some bureaucratic red tape.

Early on, the architects learned that the city regards high-rise condo remodels as commercial tenant improve-ments instead of residential units.

“We had to convince them the fire exits were more than adequate for a smaller number of homeowners,” Todd says. “The city at first required many safety features that were needed to evacuate a large number of office employees in the site. We were able to show two persons were living in the condo and it wasn’t an office of 45 persons.”

Joe and John find their new home a joy, with the most notable exclamation point being the commanding view at sunset from the southwest corner. They’re no longer enticed by the housing market — at Discovery or elsewhere.

“We’re done,” Joe says. “We’ll happily retire here.”

Homes: By Thomas Shess • Photography by Martin Mann

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