Adaptable design defines a home redo
When guests arrived to view the completion of architect Mark Morris’ remodeled North Pacific Beach home, he charged a quirky corkage fee to attend the celebration — a “toll” that was dropped into a glass-panel wall adjacent to the staircase leading to the second-floor addition.
“As a housewarming gift, we asked guests to bring corks,” he explains. “They wrote their name and the date on the cork; and when they toured the house, they got on a stepladder at the stair landing and dropped their corks into holes installed in the framing at the top of the glass wall. Since then, on other special occasions, we’ve done the same thing. The cork wall is one of the coolest features of the house.”
It’s not just the staircase’s wall that breaks through the ordinary. The risers are mementos of a voyage that Mark and his fiancée, Mary Gonzalez, took through Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.
“We took our favorite photos of the trip, had them printed in black and white, cut them into strips and then took them and the stair risers to Chrome and Digital downtown,” Mark says. “They have a flatbed printer that prints onto wood. Each riser has a piece of one photo so that the overall image can be seen as you look up the stairs to the landing. The top flight of stairs is the Grand Palace in Bangkok. Another flight has the temple of Ta Prohm in Cambodia. Each stair flight has a different photo.”
Using an everyday space like a stairway as an opportunity to create a personalized site characterizes much of Mark’s design. Another hallmark is flexibility. Rooms and outside areas of this 1958 home aren’t pigeonholed to be one certain thing. Spaces have their own character and were created for a variety of possibilities — for how they are employed now and for how they might be repurposed in the future.
“Downstairs is super cozy,” Mark says. “When you come into the house from the front door, you enter directly into the living space. You’re not sure if it is a living room, sitting room, media room or bar, but it looks useful. The idea of a separated living/dining room is lost, but it has a great-room feel.”
The free-flowing kitchen connects with the living area via a breakfast table that circles its way from the living room to the cook’s space. The table is a cheery orange, as are an accent wall by the refrigerator and a backsplash wall of painted glass by the stove. Flat-slab, high-gloss drawers and cabinets in neutral tan abound. To maintain privacy from the neighbors, cabinets by the sink window are installed at a low height. A wall just outside the sink window keeps fresh herbs handy.
Beyond the kitchen, down a hallway, lie two guest bedrooms; two bathrooms; and a new master suite that connects to
a covered patio by the pool.
“You can create whatever atmosphere you want in the back yard,” Mark says. “It’s a small space, but it has compart-mentalized areas. You can relax on an Adirondack chair underneath the canopy of an old coral tree that’s lit at night. You can put a butcher-block table out there and have an alfresco dinner. You can have a conversation on the sectional at the terrace adjacent to the patio. Or you can enjoy the 16-foot Jacuzzi that acts as a little plunge pool. A fire pit generates a lot of heat, so it’s not uncomfortable to be outside when the weather is a bit chilly.”
Besides the collection of landscape spaces, the new roof-top deck — where one can catch a glimpse of ocean beyond palm trees — encourages relaxing outdoors. A bar counter joins forces with a comfy sectional to provide the perfect spot for morning coffee or an evening rendezvous with the sunset.
“The idea was to open the house up and bring in a lot of light and air flow,” Mark says. “Each room has an indoor/outdoor feel. There are patios on both sides of the house that provide opportunities to go outdoors any time of the year. The east patio off the living room provides sun protection in the summer. The kitchen opens to a barbecue patio that gets a lot of sun and is perfect in the winter months.”
There’s also an upper terrace on the second level, where the floor does double duty as the pool area’s ceiling. One can gaze at activities going on down below through a trio of skylights that have glass tough enough for dancing.
“I love how each space has its own feeling,” Mark says. “Upstairs is bright and cheerful. The main room there gets flooded with light throughout the day. It has a big glass wall that looks out onto the terrace. Coastal breezes come through, and landscaping becomes a backdrop for the room. When you’re on the second floor, you feel like you are on vacation somewhere.”
The original intent of adding a second story was to create a studio space for Mark with a bathroom and a conference room. But when he decided to renew the lease at his within-walking-distance office, he no longer needed an at-home studio.
So for now, Mary’s two teenage sons or guests use the upstairs space when they visit. At some point, with the wet bar used as a mini-kitchen, the area could become a one-bedroom apartment for Mark’s mother.
“No matter what happens, the home’s design works,” Mark says. “It’s a flexible house.”