Second Time around
Dozens of windows capture expansive hillside and coastline views in a La Jolla remodel whose architectural lines suggest Cape Cod. But at 6,700 square feet, the two-story, four-bedroom/seven-bath contemporary house is anything but a cottage. Although San Diego custom builder Sean Morgan completed the massive project in just one year (and one day), the Muirlands neighborhood redux was once left at the altar after local architectural firm Marengo Morton had completed blueprints and clients had to shelve plans. A real estate broker presented the site to Sean as a “difficult” property: a 1950s home with no architectural pedigree, used as a rental and sitting on a narrow but pricy lot carved out of a steep hillside. Despite the broker’s derogatory description, Sean and an Orange County silent partner saw the obvious potential of the Cape Code plans.
“He was looking for an investment property, and I was looking for something big to build,” Sean says. Going beyond the blueprints, Sean got rid of the garage in front of the house and placed a four-car, 500-square-foot garage underneath it — a modification that required excavating 2,000 cubic yards of cliffside soil. Another added expense, which also was not part of Marengo Morton’s renderings, involved the burial of utility lines for the entire block so that the home’s second story wouldn’t be facing wires that mar the view of La Jolla Shores. But for the most part, the architectural plans were followed.
Downstairs, the footprint includes an office, a den and a great room where pillars add hominess to the expansive space. They also separate the living/dining room area from the 500-square-foot kitchen that includes a large Carrara marble top island, Sub-Zero refrigerator, farm-style sink and 48-inch Bertazzoni range.
Sean customized a barn door (made with recovered Douglas fir from the original house) between the kitchen and a family room. Laundry facilities, a large guest room and an office consume the north part of the upstairs space. The south-side master suite includes a super-size closet, a fireplace and a bathroom boasting his-and-her vanities on opposite sides of a glass-enclosed steam shower. A den, with another cozy fireplace and a brick-floor terrace facing the ocean, lies between the north and south wings.
“I was looking for something big to build.” It includes a cleverly hidden passageway that looks like a wall to guests but leads the homeowners from the den back to the master suite.
A pool, spa and lounging area lend a resort feel to the back yard. Pass-through windows provide convenience between the patio and kitchen, where those who would rather stay inside can enjoy a poolside view from six counter stools. Unifying touches include distressed white oak plank flooring, which continues the casual feel of the interiors, and exterior brick employed as decking on terraces and across the lower front of the house. The façade brick contrasts to the weather-resistant cement board siding that, to the casual observer, appears to be traditional Cape Cod wood shingles. After the project was completed, the realtors held an open house. The first people to arrive were neighbors from a street just up the hill. The couple had been watching construction and decided to take a look at the finished product. “After they were given the grand tour, they said, ‘We’ll take it,’” Sean recalls. And, they did.