Preservation Makes Perfect

Homeowners honor their home's past in an eclectic Spanish hacienda
vintage spanish tile bright color kitchen

In Geoff and Mares Northrop’s kitchen, red accent pieces add contrast to a yellow-and-blue tiled backsplash. All photography by Milan Kovacevic.

Geoff and Mary “Mares” Northrop have lived on the same sun-drenched, palm-lined Ocean Beach street for almost 30 years. Before November 2017, they lived in a cozy Spanish-style bungalow about two blocks down from their current residence. Moving up the street granted them stunning ocean views and a more spacious lot, but the Northrops were determined to bring the classic Spanish architecture and homey aura of their bungalow (and their sweet golden retriever, Gracie) with them to their new address.

spanish bungalow in san diego

The exterior of the home is a testament to the Northrop’s passions: classic Spanish features and hints of their love of whale watching.

“I grew up in La Jolla in a traditional Spanish-style house,” Geoff shares. “I have always known that I wanted to live in that type of home for the rest of my life. I also liked the idea of helping to preserve archetypal San Diego architecture in the Ocean Beach community where many of our neighbors have turned to ultra-modern houses.”

When Geoff and Mares first purchased the lot, they knew they wanted to transform the site’s older two-bedroom home into the spacious hacienda of their dreams. On the recommendation of multiple friends, they hired Marrokal Design & Remodeling and began working with a team headed by project manager George Lazorick. As the remodel progressed, project designer John Ryan and interior designer Erin Gorman also joined the team and worked closely with the Northrops to bring their vision to life.

ocean view living area in ocean beach san diego with blue kitchen cabinetry and retro tiles

The Northrop’s second-story living area affords them ocean views and coastal cross breezes.

Along with the traditional Spanish aesthetic that Geoff and Mares desired, there were other priorities. Mainly, they wanted to make the most of the property’s ideal location by placing balconies, sliding doors and windows (that are specially reinforced to block out noise from passing airplanes) to maximize ocean views and access coastal cross breezes. Secondly, but as important, was assuring the home be roomy enough to accommodate plenty of guests—plus storage and wall space for their extensive collection of inherited furnishings and artwork—but not be so large as to loom over neighboring properties.

“I inherited so many special pieces from my family and I wanted to make sure we could take advantage of them in our new home,” Mares says. “I requested that the bar counter in our kitchen be extra-low so we could use some of my antique chairs as seating there instead of bar stools.”

breakfast bar with antique chairs in an eclectic kitchen in ocean beach san diego

The kitchen’s bar counter was also made extra-long to provide plenty of elbow room for Geoff’s 6-foot-7-inch frame. His height and habit of bumping into things were problematic when they lived in the bungalow. “He’s a bit clumsy,” Mares shares fondly. “I keep a whole medicine drawer in our bathroom just for patching him up.” In this new home, special considerations were made throughout including: high ceilings and doorways; walls of smooth Santa Barbara-style stucco instead of the rough traditional version; and soft, satin-finish granite counters with rounded bullnose edges.

Focusing on comfort was very important to Geoff and Mares. They wanted their home to look and feel nice but not to the point that they and visitors would feel uncomfortable. “Overall, we really wanted our home to be welcoming and livable,” Mares says. “When people come over they ask if they should take off their shoes and I always just say, ‘Don’t sweat the small stuff. You can’t do anything worse than Gracie!’”

Luckily, the hacienda style that the Northrops wanted lends itself perfectly to the warm, durable finishes that Erin helped them select. The whole home has a very warm color palette with dark browns, creamy whites and deep oranges, greens and blues.

a couple prepares tea in an eclectic kitchen with colorful tile in an ocean beach san diego home

Geoff and Mares make tea in their eclectic kitchen.

“We brought in the hacienda style through its traditional elements—like dark stained wood, lots of hand-painted ceramic tiles, inset shelving around the fireplace in the living room and wrought-iron lighting,” Erin says.

The open-floor-plan kitchen, living and dining room on the home’s second-story is one flowing space but each area has an intimate, contained feel thanks to John’s utilization of a coved ceiling in the living room and dark, exposed beams above the dining area. The beams aid in visual separation while including the classic ceiling elements Geoff requested.

The conjoined living room features warm maple inset shelving around the fireplace, perfect for displaying antique artwork, and classic shaker-front cabinetry that hides a retractable television so as not to mar the historic look of the space.

An eye-catching wall of yellow-and-blue Spanish tilework is the centerpiece of the kitchen. Mares requested a butler’s pantry with a sink so she could tuck all her appliances and dirty dishes away at a moment’s notice. Geoff got handy floor-to-ceiling cabinets but there are also lower cabinets that have roll-out shelving for extra storage.

historic spanish style hacienda living room

A secret compartment in the cabinetry to the left of the fireplace houses a retractable television.

The master suite has glass doors opening to the balcony, which runs the length of the second story’s front. The bedroom’s location, off the left conjoined living spaces, allows the Northrops to revel in their love of natural light and sea breezes. Geoff asked for a speak-easy window (a small, semi-circular wooden window that looks purely decorative from the outside) that, when opened and coupled with an open crank window across the room, provides a perfect cross breeze.

An extensive connected master bathroom includes a free-standing tub in a tiled alcove (Mares loves to soak in the tub and contemplate the bird portrait she hung on the alcove’s wall), steam shower, heated floors and a walk-in closet. Ironically, Mares was originally uncertain about the vivid orange-and-green accent tiles in this space, but Erin convinced her to go with them and now they are her favorite tiles in the home.

A stairwell heading up from the second story leads to Geoff’s favorite part of the home, a walled rooftop patio with panoramic ocean views all the way to La Jolla’s Bird Rock neighborhood, perfect for one of his most beloved pastimes: whale watching. The home’s traditional curved Spanish roof tiles can be seen over the safety wall. Some of these tiles were recovered from Geoff’s childhood home and have been mixed in with their newer brethren to preserve another little piece of the past.

The only viewpoint higher than this patio is the deck atop the granny flat above the garage, which lies off a central, grassy courtyard that the home curls around. The granny flat has a combined kitchen and living space, bedroom and bathroom. The Northrops wanted the flat to be fully independent as a space for long-term guests. This cozy apartment, along with a suite of first-floor rooms that have a living area, bathroom, bedroom and kitchenette and extra bedrooms in the main house translate to plenty of room for family and friends to come and stay. In fact, Geoff and Mares can easily and comfortably host 10 people.

exposed beam ceiling in ocean beach san diego historic home

An exposed-beam ceiling leads the eye to glass doors that open onto a central courtyard. It features an outdoor shower that Geoff uses after a day of body surfing or romping with Gracie, their golden retriever, at dog beach.

Outside, a Spanish fountain brings the soothing sound of water to the patio’s multileveled, terraced garden where a host of Talavera pottery adds splashes of vibrant color, and Geoff’s prized possession—a giant whale-skull piece that he found on the beach in La Jolla—lends an extra wow factor to the already glorious setting.

“Everything came out exactly as we hoped it would,” Mares says. “We love having the space to welcome friends and family anytime—we’ve had relatives visiting San Diego stay with us for as long as a month. It’s wonderful to have a home that is spacious yet still very livable and inviting.

spanish style home historic preservation

Marrokal Design & Remodeling gave the Northrop’s home Spanish style.

Categories: design inspiration, Home Design