This one was a little out of the box for us,” designer Brooke Wagner says of a Corona del Mar residence she recently completed. “It’s more formal than most of the coastal houses we do.” That only tells part of the story, because not only did Wagner’s client task her with creating a stylish abode, but she also asked for something else—for Wagner to create a dream home that took into consideration her young twins.
Built in 1969 and positioned on a quiet cul-de-sac, the house had an unusually large backyard for the area, which sold the owner on the property. “I chose this lot versus an ocean view because there’s room to ride bikes, swim and play,” she says. Though the lot might have been top-notch, the existing home was anything but, so she turned to architect Christian R. Light and builders and brothers Don McKeehan and Dick McKeehan to give the place an extensive overhaul, turning something dated into a contemporary home that respected the neighborhood’s scale while satisfying the owner’s needs.
“She requested crisp, clean spaces,” Light says. “The existing plan was dark and uninviting.” Taking the house down to the studs allowed the architect to maintain the footprint while reorganizing rooms for “flow, natural light and casual comfortable living.” Adds Don McKeehan, “It’s always a challenge to create clean lines and details within the confines of an older existing structure.” Light also oriented rooms to take better advantage of the outdoor spaces, including a loggia, pool, entertaining pavilion and playhouse, so the living and dining rooms became the great room, the kitchen became the dining room, and the family room became the kitchen and nook.
Inside, the client, who had taken on the interior design of her previous home herself, was equally clear on her desires. “She wanted fancy,” Wagner says. (“They all called me ‘Fancy Pants,’” adds the homeowner, laughing.) Moreover, besides asking Wagner to lead the charge on the interiors, the designer was also tasked with collaborating with the McKeehans and landscape contractors and brothers Patrick Curran and Kelly Curran on the exterior finishes as well. Along with her project manager Britta Doostmard, Wagner worked with the builders to source vintage beams, stone veneers and wood paneling. “Doing this project soup to nuts brought a more cohesive feel,” Wagner says. “We could see it all coming together—all the way down to the micro-accessorizing.”
Regardless of the project, the designer begins the same way. “We generally start a project with rugs, and we found a few great ones early on that she fell in love with,” Wagner says. “Then we built up the living and dining room textiles; then came light fixtures, floors and ceilings.” The interiors exude luxurious touches—“She let us mix metals, which we really liked,” says Wagner, pointing to the powder room’s nickel faucet and brass mirror and the kitchen’s polished- nickel plumbing fixtures that play off the black-bronze light fixtures. But she kept the client’s family in mind, upholstering the kitchen barstools in laminated linen and the playroom sofas in indoor-outdoor fabric and crafting a bathroom for the playroom. “The twins are boy and girl, so she wanted things to be cute and playful but gender-neutral,” the designer says.
Bringing very few items from her previous home (only silver-leaf nightstands that belonged to her mother and framed butterfly artworks) kept the owner’s focus on making a fresh start. “She loved the Rosemary Hallgarten stripe we chose for the master bedroom’s drapery,” says Wagner. Another new find was the Barbara Barry buffet in the dining room. “It was one of the first things the homeowner had to have,” she says. “The J.D. Staron rug in the living room was another.”
Outside, the fine balance between practicality and style also comes through. “We added to the existing ficus trees to create privacy and create the clean lines,” Kelly Curran says. “The pool shape was changed to contemporize the lines, too.” Nearby, a new pavilion houses a barbecue, replace and television, making it a perfect hangout for guests. At the front of the house, planters now encircle two established melaleuca trees and double as seating so that the client can watch the children play out front.
Referred by the homeowner’s sister, Wagner and her client hit it off immediately, and the warm working relationship is reflected in the finished product that took two years to complete. “She could really visualize things,” Wagner says. Adds her client, “I really liked the home- renovation process—it’s been amazing. It’s the new family home that I wanted, and I’m really happy here.”