When architect Bill Bocken went to visit Sandra Velvel and Martin Price’s Del Mar residence, he saw a disconnect between what the couple envisioned—a home in an East Coast vernacular imagined in the streamlined style of prominent Washington, D.C., architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen—and the existing house, a series of diagonally set cubes from 1979 covered in vertical strips of siding. “I always boast that I can fix almost anything,” says Bocken, “but I looked at this one and thought, I’m not so sure.”
This was an upside-down house, albeit one with spectacular views to the ocean, with its main living spaces placed on the second floor and the bedrooms situated on the first. Complicating matters further, the cube-like design meant that the interior spaces were all sharp angles and level changes. “It was very confusing,” Bocken says. “The big challenge was to channel Jacobsen’s clean architectural style into this chaotic disorder, but at least we had a good model.”
To make sense of the house, Bocken set about reassessing and reassigning spaces, flipping the house right side up and devising a more sensible floor plan. “The demolition, foundation and framing were rather ambitious,” says builder Dan Giebelman. “So many of those existing walls, as well as the floor plan, were so poorly done, it took a lot to straighten out and make them usable again. I think we were about 6 feet away from altering almost half of the interior walls on this one.”
Bocken’s thoughtful reimagining of the house begins with the 1,000-square-foot addition at the front. With its simple lines, it feels like an updated version of the façades found on houses in New England or the Hamptons. Besides giving the entrance definition and focus, the addition also created space for a new master bedroom on the second floor. Below, it allowed for a new living room awash in light, thanks to full-height windows clad in a bronze finish.
Sandra, who had a home furnishings shop in Bethesda, Maryland, and now has her own business, Sandra Velvel Design, turned her attention to the interiors. An early visit to Bocken’s home proved that the two were stylistically in sync. “The interiors were a blend of white and grays,” she says. “I immediately knew it was going to be a great collaboration because we were drawn to a similar feel and color scheme.”
Besides the similar palette, Bocken’s home also provided inspiration for the flooring. For much of it, they went with white European oak finished in a smoky gray wax. The material appears nearly everywhere (save for the family room and most of the bathrooms) “to make it more bulletproof for people running in and out from the pool,” says Bocken.
For Sandra, the appeal of Jacobsen’s architecture is the way “he takes a traditional form and makes it contemporary,” she says. Not surprisingly, her furniture choices were a blend of those two styles. In the kitchen, for example, there is Shaker-style cabinetry, “which can come across as quite country,” Sandra says, but here it is paired with industrial-style pendant lights above the marble-clad island and sturdy metal stools. Nearby, a kid-friendly farm table she brought from their place back East contrasts with an icon of midcentury modern design—a set of molded-plastic Eames side chairs.
Bocken encouraged his East Coast-transplant clients to take advantage of the California climate via expansive terraces, an outdoor dining area and a new pool. During construction, the architect persuaded them to add another outdoor element: a pavilion at one end of the garage. It includes a seating area, fireplace and flat-screen TV, making it the perfect spot for semi-alfresco lounging. “There’s no doubt that’s the space that probably gets the most use,” says Sandra.
The homeowners turned to a frequent Bocken collaborator, Paul Adams, for the landscape design. To create a sense of privacy, Adams craned in trees to shield the front of the house and planted 12-foot-tall ficus trees in the back. Because so many rooms segue onto terraces and patios, Adams says he “brought colors from the inside outside to make it feel like one space,” choosing purple-flowering princess plants, blue and white agapanthus and blue hydrangea.
After 18 months of design and construction, the residence has been completely transformed, possessing a feel that embodies the balance and harmony often found in Jacobsen’s work but translating perfectly into its Southern California surroundings. “The house now has a sense of calmness and unity,” Bocken says. “It’s simple, but really not simple at all, and it conveys that East Coast spirit the owners wanted from the beginning.”