Dramatically situated on a point in Bluebird Canyon above Laguna Beach, a house languished, unfinished, for years. As Delphine Berryhill says of her first glimpse, “It looked like something out a movie, a sort of ghost town at the end of a cul-de-sac, but the floor plan had big, wide-open spaces and the most spectacular views.” Although others might have run in the opposite direction, Delphine and her husband, Clay, instead saw the makings of their dream home and called on architect Kirk Saunders and designer Ohara Davies-Gaetano to realize their vision.
For Saunders, the house presented an unusual opportunity—he had worked on the place for its previous owners. “When Delphine and Clay hired me to finish it, it was delightful because they wanted to live there, and I wanted to make it right,” Saunders says, and so he eagerly jumped back in.
“The task was to better connect the house with its environment and to embrace the entire panorama of the view,” Saunders says. “In an attempt to reduce the apparent mass, we went with color-blocks in two shades of stucco, wood slats to add texture and copper details on the roofline to create a warmer feel.” Though it was a complicated undertaking, builders Jim Birmingham and Scott Franklin made it seem easy. “Remodels can be challenging, but we brought in the right team,” says Franklin. “It was all very clear and cohesive.”
Anchored by a sculptural staircase of glass and walnut, the open main level encourages flow, a must for avid entertainers like the Berryhills. At one end, an ample kitchen gives way to a casual family room and an adjacent dining area. Opposite, formal living and dining areas open to a covered outdoor room. A corner bar, one of Clay’s requests, offers indoor-outdoor participation via bifold windows and a top that runs outside. Elsewhere, Saunders provided the couple space for more singular pursuits, including an intimate wine room and a home recording studio for Clay.
For the interiors, the Berryhills gave Davies-Gaetano a simple, specific brief. “My husband loves Hawaii, and we wanted a place that seemed like we were on vacation,” says Delphine. “What was here lent itself to more of a resort feel. We wrapped our heads around that and came up with the term ‘island contemporary.’” Adds Davies-Gaetano, “Delphine is amazing, passionate, and she had a definitive vision for what emotions the house should evoke. Even though it was large, she wanted the rooms to be warm, inviting and comfortable.” To that end, a foundation of wide-plank walnut flooring was set and paired with an interior color palette of soft earth tones, pale oranges and greens. “It is light and open yet grounded,” she says. “It really plays on the organic theme.”
Throughout, furniture selections were thoughtful and deliberate, incorporating both new pieces and some from the Berryhills’ own inventory. (Delphine provided Davies-Gaetano with PowerPoints of pieces the couple had in storage—and items that had caught her eye.) “I was very mindful that the pieces we used weren’t bulky and overpowering,” says Davies-Gaetano. “They needed to have unique details and to speak on their own as well as be part of a collection.” The wood-frame armchairs with decorative cane details in the living room are a perfect example, especially paired with the sectional and petrified slab wood coffee tables Davies-Gaetano designed.
Lighting also played a significant role in Davies-Gaetano’s approach. “We did a lot of research to find interesting fixtures that would function more like sculpture and play on the overall scale and architecture of the house,” she says. The lighting pairs with the Berryhills’ art collection, creating a dynamic dialogue. Custom fabric pendants over the dining room table, for instance, balance a Gauguin-inspired bronzed wall sculpture by Randy Morgan, while a bamboo-and-fabric ball chandelier dangling in the stairwell sets off a painting by Jeff Peters.
Conceived by landscape architect Daniel Stewart, the gardens and terraces reinforce the house’s on-vacation feel. “The lot was fairly large with a lot of topography, so we had the opportunity to create several unique outdoor spaces that invite exploration,” he says. “The overall landscape has a seamless flow between interior and exterior, and there is room for larger gatherings and space for more intimate groups.” Stewart opted for a Balinese flavor for the plantings, choosing a mix of tropical foliage and flowering plants with succulents woven in for a tapestry effect.
The reimagined house is a far cry from its inauspicious beginnings. “Everything is integrated into the overall emotion and feeling of the space and resonates with both nature and the view,” says Davies-Gaetano. “You feel like you’re at this incredible resort, with the pool and bar. It’s a dream playground for adults.”