Like the shifting sands on the nearby beach, a dynamic La Jolla neighborhood overlooking the Pacific Ocean has evolved through the years, with new structures slowly altering the landscape. One such example is a stunning contemporary renovation of a midcentury home designed for a family. “The owner was pushing for something that was modern and sophisticated, without feeling too stark, so there are a lot of textures and organic elements,” says Anita Dawson, who was called on to design the crisp contemporary interiors.
The process began with the project’s residential designer, Elena Goutnova, and builder, Armando Flores, collaborating closely on a revised structure that would strike the right balance, combining a chic contemporary feel with a design that made the most of the exceptional climate. To that end, the exterior is clad in beautiful yet weather-resistant materials such as stucco and quartzite. The quartzite material continues into the interior, which strengthens the connection between inside and outdoors. “The architecture and landscape are very interconnected,” says Goutnova. “The highlight of this house is how the interior flows into the bridge leading to the pool area and how the living and dining rooms flow into the barbecue zone.”
As Dawson points out, “There is a much longer process to build from scratch, and we felt that the existing footprint would work,” which meant Flores had to be meticulous when it came to building the structure. Because the project is considered a renovation, for example, they were required to retain at least 50 percent of the original walls—no easy feat when raising the first-floor ceiling heights from 7 feet to 13 feet. “We were very careful during the demolition,” Flores notes.
The results, however, were well worth the effort. The transformed home’s larger windows, open layout and higher ceilings create a light-filled space that is an ideal backdrop for the mix of materials and furnishings that Dawson helped the owner to select. “This is her baby,” says the designer. “We just helped her to realize it.”
In the great room, rift-cut white-oak cabinetry and a white-quartz and absolute-black granite fireplace hearth create a counterpoint to the kitchen, an adjacent space dressed in the same materials (it can be closed off with a laminated-glass pocket door with a patterned film sandwiched between the panes). “Those rooms are opposite of each other, and their materials and shape are designed to be reflective of each other,” Dawson explains. “This house is about symmetry and form. Everything speaks the same language.” Likewise, the furnishings in the two spaces complement one another. The dining table, for example, is a larger 10-foot-long version of the custom quartz table that Dawson selected for the kitchen.
A medley of blue hues adds contrast and interest to the white walls and light wood cabinetry that can be found in the home. “There are subtle differences in the colors throughout,” Dawson explains. “It was harder to pull off, but it feels more sophisticated.” In the main living area, the sofa is covered in a dark teal fabric while a sectional in front of the fireplace is covered in a marine blue one. In order to create discrete seating areas in such a large space, Dawson incorporated a pair of sculptural chairs with high backs, which are covered in an inky blue fabric. “This is a big room, and it needed pieces that could carry their own weight,” she says. “Being tall, they feel more intimate, and they also add whimsy.”
That lighthearted sensibility extends to the master bedroom and a small family room across the hall, which both have rugs made of interlocking circles, and the children’s bedrooms, for which Dawson selected simple cabinetry and bedding that’s fresh and lighthearted. “I don’t like to take things too seriously,” says the designer. “This is a really fun house.”
Indeed, a bridge with a glass railing leads from the bedrooms on the second floor to the upper level of a tiered outdoor area. From the glass railing, one can look over the elevated pool and spa, the waters of which spill over a gray sandstone wall and into a basin near the outdoor living area on the lower level. “Engineering that wall was quite a challenge,” explains Flores, who drilled steel moorings 8 feet into the ground to stabilize it. “This wasn’t your average pool construction.”
With such a spectacular setting, it’s no surprise that the owners are thrilled with their new home. That said, they are not content to rest on their laurels. Dawson is at work on the rooftop deck, because, as the wife points out, “A house is like a living organism that lives, breathes and changes. There’s no limit to perfection.”