The idea of circling back to a concept took on a new level of meaning for the close-knit team that designed and built a uniquely tranquil home on an elevated plateau above Newport Beach. “The wife is a very spiritual woman,” explains designer Courtney Lawrence Ziething, adding that at the start of the project, “she invited us all to meet and walk a labyrinth together in Los Angeles. It cleared our minds and got us excited. It was the start of a circle that lasted for four years.”
The team that walked the labyrinth and brought the singular residence to life included Ziething, residential designer Bob White, builder Josh Shields, and landscape architect Michael Sullivan. Beginning the project with a wish list from the couple, White set out to meet their desire for, as he says, “a unique living environment both inside and out.” White designed the structure in collaboration with Ron Ritner and Fernando Gomez in a restrained aesthetic inspired by California’s classic Spanish-style houses. To establish that sensibility, as well as meet design requirements for the gated community, the house integrates courtyards, whitewashed walls, arched openings, reclaimed terra-cotta tile roofs, and deep, shaded loggias. From there, however, the residence takes a unique turn.
“In lieu of a more typical four-sided house, this home has close to 25 different exterior surfaces,” White says of the structure, which in addition to its main living spaces also incorporates flexible studio and office areas. “It’s not a box, but a series of boxes that frame the exterior living spaces. This allows almost every interior room to have a direct relationship to the outdoors and maximize sunlight and views.” On the inside, a three-story circular stone staircase tower anchors the house and provides a distinct counterpoint to the otherwise cubic forms. A master bedroom rotunda has a similar effect. “It offers a custom experience on the inside,” White explains, “and completes the exterior composition.”
Beginning that inside experience, the wife helped set the tone by creating a heart-and-key design, meant as an insignia for the house, which was realized in the entry’s tile floor. The wife inspired the rest of the spaces, as well, by requesting a palette of “all-white and cool gray tones,” she says, adding, “the design concept was to modernize a building that looks centuries old with interior finishes that are clean and contemporary.” Ziething kept to that scheme by designing the kitchen’s obeche wood cabinetry and staining it gray to complement the structure’s reclaimed-wood beams and pearl gray limestone walls.
“We also wanted to add some reflective surfaces within the spaces to give them some balance and add a touch of softness,” says Ziething, who echoed the calming effect of outdoor water features with opalescent glass mosaic tiles that glisten like ice on the master bathroom floor and incorporated mirrored cabinetry for the master closet. Cascading crystal chandeliers sparkle throughout, and even the draperies hang in relaxed pools on floors made of oak and Belgian blue limestone. The client had requested the limestone from the beginning, which also helped establish the palette, but it took a year to source the material. It was finally located through Venetian Tile & Stone Gallery, and “it had to be mined and cut on a wire saw in Belgium to give it such unique patterns,” says Shields.
Given the unusual shapes and large scale of the home’s volumes, Ziething custom-designed virtually all of the furnishings. From the sectional upholstered with a chunky chenille in the great room to the shimmery platform bed—with a curved back and white-gold-leaf finish—in the master rotunda to the imposing mahogany dining room table, Ziething created designs specifically tailored to honor their spaces. “I felt that furnishings with clean lines would juxtapose with the architecture, and smooth finishes with reflective accents would lend interest and contrast to the rustic textures,” says the designer, who pulled everything together within “sophisticated interiors with a touch of whimsy.”
In designing the grounds, Sullivan devised a plan that evolves slowly as it radiates away from the home toward the rolling hills. “The pattern starts out formal and geometric with strong axial lines,” Sullivan explains about the spaces nearest the house. “Then it gradually deconstructs to a more random arrangement.” Those looser areas include a back meadow, which holds a granite labyrinth inlaid with the same heart-and-key insignia as found in the entry—effectively bringing the project back full circle.