￼Perched on an Irvine hilltop, a rare park-like property had designer Carolyne Ferguson’s clients falling hard. At just over an acre, the expansive spot offered the couple a chance to build a house that was at once supremely private yet open to the surrounding views. “I could see this house in my mind,” says the wife, who envisioned a simple and elegant but unpretentious family retreat where grandchildren and dogs could roam comfortably. To realize her dream home, she turned to Ferguson, a friend of nearly 30 years. “I know what she likes and I think that comes from being very good friends,” says the designer. “We’re on the same page, and I know her sense of style; she would be most comfortable in a house with a cottage-like feel.”
Working with friends can be dicey, but in this case the decades-long friendship turned out to be a recipe for success. The couple and the team—Ferguson, architect Carlos Elenes, builder Robert Ferguson (Carolyne Ferguson’s husband) and landscape designer Greg Grisamore—met frequently to collaborate on the project and create a unified vision for the home. “We knew exactly where everything was going to go right from the beginning,” says Carolyne Ferguson. So the team faced the challenge of designing a 15,000-square-foot home that also managed to feel intimate and comfortable.
Elenes took advantage of the lot’s depth, which allowed him to give the architecture a layered feel. For example, the home’s entry sequence includes a wrought-iron gate that leads to an understated door with an old-world feel and into a courtyard that brings visitors to the home’s antique front door and H-shaped floor plan. With the footprint, Elenes was able to create multiple courtyards to maximize the amount of light coming into the rooms, which he carefully proportioned to create the cozy vibe the wife desired. “The majority of the rooms have fenestration on two, if not three, sides, providing the home with natural light and ventilation while giving the couple spectacular unobstructed views of the canyon,” says Elenes.
To maintain the authentic rustic-French style the clients desired, Elenes turned to books and personal photographs of Provençal travels. And, says Robert Ferguson, “We imported many materials, including the antique roof tiles, reclaimed stone and tile flooring, European-wood flooring, antique doors and light fixtures.” Working in tandem with superintendent Michael Karkut, Robert Ferguson orchestrated a veritable symphony of pieces, given the magnitude and detail of the project. “Coordination of materials and subcontractors were key to achieving the desired results,” notes the builder.
While the architecture leans more toward country French, the interiors take many of their cues from farther north. “After listening to the wife, I suggested Gustavian style for the cabinets,” says Carolyne Ferguson, referring to the 18th-century Swedish interpretation of neoclassical French taste. The designer tapped Marilynn B. Gilbert, a friend and mentor, to collaborate on the cabinetry—with its mix of Gustavian and traditional French features—and chose light neutrals for the walls, flooring, stone, countertops and furnishings. “Soft contemporary furnishings and rustic elements such as silk-burlap fabrics and raw natural woods were included in the mix for eye-catching interest,” Carolyne Ferguson explains. “I designed custom furniture to accommodate room size and proportion. These pieces enhanced the Gustavian style, specifically the painted dining room buffet and the custom dining room table with the zinc-inlay tabletop.” Lighting— some sourced abroad and other elements produced locally—add to the authentic feel of the home. Also joining the mélange were many of the clients’ own furnishings, artwork and accessories. “It was a true team effort,” says the designer, with the results creating a layered feel.
In his vision for the landscape, Grisamore captured some Provençal spirit, too, lining the driveway with sycamores and incorporating olive trees and lavender into his plant palette. He strove “to give each outdoor room its own identity, a balance between function and aesthetics,” he says. The entertainment courtyard, for instance, boasts an outdoor fireplace and seating area with plenty of room for large parties, allowing guests to meander across a geometric arrangement of stones set in the lawn. When not in use, the space reads as more garden-like, with the grass tempering the hardscape.
Thanks to the collaborative efforts of the entire team and their attention to detail, the couple’s vision came to fruition. “The home is breathtaking, and it is remarkable that we could coordinate so well together to achieve such a spectacular home,” says Carolyne Ferguson. “On a personal level, I love the relationship I have with the wife. We can get together for lunch and be the best of friends; then we can meet and discuss strictly the business at hand. Not many friends could endure nearly 30 years of combining both.”