A Transitional Craftsman-Style La Jolla Cottage


“Our client had a strong vision of what she wanted,” says Milwaukee-based architectural designer Mason Sherwood of the seaside house he designed in La Jolla with Mark Franke, his partner in Wikwood Associates. “The house is based on a 1920s family cottage on Okauchee Lake in Wisconsin, where the homeowner spent time in her youth, but it also needed to belong in California.”

At first glance, this appeared a tall order. “In La Jolla, contemporary, midcentury modern and Spanish Revival styles are far more typical,” says the house’s builder, Terry Wardell. “But every aspect of this home was thought out to make sure it blended into the look of the California coast.” To find the balance between the Wisconsin inspiration and the California location, Sherwood and Franke began by researching the coastal area’s Arts and Crafts cottages and bungalows, while enlisting local architect Tony Crisafi of Island Architects to handle the working architectural drawings, permit processing and consultant coordination. “Some of the design we borrowed directly from the historic lake cottage,” says Franke, “including the home’s river rock cobblestone veneer, the exterior staircase, and, of course, the upstairs bunkroom with its outdoor sleeping porch.”

The bunkroom, which sleeps seven, has a built-in upper bunk and plenty of room for the homeowner’s grandchildren, and other guests, to spend quality time. When it came to furnishing this and other interior spaces, the homeowner had an equally strong vision. She chose eclectic and casual items resembling “older pieces that had been moved from the main house to the cottage,” says Sherwood, who contributed to the selection. To help source her specific requests, the owner called on local interior designer Holly Robinson of Interior Concepts. “My client wanted to keep her memories of the summer lake cabin going, while adding a fresh coastal feel with cheery color, striped patterns, distressed woods, and wicker furnishings,” Robinson says.

Sherwood and Franke expressed that casual California feel with a light-filled open floor plan on the main level, where one large room accommodates the kitchen, living and dining areas and takes in sweeping ocean views. The master bedroom suite and the owner’s art studio are also on this level, making one-story living a convenient reality.

“Because of the seaside location, we also took certain architectural elements and blew out their scale to take advantage of the site,” says Sherwood. “For example, we used traditional Craftsman-style double hung and picture windows, yet increased their dimensions to make the most of the spectacular views.”

In the back of the house, a contemporary glass wall of Arts and Crafts detailed accordion doors folds open onto the Pacific-fronting patio, with the San Diego skyline gleaming across the bay. Still, the landscape design remains in keeping with the home’s Wisconsin roots, with its rustic hardscaping and cottage-inspired front yard. “We kept the cottage theme in mind for the selection of all the plants to achieve a harmonious look with the architecture,” says landscape architect Todd Fry, who also added some species, such as citrus trees and palms, in a nod to the California setting.

Meanwhile, Sherwood wrote the narrative of the home to create the illusion of a house that had been there for a long time. “It looks like it’s been there for decades,” notes Wardell, “even though it’s all new construction, down to the foundation.” All the architectural details, such as the tall baseboards and single-paneled doors, are true to the Arts and Crafts period, and the fixtures and fittings are vintage-inspired. “But we also wanted to give the impression of something that started basic and then evolved over time into something more,” says Sherwood.

Thus, the home has exposed ceiling rafters and imperfect plaster walls, hinting of simple origins, balanced with select sophisticated touches, such as stained-glass windows and glossy wood moldings. The soulful quality, however, always comes through. “I have a large family who loves to visit,” says the homeowner. “Everyone is comfortable right away. The house really does feel like it’s been in the family for generations.”