As the owners of this Rancho Santa Fe vacation home discovered, some of the best things in life come along when you’re not looking for them. The couple—an oil executive and his wife—already had a primary residence in Houston and a weekend escape in Colorado when they happened to drive through the area to drop off a daughter at summer camp. Much to their surprise, they found a virtual paradise they hadn’t even realized they were seeking. “The temperature is perfect, the architecture is beautiful, the people are lovely— what’s not to love?” says their interior designer, Sandra Lucas, of Lucas/Eilers Design Associates in Houston.
The couple chose an acre-and-a-half parcel in an idyllic, gated golf-course community and sought out an architect and builder who was an expert in the high-end Tuscan-style homes that account for three-quarters of its landscape. They found one and the same in Jim Sylvester, of JS Design Group and Sylvester Construction, both based in Rancho Santa Fe. Sylvester was an especially wise choice—he had already built 10 other custom residences in the neighborhood, including his own. “Over the last decade, Tuscan homes have been a big hit here,” Sylvester says. “People like the casual but elegant living.”
Sylvester’s new neighbors and clients could have opted for one of the pre- designed homes the enclave offers among its 540 acres of coastal foothills, but they wanted a larger, more personalized retreat with lighter wood floors and trim and an abundance of ambience. “Their one directive was, ‘We want the architecture to show—we want it to be light and airy and serene,’” says Lucas, who has worked with the couple on various homes over the past 17 years.
The home’s exterior of stucco, natural stone and custom-made mahogany doors and window frames, topped by terra-cotta roof tiles, was designed to mesh well with its Tuscan neighbors. But, instead of filling the interiors with traditional dark-wood beams and stone floors, Sylvester accented eggshell walls with blond woods—stained Douglas fir beams from an Oregon lumber mill; alder paneling, baseboards and window frames; and white oak floors—as well as milky limestone fireplace surrounds and Carrara marble in the master bathroom.
Taking her color cues from the airy interior and sun-washed hills outside, Lucas selected a palette of light, neutral tones. “It’s quite a large house, but it feels like one big, cozy space because the finishes are consistent,” Lucas says. “We looked to the landscape for the green granites in the kitchen and powder bath, and the wood tones came from the color of the soil and the natural elements that are part of the setting.”
Lucas continued that organic program when selecting furnishings and accessories. The custom slipper chairs in the living room, for example, have carved oak frames with a distressed finish; they flank a Mecox Gardens triangular, bronze-plated, stick bamboo side table. Lucas also designed the coffee table, which has a hammered-iron base made by Houston’s Peck and Company and a hand-beveled walnut top in a basket-weave pattern fabricated by Custom Floors Unlimited, also in Houston. In the master bedroom, Perennials’ Rough ’N Rowdy fabric in Honed Limestone covers the headboard, chairs and ottoman.
And, since the family had recently downsized from a formal 4-acre estate in Houston to a townhome, Lucas also culled some of the beloved prints, paintings and furniture they’d placed in storage to make their new getaway truly feel like a home away from home. “If you invest in great pieces and artwork that you truly love, they can just follow you anywhere and work in a variety of settings,” she says.
One new addition to the couple’s art collection is an ink-and-gesso painting of a graceful woman in a full skirt that reminded Lucas of the lady of the house—a regular on Houston’s best-dressed list—when she spotted it in a gallery. The piece now has pride of place in the master bedroom. Her client “loves all things beautiful,” says Lucas. “In her Houston home as well as in this new place in Rancho Santa Fe, all of the furniture has a historic reference, but it’s very clean-lined and fresh, and extremely warm and livable.”