The Las Vegas-based couple wanted a private getaway that made them feel as if they were on an endless exotic vacation, but they didn’t want to travel across vast oceans with their three small children in tow in order to access their oasis. So they bought a small waterfront property in Newport Beach and asked designer Ohara Davies-Gaetano—and architectural designer Mark Becker—to create their home away from home.
In place of the lot’s original nondescript 1920s stucco box, the homeowners envisioned a richly detailed, open-style house that had been imported from Colonial Bali. It was a concept easier drawn than done because of stringent local restrictions. “The old house was 8 feet above the current height limit, and, under the law, the only way to retain that height was to maintain the original outer frame,” Becker explains. “For this reason, we only demolished one-third of the house, though it would have been easier to tear the entire structure down and start over. We did expand the footprint horizontally, but we couldn’t go as high on the new sections.”
Privacy was paramount to Becker’s plan, and it was difficult to attain, given that the neighbors’ houses in the small, congested area were close enough to eavesdrop. He first eliminated side windows, replacing them with covered bridges. To bring in light and breeze, he added covered porches on the bay side of the house and created an open courtyard in the front entry. Complete with live palms and fountains, it climbs to the top level of the soaring three-story stucco home.
When the mahogany front doors are opened, there are no visual distractions: The view goes clear through to the boats in the bay. “With the floor-to-ceiling pocket doors in the front and the back, you never know whether you’re in or out,” Becker says.
To bring Bali to the beach, he designed intricate mahogany railings and elaborate woodwork throughout the house. And he incorporated a number of architectural elements, including antique Asian doors and carved archways, imported by Davies-Gaetano. “I didn’t try to recreate a typical Balinese house,” she says. “I brought in elements from other exotic locales, like Morocco.”
The archways set the stage for Davies-Gaetano’s mood lighting, whose muted beams peek through crystal prisms and perforated metal. “Lighting is the jewelry of the home,” she says. “It is designed to cast intricate shadows on the Venetian plaster walls and to impart a feeling of mystery and allure.”
Davies-Gaetano, who designed most of the furnishings, kept things simple and casual, indoors and outdoors. “Everything is user-friendly,” she says. “You don’t have to worry about someone sitting on the sofa while wearing sunscreen.”
Rich warm colors—such as persimmon, burnt orange, pomegranate, jade, mocha, turquoise and even sea glass—on the upholstered furnish- ings and accessories are paired with the crisp white of linen draperies to keep the space suitably fresh for a young, active family. A variety of hand-painted tiles in traditional styles—some new, some ancient—bring shots of jewel-like color to floors and walls.
The space is so laid-back and freeing that the owners leave their doors open all the time; the beach is on the other side of the street, where, coincidentally, some of their relatives reside, so family and friends are always coming and going. “When you enter the house, you feel like you’re in another time and place,” Davies-Gaetano says. “Whenever I visit, I always say, ‘I’ve arrived.’ And then I take a deep breath and relax.”