Brett and Christie Combs’ wish list for their dream home—where they could raise their three young sons near family and longtime friends—was specific down to the house itself, a Solana Beach abode they had spotted years before it became available. The Combs, who are in the real estate business and had seen their fair share of homes, had set their sights on the 1987 bungalow with high ceilings— a rarity in the area—and unobstructed views of the Pacific. The couple liked it so much that when they heard the owner was finally ready to sell, they abandoned work on another project and immediately purchased it. “It was like finding an old classic car that needed to be rehabbed,” says Brett. “It had the potential to become something great.”
To create an open, airy environment where no room was off-limits to their boys, the couple turned to interior designer Kari Arendsen and architect Jim Sneed—whose firm, Bokal & Sneed Architects, is the successor to Bokal Kelley-Markham Architects, the original architect for the house. Having the drawings from that project “was a huge help,” Sneed says. “We had all the structural, foundation and framing plans, so we knew where the beams were. It took a lot of guesswork out of the equation.” Arendsen worked closely with Sneed to transform the choppy main level into one open space, remove slanted dropped ceilings to restore the original 12-foot heights, and create a seamless indoor-outdoor flow.
When it came to the interiors, Arendsen worked with design director Jennifer Bibay to achieve a multifaceted style. “The owners wanted an aesthetic that was a mix of modern farmhouse, clean coastal and tropical plantation— literally all of those things combined,” says Arendsen. Adds Brett, “Both coastal and farmhouse styles have been done plenty of times, but I haven’t seen the plantation style in this area. Much of the inspiration came from trips to Kauai and Fiji. That lifestyle is how we envisioned the way we wanted to live.”
To evoke the plantation look, Arendsen used a dark stain on the home’s wide eaves, a shade that’s repeated along the mahogany countertops off the breakfast nook and on all the windows and door trims. “It’s something subtle—you don’t really notice it at first, but your eye catches it,” she says. Those warm wood accents juxtapose with the concrete floors throughout the main level, a pleasing tension between traditional and modern. Other elements play up the same contrast, such as the 9-by-16-foot sliding wall panel in the kitchen that faces a bank of paned windows, which are original to the house. “It’s traditional and modern directly playing opposite each other,” Arendsen says. “That effect gave me chills.”
Arendsen sought to differentiate the main-level spaces once the walls were removed, so the mood changes slightly in the kitchen, dining and living areas. She chose an antique sideboard and rustic farmhouse table for the dining area as a way to embrace a traditional feeling in the space where the Combses’ family members and friends gather for meals. “For them, it was incorporating what they hold precious,” says Arendsen. For the living area, the designer opted for cleaner lines and made a statement through texture. There, the rich feel of the beaten-leather armchairs and a jute rug answer the smooth, crisp surfaces of the white shiplap paneling on the walls and ceiling, which general contractor Travis McCaw milled himself to give a deeper groove. “All that tongue-and-groove paneling was smooth with no knots,” he says.
The effect of that paneling is especially dramatic in the master suite, where the walls soar up to the roof lines. “It’s a smooth play on lines that doesn’t feel overwhelming or dizzy,” Arendsen says. “That’s probably one of my favorite spaces.” The vaulted ceilings amplify the ocean views through plate-glass windows that respond to the height and slope of the walls. Downstairs, the outside flows inside quite literally: A three-panel lift-and-slide glass door opens the living room to a west-facing balcony that runs the width of the house, while the kitchen becomes one with the breezeway through a 16-foot kitchen door, which McCaw says is the largest he has ever installed. “I’ve seen some big patio sliders, but this one takes the cake,” he says. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Outside, landscape designer Martha Dudenhoeffer enhanced the exterior views with a whimsical landscape plan full of shapely leaves and saturated blooms. Flame-colored croton plants mix with multihued passionflower vines, while lacy asparagus ferns mingle with the chartreuse leaves of mother-in-law’s tongue. “We wanted it to be really fun, not run-of-the mill,” she says.
Now that all of the work is complete, the Combses’ home has become a destination for both family and friends. “We have someone here almost every night,” Christie says. “Friends and family drop by, and there’s always a cocktail waiting.” Adds Arendsen, “Turning a once-traditional home into something that blends timeless and modern elements was highly rewarding. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
— Jennifer Sergent