Restrictions can sometimes be a surprising pathway to creativity. Take this Rancho Santa Fe property in a historic California neighborhood subject to strict environmental restrictions and Spanish-Mediterranean architectural guidelines. There, plans for crafting a Mediterranean Revival-style home from the ground up required the design team, a highly-collaborative partnership between interior designer Kellie McCormick and architect Christian Rice, to create their own playbook.
For one thing, a large portion of the sprawling estate lay within a century-old floodplain upon which construction was prohibited. Other sections were too steeply sloped for building. And, since the owners had purchased undeveloped land, everything from setting up utilities to creating basic infrastructure was on the table. But the starting-from-scratch effort was well worth it: “This residence is magical and feels so secluded,” McCormick declares.
The area’s architectural specifications, coupled with the clients’ desire for bright, open spaces that would feel fresh and current, drove the design of the main home and its surrounding structures. To achieve this balance, Rice fused iconic features of Spanish-Mediterranean style with more contemporary elements. One example is the pocketing door systems whose lengthy openings help the home engage with the stunning landscape around it. “That’s the challenge with homes like this,” he reflects. “How do you stay within classic architecture yet infuse it with modern-day elements in an artful way?”
The very dynamic of simplicity belying complexity defines this ambitious project, which includes a large primary home for the family of five, a pool-and-guest house, as well as a separate two-bedroom residence and a row of horse stables. The low-slung structures—especially the pool house with its portico—echo early works by the late master of California ranch house architecture, Cliff May, but updated for contemporary lifestyles. “There’s a beauty to their simplicity,” Rice posits of the series of buildings. “These structures have a minimalist nature, but the details really enhance them.”
In the main structure, the goal was to “keep this abode comfortable and inviting, with a casual feel,” McCormick explains. “We started with concepts of how to implement textures in an authentic way.” To wit, the entryway features a custom oversize wood door that was hand-carved on-site and leads into the voluminous yet welcoming space. Contemporary shade sconces flank the doorway while a tiered iron chandelier distills the essence of Spanish and Mediterranean Revival style.
More models of this striking fixture reappear in the great room. “We kept them light but with a hammered texture, not ornate by any means, and definitely not overwhelming despite their scale,” McCormick notes. To bring in more warmth and history, the designer also sourced patinated materials, including an antique French limestone fireplace surround, vintage barnwood ceiling treatments in areas like the foyer and library, or the dining patio’s reclaimed European brick.
Despite featuring such classic Mediterranean Revival elements as arched window openings, the interior doorways are deliberately rectilinear. “Those deep, squared openings create a clean look that leads you into the next volume of space,” McCormick says, pointing to the great room and its retractable—and very modern—pocket doors that allow for a seamless flow outdoors. The designer also customized sofas scaled to the room, and upholstered a set of distinctive, tall wing chairs with a bold stripe. “I wanted to play with the heights of some key pieces, but I didn’t want the room to feel overly packed with furnishings,” she explains of this array of seating arrangements that create plenty of moments for gathering, socializing and relaxing.
To make the expansive outdoor areas both beautiful and functional, McCormick and Rice played off the schematics of landscape architect George Mercer to define different living spaces. A charming outdoor kitchen illuminated by rustic, custom copper pendants takes full advantage of the area’s pleasant climate. And designing the structure containing horse stables and stalls allowed for expressive moments through barn door details, colors and finishes. “It was another opportunity to get down to the core of Spanish style,” Rice says, pointing out the pared-back roof structure exposing the clay tile and highlighting its unique materiality. “Overall, we were doing complex things, but always tried to make them feel effortless and comfortable,” McCormick adds. “And I believe we succeeded.”