While Palm Springs and the Hollywood Hills are more traditionally associated with Southern California’s midcentury modern style, Orange County’s beach cities were equally influenced by the aesthetic. “There are gems on the coast, but they’re a little different: They have an incredible beach vibe and beg to be walked around in barefoot,” says architect Scott Laidlaw, who teamed with designer Raili Clasen to update one of these treasures, a residence by noted architect Chris Abel in Emerald Bay.
Homeowners Karin and David Bock had planned on a modest remodel when they purchased the 1960s abode. “We were going to do a quick spruce up and save as many midcentury details as we could,” says Clasen. But, as renovation projects are wont to do, the scope grew, and the couple ultimately embarked on a two-year effort to restore the home’s original spirit.
Changing fashion had not been kind to the house, notes Clasen, recalling the wainscoting and dark wood floors they removed with the help of general contractor Michael Ensign [CK]. “It was 1980s Newport Beach inserted into a classic post and beam house,” says Laidlaw. “We talked a lot about history and taking the home back to the way it was, which got the Bocks excited.”
It takes a certain kind of person to live in a midcentury house, notes Laidlaw, and his clients are those people. “These houses are simple and livable, but they force you to give up on the laundry list of needs,” says the architect. “That’s what’s so unique about the Bocks: They’re on their way to being empty nesters and had no interest in enlarging the home. It was a breath of fresh air.”
Without moving main rooms and by simply opening and reorganizing the circulation of the floor plan, “it became easy to make design decisions,” Laidlaw says. “We removed an interior wall between the stair and kitchen and replaced half walls around the stair with an open rail design.” The living room fireplace was relocated to the center of the room where it conveniently screens Highway 1. “We went around and around on that one, but it was a natural spot,” he adds. “It all just worked so nicely.” The only additions were a slight extension of the master bathroom and a lower-level deck.
Clasen reports that the couple “didn’t want the home to be over-the-top or too serious.” They had just two key rules for the interiors: midcentury modern and organic. “The kitchen was a lesson in restraint,” she explains. “We didn’t want to go George Jetson–though that is my favorite cartoon–so we went with white Heath Ceramics tiles that are just so perfect for this house.” Other artisanal touches include a leather-wrapped Apparatus Studio light above the dining table and low-profile Croft House sofa in the living area–all chosen to not distract from the spectacular vistas of the bay and Emerald Point. “We started and ended with the view,” says Clasen. “Nothing could get in the way. Your eyes go straight out.”
To keep the emphasis on the scenery, the designer kept to a palette of neutral, natural hues. “Karin didn’t want a lot of color, but Dave did,” she continues. The compromise was a gallery of vibrant surfboards and occasional touches of blue and green. A vintage Walter Knoll sofa in olive leather anchors the family room, and Clasen painted the lower half of the Bocks’ bedroom walls navy. “I love half walls, I do them in most of my projects!” she says. It also creates a perfect foil for a pair of brass sconces, especially since the designer notes, “There’s no attic or crawl space in this house, so we couldn’t do a lot of ceiling lights.”
And while Clasen led the design, Karin proved a reliable understudy. “She had opinions and ideas and loved being part of the process,” says the designer, pointing to the black-and-white works by the stairwell. “We gave her direction, and she found the artist,” shares Clasen. “We said, ‘Find a little collection of vintage oil paintings that we can hang by your bed!’ And she’d go right out and do it.” Karin even sourced the couple’s oak and rattan bed. “She just didn’t want the place to look like every other house.”
It doesn’t–it’s a standout thanks to the talents of Clasen and Laidlaw. “I geek out on these sorts of projects. If it’s got good bones, let’s save the house,” says Clasen. And that’s a sentiment the architect shares. “People appreciate what we did here because this house is something,” says Laidlaw. “I like reuse anyway, but the greenest thing you can do is to do less. It feels good when you’re done–like you did the right thing.”