Magazine article Sunset

From the Ground Up: Clean Lines, Abundant Light, and a Connection to the Outdoors Redefine a Southern California Family's Way of Life

Magazine article Sunset

From the Ground Up: Clean Lines, Abundant Light, and a Connection to the Outdoors Redefine a Southern California Family's Way of Life

Article excerpt

A FRESH START was what Carl and Vivian Browne wanted for their family home--a 1,500-square-foot 1950s cottage on a long, narrow lot in Newport Beach, California. Over the years, the couple and their two daughters, Victoria, 15, and Emily, 13, had watched as the homes around them were razed and replaced by Tudor, Mediterranean, and French Country mansions. But when the Brownes were ready to rethink their living quarters, they didn't just follow the neighborhood trend. Instead, they started over with a warmly modern, light filled house more suited to their family's open and free-spirited nature.

The idea came from Carl, who'd long been a fan of modernist icons from Richard Neutra to John Lautner. He was also enamored of the work of his close college friend turned architect, Paul Davis, who was working in New York at Salazar Davis Architects. "Carl had always wanted him to design a house for us," Vivian recalls. "And Paul was just starting his own firm, so we figured the time was right, while he was still young and hungry--or we'd never be able to afford him."

Openness and privacy

The result of that collaboration is a two-story, three-sided stucco structure that maximizes the family's experience with the outdoors, Pacific Ocean breezes, and abundant California light while shielding them from unwanted views of neighbors. A 25-foot-long "fence" of bamboo adds privacy, while an enormous coral tree and drought-tolerant Mediterranean plants soften the sharpness of the structure. A series of floor-to-ceiling windows runs from the living room at the front of the house to the garage at the back, with rooms in between opening onto a private courtyard. This is where the adults lounge, the teenage girls play soccer, and Phoebe, their Australian shepherd, invariably naps.

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Davis devised four cedar-clad boxes--"cassettes," as he likes to call them, for the way they sit in the 3,400-square-foot structure. One box comprises the kitchen and entry hall, which is located at the front of the house; a second is the second-floor master suite, jutting over the courtyard; the third contains the guest quarters, also on the second floor and behind the master suite, with which it shares a deck; and the fourth is a small utility shed in the backyard. "It's different from traditional homes that are a big solid chunk between front and back yards," Davis explains. ""This has a variety of places arranged on and around one another, which provide opportunities to look out, down, or across. You can see where you are relative to your family, where you'll be later, and anticipate all that."

The budget dictated the use of a mostly simple range of materials, such as integrally pigmented stucco, which wraps around the exterior's natural cedar siding, and a structural concrete slab throughout the ground floor. Touches of texture and color inject warmth throughout the house: limestone flooring, unusual green-veined marble in the master bath, embossed wallpaper on the kitchen and entrance walls, riotous ceramic tiles in the powder room and guest bathroom, a staircase and kitchen cabinetry made of rift-sawn oak, and a vibrant fire engine-red front door and bright orange rear courtyard wall. …

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