Architects at Home

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    Take a look inside Laguna Beach designers’ dwellings.- By Somer Flaherty  |  Photos by Robert Hansen

    Laguna Beach didn’t become what it is today by accident. The homes and businesses were developed over the years by creative types who were dedicated to preserving the character of the town and worked to enhance its natural beauty. Many of the individuals at the core of what Laguna is and has become are the architects who have literally designed its cityscape. Architects like Leslie LeBon, Horst Noppenberger, Robert McGraw, Lyle Hutson, Mark Singer and others create projects that enhance the city and perpetuate its unique character—and the aesthetics of their own dwellings are no different.

    Horst Noppenberger

    Architect Horst Noppenberger’s home began as a remodel of a small, 1940s south Laguna Beach cottage, and has since become a work-live compound of structures and courtyards. With Horst Architects, Inc. (Horst is the architect and his wife Arianna is the interior designer), the home was transformed into a 2,500-square-foot residence complete with four bedrooms, 4.5 baths and an outdoor room with an expansive view of the ocean. In the adjacent garden, enclosed by metal louvers that filter sunlight and provide privacy, the couple and their children Paolo and Chiara enjoy spending time together, entertaining and doing yoga.

    The original structure of the home is connected to the new structure by a bridge. The process of designing their own home left Horst and Arianna with an experience that shaped the aesthetic of future projects. Although the home was radically reinvented from its cottage beginnings, the new architecture was encouraged by its surroundings. The two began to explore the idea of contextualism with this project. Horst notes that the exterior material of exposed concrete block, corrugated metal and wood siding relate to the rustic character of their SOLAG neighborhood, and the folded form of the roof is abstracted from the sloped roofs of the adjacent cottages and was also inspired by a nearby grove of trees at the bottom of the site. The design aesthetic creates a meaningful dialogue between the structure and site, Horst explains.  The project, and entire design through build process, became a workshop for Horst and Arianna, where they developed many of the principles which continue to inform their work today.

    Leslie Lebon

    In the lower Nyes/upper Victoria Beach neighborhood, architect Leslie LeBon and her husband Peter Navarro purchased a 1928 home they share with their son Alex and cats Bob, Jack, Luna, Nike, Pumpkin and Shadow. Sitting on three lots, the home was originally broken into distinct dwelling areas for tenants. The home was neglected over the years and with the need for only one family to inhabit the space, Leslie planned a complete remodel. Her goal was to return the space to its 1920s splendor, while employing modern conveniences developed in the past eight decades. Leslie, founder of LeBon Architects, soon decided that the integrity of the home could be left intact with a few new windows, doors and paint, while the majority of the work would need to be done inside.

    With Leslie as the architect and Laguna Beach general contractor Tom Simpson on board, the remodel began in the summer of 2010, and the yearlong process included all new plumbing and electrical throughout, completely gutting the lower level and lowering the middle of the building 18 inches to match the floor level of the bedrooms. Additionally, the entire interior staircase was redesigned and relocated. “The new stair was a major challenge,” Leslie says. “Since I lowered the floor on the bottom level, I had to rebuild the stair. I relocated it to a more sensible location and had a very tight area to work with while having to meet building codes.”

    The renovated 3,745-square-foot home still includes three separate buildings—a main house with three bedrooms and three bathrooms, a pool house and a guest room attached to the garage—but Leslie says each room on the property serves a function that her family enjoys. Although she doesn’t have a specific design aesthetic, Leslie says she creates homes that mirror what the client needs, and believes that buildings are individualistic per the owner, the building’s use and its location—her own home is reflective of that philosophy. She worked with what she was given, the home’s site, its history and the comfort her family wanted.

    Years later, the property is still a work in progress, but the family is reminded of the home’s early days via a trove of treasures that were unearthed during the remodel. Among them, a painting buried in one of the walls, and an intact window and outdoor patio stone wall that were found in the interior walls. “The previous owners apparently loved antiques, statues and planters. They left 40 years worth of the statues and planters and a few broken antiques,” Leslie says. “I kept most of these with the statues still flanking the pool. They also left a Victorian era fireplace mantle, several eclectic light fixtures including two large crystal chandeliers that I reused, and many stained glass windows that remain intact.”

    Robert Mcgraw

    Architect Robert McGraw chose his home in  the Alta Vista neighborhood, keeping in mind the real estate philosophy: Purchase the worst house on the best street. The awesome ocean view didn’t hurt either.

    The remodel of the original 1,200-square-foot home was corralled by what he says were few but restrictive existing conditions—the small lot, carport location and the original 1959 design and layout done by Fred Briggs, a Dana Point architect who more than two decades ago was selected as one of Architectural Digest’s 100 foremost architects.

    Like any construction project, the process had obstacles—he asked for the removal of existing crawl space vents so new ones could be installed, and instead ended up with 40 feet of new fencing gone (“fence” and “vent” sounded similar). Robert admits that if he were to do it all over again, there are things he would change. But even with the challenges, the McGraws were rewarded for perseverance. The resulting 2,400-square-foot, three-bedroom house gives them an extraordinary space in which to live, entertain and raise their daughter, Annika. Robert, who served on the Laguna Beach Design Review Board and the Laguna Beach Heritage Committee, and functioned as the architecture advisory consultant for Three Arch Bay, calls the new design “mid-century contemporary with a dab of rustic thrown in.”

    From the perspective of repurposing a structure while maintaining the basic intent of the original designer, the space represents his aesthetic. “To have made [it] mine completely  would have meant a lot more demolition, time and expense,” he explains. “That’s the other part that represents me: how frugal my approach is to building.”

    Lyle Hutson

    Architect Lyle Hutson’s compact house, tucked away in one of the area’s best family neighborhoods near Laguna Beach High School, was in need of a facelift when his family—including his wife Marci, their children Beau, Cole and Charlie, two Labrador retrievers (Junior and Gigi), a rabbit named Desi and a couple of green tree frogs (Jose Cuervo and Patron)—took up residence.

    When the family bought the house in 2001, the 1950s home received new flooring, ceilings, interior wall changes, new doors, windows, an exterior façade update and a fresh coat of paint. “The inspiration came from the mid-century era with the mixture of wood, glass and the open plan,” Lyle, founding principal of Hutson and Partners, explains.

    The result is a space perfect for a family. “The interior is a meld of styles that we love, the furniture we have collected and the bones that brought it to life in the 1950s,” Lyle says of the space his wife Marci, a graduate of Otis Parsons in interior architecture, designed. The living room, which opens to the back patio and kitchen, is center stage and the hub of family activity. “Winter is the best when we can build a big fire in the fireplace, get the family together and watch a movie here. And during the school year we have an hour of music time on Sunday evenings where one person picks a Pandora music station, and we all listen for an hour,” Lyle says.

    As an architect, Lyle says the home fits his residential aesthetic. “I do a lot of commercial facilities in my business but when I get the chance to do residential projects I really look to the clients for inspiration, not a particular style,” he explains. “In this case we were the clients.”

    In the future, Lyle hopes to do a small addition to the master bedroom to make it larger and create a larger bathroom and closet area. “My wife deserves it,” he says. “Now you have to go through the downstairs bathroom to get to the master bedroom. A bit odd, but in Laguna you learn to celebrate the quirkiness.”

    Mark Singer

    Mark Singer could be called the view master. His creations a testament to modern architecture, he is known for designing some of the most eye-catching homes in Laguna Beach. His own dwelling is no different.

    Mark, the founder of Mark Singer Architects, purchased the three-acre site near Arch Beach Heights in 1987 and built the property’s first home there, which was completed in 1990. A little more than a decade later, he used the remainder of the property to build the 4,500-square-foot home he designed and currently shares with his wife Myriam and their Chihuahua Dexter. The result is typical of the architecture he is known for—a glass and stone design with almost floor-to-ceiling windows interspersed throughout the structure.

    The compound includes a one-bedroom main home and a guesthouse that are connected by courtyards, with landscaping that creates a calming space. The two areas are ideal for family gatherings, and unlike other properties in Laguna that are hemmed in by neighboring homes, the Singer property sits solo on a hill. The nearest neighbor is hundreds of feet away, and the house has views of the Pacific Ocean, Palos Verdes and Saddleback.

    “I wanted a timeless design that was sensitive to the natural surroundings,” Mark says. From the outside, the house is a modern structure, but appears warm and approachable with well-placed landscaping lining the walkways, various seating areas to welcome conversation and an expansive, cheerful lawn. Once inside, visitors find themselves in a sublimely transparent home, looking through glass walls into the courtyard or mingling in the kitchen, which is the center of activity. On warm nights, the couple can retreat outside on lounge chairs to enjoy the fireplace and scenic views. Mark says theirs is a home that truly celebrates outdoor living and the mild Laguna climate. LBM

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