The cul-de-sac streets of California Cove make up one of Laguna’s most family-friendly neighborhoods.
By Sharael Kolberg | Photos by Jody Tiongco
Located less than 5 miles from Main Beach, off El Toro Road and Canyon Hill Drive, the California Cove neighborhood of Laguna Beach is nestled against acres of open space. With only three streets and 108 single-family homes, the area is typically quiet, especially in comparison to other Laguna neighborhoods that see a continuous flow of beach-bound locals pass through or the annual onslaught of summer tourists. “We moved here so our kids could play outside with their friends and still be in the Laguna Beach school district without the worry of a busy downtown street,” resident Tracy Bumgardner says of the neighborhood.
In fact, young families like the Bumgardners make up most of the California Cove community. What the area may lack in ocean views and proximity to the beach, it makes up for with kid-friendly streets that are within walking distance of Laguna Canyon’s many wilderness parks and hiking trails. The streets are designed as cul-de-sacs, creating a layout that makes it easier for neighbors to get to know each other and host community potlucks, lemonade stands for children and other outdoor activities together.
Design with Intent
When Krista Schaeffer moved into her California Cove hideaway in 2004, she was thrilled to realize that her neighbors were so friendly and quiet, and she’s since been able to turn her 1,450-square-foot home into a relaxing retreat that reflects her loves of travel and art.
In 2007, she gutted what she calls her “powder room” and created a space that’s not only functional but also a soothing getaway during moments of stress.
“The hammered alloy sink bowl is like a large Tibetan meditation bowl,” Krista says. “Sometimes I go in there when I’m stressed and, with the lights dimmed low, I rap on the bowl and wait in silence until I can’t hear it ring anymore.” The room also features a modern, custom-made teak vanity without hardware, which looks more like a block of polished wood; a teak floating mirror that Krista designed; stark white walls made from polished Venetian plaster; and artwork including an assortment of ocean-inspired pieces that line the walls and are reflected in the mirror. “It makes me happy to be in there and look at the art,” she says.
Krista’s backyard is also a haven where she enjoys reading, writing and entertaining. In 2010, she installed an outdoor fireplace with a covered seating area that’s draped with fabric curtains and a canopy and surrounded by lemon trees, lavender and sage. The details, such as the black-and-white accents in her furniture cushions and landscape lighting, make the area feel more like an outdoor extension of her home than anything else.
Each piece of decor that exudes a natural, outdoorsy feeling in Krista’s home was chosen with intent. From the Asian-influenced antiques to the Mies van der Rohe contemporary leather-and-chrome chairs that date back to 1927, Krista only purchases pieces that have meaning. In fact, many of the pieces she collects have sentimental value.
She adds, “I’ve traveled nearly all the globe, and I like my objects and art to have meaning from the cultures I’ve visited or some personal reference.”
FAMILY FACTS: Krista Schaeffer
DAY JOB: Krista is the owner and principal designer of Krista Schaeffer Interior Design, a Laguna Beach-based firm.
SPACE: 1,450 square feet, two bedrooms, one loft, 2.75 baths
HOUSE TIMELINE: Built in 1985, purchased in 2004
FABULOUS FEATURE: The kitchen pantry beneath the staircase
When Ryan and Tracy Bumgardner were looking to return to Laguna Beach in 2010, they particularly hoped to find a neighborhood that would allow their three young boys to enjoy the outdoors. “We love California Cove because of the safety, the neighborly feel, and that the kids can go play outside and we don’t have to worry, especially since there’s little traffic,” Tracy explains.
“It’s a great neighborhood because it is part of Laguna, but more like a cozy little community in the hills,” Ryan says. “I love looking out across the canyon or up to the ridgeline above. And even though we are on the edge of town, we still enjoy the feel of being local downtown.”
With a lifestyle that includes a mix of beach time and competitive water polo, the Bumgardners enjoy having a home that’s casual and expresses their love of the ocean. “It’s either salt or chlorine here,” Tracy says, and the driftwood decor pieces, bamboo blinds and collections of seashells make it more than apparent that this family lives for the beach.
“I love water polo and hanging out at the beach with all my buddies,” says 9-year-old Brady Bumgardner. “But when I’m home, my neighborhood is great because I have so many friends here and we love to go exploring.”
With sandy feet arriving at the home’s doorstep almost daily, it’s no surprise that one of Tracy’s favorite things about the property is the courtyard: “It’s small but quaint, a great place to sit and read or have a small fire in the chiminea at night with a glass of wine, under the twinkling cafe lights.”
Like other families in this neighborhood, the Bumgardners hope to maximize the space by converting their garage into a family recreation room—just another spot to relax and make memories together.
FAMILY FACTS: Ryan, Tracy, Riley (13), Toby (11) and Brady (9) Bumgardner, and Lupe, Suki and Cisco (Chihuahua mixes)
DAY JOB: Ryan works as a division president for Park West Cos., a landscape construction and management firm; Tracy is a supervisor at Canyon Animal Hospital in Laguna Canyon.
SPACE: 1,200 square feet, three bedrooms, three bathrooms
HOUSE TIMELINE: Purchased in 2010
FABULOUS FEATURE: The Dutch front door that Ryan built for the family
Given the fact that expansive yards can be hard to come by in Laguna Beach, Gary Lefebvre and Mark Gonzales appreciate the spaciousness and serenity of their backyard and often dine outdoors, play with their dog Molly or just enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. “Living in California Cove has allowed us to get more space for our money compared to other parts of Laguna Beach,” Mark says. “Yet, it’s still just a short drive to town or the beach.”
When the 1,200-square-foot home was originally purchased in 2003, however, the yard was in shambles. “It was completely overgrown,” Mark says. The pair put in a new grass lawn, plants and Zen-like landscaping that includes a large Angkor Wat statue that Gary had shipped from Cambodia as a Christmas present for Mark, and a stone bench that acts as a memorial for Gary’s mother. The backyard also backs up against an expanse of open space, giving the property a definite rural feel.
Mark and Gary have carried the Zen theme inside the home as well with neutral-toned floors, walls, cabinets and counters accented by dark wood furnishings and Asian-inspired decor. Upstairs, a second-story loft space includes sliding doors that can be opened to allow light into the living room or closed for privacy. “We hope our house makes people feel comfortable and relaxed,” Gary says.
In addition, Mark and Gary feel that their home brings them peace because of their neighbors. “I own four homes in Laguna, but we choose to live in California Cove because the positive neighbors create a friendly environment and sense of community,” Gary says. They even convinced Mark’s brother and his family to move next door, adding, “Our nephews make living here even more fun.”
FAMILY FACTS: Gary Lefebvre and Mark Gonzales, and Molly (terrier)
DAY JOB: Mark is the director of diversity and inclusion for The Hershey Co.; Gary is a school psychologist for the Santa Ana Unified School District and an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu.
SPACE: 1,200 square feet, three bedrooms, 2.5 bathrooms
HOUSE TIMELINE: Built in 1985, purchased in 2003
FABULOUS FEATURE: the Zen-like backyard that’s landscaped with a variety of California native plants