Contemporary Prairie

After spending $30,000 on drawings and months working with an architect who wasn’t listening to their wishes, the owners of this San Diego Mission Hills home threw in the towel. Discouraged, it took them years to work up the resolve to try again. This time they hired Marrokal Design & Remodeling, a full-service remodeling firm.

A well built, Mission-style house, the home originally was constructed in the 1970s and had very long, low-sweeping overhangs. Situated on the edge of a canyon with views of the ocean and bay, the home didn’t take full advantage of its natural surroundings.

“Originally when they came to us on referral, the house was a 4,500-sq.-ft. single story home,” says Steve Walton, CGBP, senior design consultant for Marrokal. “They felt that the house wasn’t partaking in the views that they had off the cliff, so they wanted to raise the whole living room area into a two-level system.”

The homeowner’s plan was to raise and extend the living room and to have a more pronounced entryway. They also wanted to open the flow of the house and introduce an indoor pool. Being avid travelers, the homeowners wanted to bring the feel of Balinese architecture into the design as well. Along with remodeling the kitchen, the bar, the outdoor spaces, and integrating some home automation, this project started off with a budget of approximately $1 million.

The central part of the home was the homeowners’ first element of concern for the remodel. The entryway and sunken living room were among the home’s primary shortcomings. In addition, small windows left much of the central part of the home in shadow.

“We needed to surgically remove the center section of the house,” says John Davies, CGBP, director of design at Marrokal. “When you walked into the living room, there was a fireplace right where the view is and two small windows off to either side that had shutters on them. You didn’t even notice the magnificent view until you went outside.”

The Marrokal design team essentially cut the house in half, taking out the center section, filling in the sunken living room and raising it. Different ceiling heights were used to define the spaces. The entryway was extended toward the front of the house, while the new living room extended toward the back. A second-story loft was added for office space.

“The second criterion was to open the house up,” explains Walton. “We did that by redirecting traffic patterns through and around the kitchen. From the living room you can see through the dining room, the kitchen, the great room, into the pool pavilion and outside. It goes through all these layers, but it’s set-up so that so that you get a progression of views from one side to the other. We really worked on that and it looks spectacular when you’re in the space.”

As planning work on the home progressed, the owners’ initial emphasis on Balinese architecture gave way to a contemporary interpretation of a Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie style home. The Balinese influence remains, however, in the pool pavilion space with its tropical open-air design.

The pool pavilion area was configured to house a pool, spa and entertainment space around it. The indoor pool is shallow so that guests could casually walk in and enjoy it as a place to stroll. The circular spa holds 15 people. Five sets of operable glass wall systems by NanaWalls were installed around the area to create an indoor/outdoor space that could be conditioned or opened up to the elements.

“The indoor pool was an unusual request for San Diego because we have great weather; we don’t have a whole lot of indoor pools here,” explains Walton. “You have to go through a lot of effort to get these things to work correctly as far as the ecosystem, the balance of space, the waterproofing issues and all the humidity. That was a challenge.”

The Marrokal team had to overcome a number of technical issues with this project — things like how to move air through the space and integrating an elevated level of technology. Shading devices on both the interior and exterior operate based on heat inside the house. Air handlers move air through the house based on demand. Exterior shading devices can close down to make a waterproof covered patio.

The extensive estate sized lot is landscaped with drought-resistant botanical species, all monitored by an advanced computerized system, including weather station with Internet access for forecasts. Sprinkler system operation is dependent on the moisture content of the ground, and the home has a reclaimed water system. Solar collectors keep the home off the grid entirely.

“The 500-amp photovoltaic array sits down in the canyon, so you can’t see it from the site,” explains Davies. “It’s pretty oversized for the property at about 30 ft. long and 20 ft. wide. It’s gigantic. [The homeowners say] that they can run that house at full-blast and still run the return meter in reverse.”

Another thing the owners wanted was an incredible, over-the-top kitchen. To accomplish this, a furniture designer and master craftsman was brought in to handle the cabinets, which have high-gloss anigre-wood doors. After installation a team of five workers spent two days buffing the doors. Because the wood was sequenced and is essentially a tree that unrolls around the kitchen, damage done to a single door would have required a $30,000 change out of all the cabinetry.

The homeowners were also looking for spectacular lighting. They wanted both hidden lighting and ambient lighting, so Marrokal worked in the lighting details from the very beginning of the project that includes about 2,500 ft. of LED lights. With a flip of the main light switch, the lights adjust to the set moods that have been programmed, making it a completely different house at night.

“The clients had an image from a magazine of some columns they liked,” adds Davies. “The columns were lit, probably by the photographer, but they liked that you couldn’t tell where the light was coming from. It intrigued them.

That’s what started the whole interest in lighting.”

The living room features mahogany wrapped columns with a stone base. To make those columns glow, the team wrapped LED lighting around the top of the stone base. Acrylic lenses cover the hand-installed lights. At night, the light shines up from the stone base to make the columns look like they’re almost on fire and sets off the iridescence of the wood.

Finally, the owner wanted impeccable detail. His standards were extremely high, he was knowledgeable, and he was architecturally savvy. “The devil is in the details,” could easily have been his motto.

“In the drywall we have stainless steel reglets around all the baseboards and at the tops of the walls, because the walls don’t touch the ceiling,” says Walton. “That was about $30,000 added to the drywall costs, but it adds to the contemporary look and feel that they were after. That’s how this went from a $1 million project to over a $2 million project, because the devil really was in the details.”

Marrokal also installed $150,000 of handpicked and certified sustainable mahogany to create the warm contemporary feel the homeowners desired. To handle the woodwork requirements, a mill was set up at the site and run several months to handle those needs.

The mahogany even carries over to the exterior of the home despite the maintenance issues that were raised by outdoor use in a coastal area with abundant sun. The wood is oiled monthly to maintain its appearance.

“They were pretty savvy and had clear ideas of what they were looking for,” concludes Davies. “but our team also aided in the selection of products and materials.”

The clients are extremely happy with their home and Marrokal. It took the team one and one half years to complete the project, but they felt the homeowners were easy to work with. Because the clients were so knowledgeable, the path leading from an idea to a final OK was generally an easy one.

Fast Facts About This Project

  • Remodeler: Marrokal Design & Remodeling
  • Project name: Mission Hills Project
  • Location: San Diego, Calif.
  • Square footage before: 4,500
  • Square footage after: 7,000
  • Total project cost: $2,300,000
  • Scope of work: Open up the center of the house, creating a second floor loft office, a state-of-the-art kitchen and a pool pavilion for entertaining. Along with these elements home automation was incorporated along with lots of lighting and detail work done in stone and mahogany.

Specified Products

  • Brick/Masonry: Arizona Tile (Golden Gate & Rose Quartzite)
  • Decking: Arizona Tile (Golden Gate Quartzite)
  • Doors interior and exterior: Custom mahogany/glass
  • Flooring wood: Rosewood and cork
  • Flooring tile/stone: Arizona Tile (Golden Gate Quartzite)
  • Hardware: Häfele
  • HVAC: Des Champs/Magic Aire/Reznor
  • Kitchen appliances: Coffee maker/steamer — Miele
  • Kitchen appliances: Cooking — Dacor
  • Kitchen cabinets: Custom anigre
  • Kitchen countertops: Arizona Tile (granite)
  • Outdoor grill: Viking
  • Roofing: Eaglelite Tile (Estate Cityscape Blend)
  • Skylights: Velux
  • Solid Surface: Arizona Tile (Aurora Borealis and Yukon Granite)
  • Specialty Windows: NanaWall
  • Windows: Pella

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