Architects at Home

Take a look inside Laguna Beach designers’ dwellings.– By Somer Flaherty

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 and 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.

Leslie LeBon

In the lower Nyes/upper Victoria Beach neighborhood of Laguna Beach, architect Leslie LeBon and her husband Peter Navarro purchased a 1928 home for them, their son Alex and cats Bob, Jack, Luna, Nike, Pumpkin and Shadow. The home, which sits on three lots, was originally broken up into distinct dwelling areas for several separate tenants. The home had been neglected over the years and with the need for only one family to inhabit the space, Leslie found herself planning for a total remodel. Her goal was to return the space to its 1920s splendor, while still employing all the modern conveniences developed in the past eight decades. Leslie, founding principal 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.

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 Leslie says she doesn’t have a specific design aesthetic—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—she does agree that 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—hardscape and landscaping still needs to be done, but the family is reminded of the home’s early days via a trove of treasures from the past 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.

Horst Noppenberger

Architect Horst Noppenberger’s home began as a remodel of an 800-square-foot south Laguna Beach cottage built in the 1940s and has since transformed into a compound of structures and courtyards for a work-live compound.

With Horst, founder of Horst Architects, Inc., as the architect and his wife Arianna as the interior designer, the home was transformed to a 2,500-square-foot residence complete with four bedrooms, 4.5 baths and an outdoor room with an expansive view of the ocean and a connection to an adjacent garden, enclosed by metal louvers that filter the sunlight and provide privacy. In this space, the couple and their children Paolo and Chiara enjoy spending time together, entertaining with friends and doing yoga.

The original structure of the home is connected to the new structure by a bridge. Inside this bridge, there are a series of steps that lead down to the elevation of the new structure. During the build, the bridge had a sloped plywood floor over what would eventually become the stairs.

“Our children, which were toddlers at this time, would slide down the bridge from their bedrooms in the old structure, into the family room below in the new structure,” Horst remembers.

The process of designing their own home has left Horst and Arianna with an experience that has shaped the aesthetic of future projects. Although the home was radically reinvented from its single cottage beginnings, the new architecture was encouraged by its surroundings.

The project, and the entire design through build process, including challenges like the origami-esque roof that framers had to build on the ground and then crane into the air to set perfectly in place, became a workshop for Horst and Arianna where they developed many of the principles which continue to inform their work today.

Robert McGraw

Architect Robert McGraw chose his home in the Alta Vista neighborhood of Laguna Beach keeping in mind the real estate philosophy: Purchase the worst house on the best street. The great ocean view didn’t hurt either. Although the home needed more work than most would be willing to take on, it wasn’t a deterrent for Robert, a residential and commercial architect and principal of Robert A. McGraw Architects.

The remodel of the original 1,200-square-foot home was corralled by what Robert says were few but very restrictive existing conditions: the smaller size of the lot, the existing house and 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, the process encountered obstacles—like the day Robert asked for the existing crawl space vents to be removed so new ones could be installed, and instead ended up with an entire 40 feet of new fencing gone (“fence” and “vent” apparently sounded similar).

Robert admits that if he were to do it all over again there are things he would probably change. But even with the challenges, the McGraw family was rewarded for their 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 says that when viewed from the standpoint of repurposing a structure and adding to the original, while maintaining the basic intent of the original designer, the space is representative of his aesthetic.

“In order to have made this structure mine completely it would have meant a lot more demolition, time and of course expense,” he explains.

“That’s the other part that represents me is how frugal my approach is to building and stuff especially when I have to pay for it.”

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 are a testament to modern architecture, and he is well known for designing some of the most eye-catching homes in Laguna Beach. His own dwelling is no different.

The compound encompasses a one-bedroom main home and a one-bedroom guesthouse that are connected by courtyards, and landscaping that creates an ideal and very calming space.

The two separate 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 to create a timeless design that was sensitive to the natural surroundings,” Mark says.

From the outside, the house is a modern structure, to be sure, but one that appears very 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 like most homes is the center of activity.  On warm nights the couple can retreat back outside and relax 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.