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Bayside Pair Are Minding Their Manor

February 22, 1992|LESLIE KNOWLTON HERZOG | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEWPORT BEACH — When Barbara Harris designed her 5,400-square-foot English Manor home on Harbor Island Drive, she had more than aesthetics in mind.

"All the men in this family are over six feet tall," she said, laughing. "I couldn't see some delicate French design, and Italian didn't quite work. English is heavy, a little more masculine, with sturdier chairs to go with our guys."

From the cellar with its walk-in safe to the rooftop entertainment area that seats 40 people, this home combines function with beauty. Six fireplaces, four bars and seven televisions blend with the massive English antiques scattered throughout eight rooms and four bathrooms. Every possible square inch of storage space is utilized. All glass is beveled, all openings are arched, and all doors and doorways are rounded.

It's also a house full of surprises.

Secret wall panels hide small closets. Buttons move a stained glass window and a chandelier, and pop open a door disguised as a bookcase. A dumbwaiter that starts in the basement moves food from the kitchen to the second-floor hall and roof. Literary sayings are etched into marble hearth insets and each ceiling is unique.

The house is modeled after those that Barbara, a former interior designer, and husband, Ben Harris, an apartment developer and concrete-block manufacturer, have admired on their frequent trips to England since marrying 15 years ago.

Before moving into the house in 1990, the couple, who have six children--five boys and one girl--from former marriages, lived for 13 years in a house they built down the street. It was one of 62 homes that line Promontory Bay, a body of water between Bayside Drive and Balboa Island. Although they were happy with that house, they wanted to make some changes and remodeling was impractical, they said.

They had eyed a vacant lot owned by former Irvine Co. President Peter Kremer, who lived two doors away from the lot and planned to build on it, Ben Harris said.

"One day, I saw (Kremer) working on his house," Ben Harris said. "I just stopped in and in about 15 minutes, we made a deal and shook hands."

A crew spent six months framing the house, then five carpenters spent 2 1/2 months remodeling the framing by curving all openings that were square, bullnosing all corners and making and installing the 5-foot-high oak panels that line the living room and extend up the stairs to the entry hall.

"Wood had to be soaked and bent and laminated," Ben Harris said. "Everything was handmade right here."

The Harrises started construction in January, 1989, and completed the work in August of the next year. They didn't mind the wait, Barbara Harris said.

"This," she said, sitting in her living room, "is it. It's everything I've always wanted."

he living room, with its sweeping nautical view, opens onto an outdoor dining area for small parties. That area is elevated from the rest of the patio to save going up and down steps when entertaining, therefore makes serving easier. Also, the added height helps the Harrises see over the boats when the tide comes up.

From there, steps lead to the Indian slate-covered patio with fountain, sink, stove and barbecue. The planter box is built of stone imported from Guadalajara, as is the cornice around the home's exterior.

Steps also lead down to the dock, where the Harrises keep four boats--two electric "cocktail" boats for parties, a 28-foot sailboat for leisurely cruises and a 44-foot motorboat called "Cabo Fever" for fishing local and Mexican waters.

From the living room, with its Italian marble floor, signed Persian rug and copper ceiling imported from England, Barbara pointed to the leaded arches over the patio doors.

"When the water is rough, the sun comes in and the light dances on the floor," she said. "It's a prism effect--so beautiful."

Also in the living room area are a bumper pool table and the Harrises' English pub, complete with a wood sign, glasses, towels and napkins that all sport the couple's personal crest. A stained glass window etched with Barbara's maiden name (Burton) and Ben's last name was copied after a window the couple saw in an English pub.

The oak bar took a month to build. It has shell-backed oak bar stools, a television and a telephone. A professional bar dispenser squirts cranberry juice, soda water, Diet Coke, 7-Up and tonic water. Beneath the bar is redwood grating that camouflages a stainless steel floor. Liquids from cleaning or spills flow from the floor into a central drain.

Around the corner from the bar is a large bookcase full of treasures collected on travels to China, Russia, Europe, Japan, Alaska, Antarctica, Australia and the Amazon.

The living room's massive antique oak fireplace mantel is from Winston Churchill's summer home, the Harrises said. Both the fireplace and the mantel were moved from the Harrises' former house.

Engraved in white Gothic script on Italian marble hearth inset is: "Look not for reward from others but hope that you have done your best--Churchill."

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