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Casa La Cuesta Puts on a Fresh Face : Redesign Is On View at Tustin Hills Mansion, Where Spanish Is Not Just an Accent


Twenty-two Orange County interior designers have brought the light of day into a classic Spanish-style mansion set high in north Tustin Hills. The house--featured this year as the 1993 Philharmonic House of Design--will be open for public tours today through May 16.

The 10,000-square-foot compound was once owned by such early-day Orange County notables as C.E. Utt and James Irvine. It commands a 360-degree view of Orange County--including the San Gabriel Mountains and the Channel Islands. Called Casa La Cuesta, the white stuccoed, barrel-tile roofed residence was built in the 1930s and consists of a number of out-buildings in addition to the main house.

The annual home design project is a team effort of the Orange County chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers and Orange County's Philharmonic Society. It raises money for the Philharmonic Society's Musical Youth programs and gives designers the opportunity to showcase their ideas.

"The choice of period home is a good one," said Deanna Rousseau, co-chair of the '93 Design House with Lana Barth, both of whom worked as designers on the two previous design houses. The first, a 1927 Gregorian home, was highly traditional; last year's choice was a new, Tuscan-style villa.

"This year's choice, I think, will bring back the warmth, history and elegance of true Orange County," Barth said.

One of the problems addressed by all of the designers was what one termed "wood craziness"--the helter-skelter use of mismatched woods.

Dark oaks, walnuts, light oaks and pine could all be found inside one small space. Most designers chose to lighten and even them out--many painting the dark woods white, taupe glaze, or adding unique finishes and glazes to distract from the warring woods.

The designers all worked from the same color palette, which was selected by committee. Because walls and woods were being heavily lightened, the wall color palette focused on Mission white, cream or Casa del Sol (a maize color)--all colors that relate to the period and style of Spanish architecture.

Spice-toned accent colors of Spanish bronze, Del Mar blue (teal) and Adobe were also chosen. Green tones--from light ash to a warm forest--rounded out the palette, and were borrowed from the exterior awnings, painted ceilings and wood trim.

The focus of the main house is the living room, done by Warren Martin.

The dark walls in the room were painted in an Old Gold tone to support and blend with the hand-painted original ceiling--rumored to be done during the Depression for $100. The wall treatment in the nearby loggia is hand-painted paper in a deep, claret red to simulate the look of leather--again pulling the color from the living room ceiling. Drapery treatments frame the heavily arched windows, combining several fabrics, fringes and swags hung from massive poles.

Hung on one wall is a chinoiserie French tapestry; Turkish rugs separate the two area spaces, and brocade couches with modern pillow fabrics complement the area.

"I wanted the living room to be a place not only of dramatic focus, but also where you could put up your feet on the couch and read a book," Martin said.

There are many design gems scattered throughout the house: the hand-worked marble grotto and period artworks in Marsha Barkhurst's entryway; the geometric serenity of Jason Titus' downstairs library-turned- young man's room; the whimsical South American fabric colors in Carmen Olsson's cabana and dressing areas; the sunburst, hand-painted ceiling in Bella Conolly's foyer and richly-detailed hand-painted ceiling in Walter Nutting's gentleman's retreat; the white-walled wood ceilings and huge table (of fountain stone and beveled glass) in Joan Linder and Iris Goliger's dining area, and the lovely combination of walnut/Corian/tile counters and edged detail in RoxAnn Johnson's Spanish kitchen.

Among the unusual design products in the house: the Dupont Corian surfacing used dramatically in both master bath and kitchen, with opulent polish to appear like granite and marble (Corian is traditionally viewed as more serviceable than elegant); the Palisade and Punkah fans by Fanimation (often seen in restaurants); and the Soft Bathtub, a patented unique, soft--and very safe--cushioned tub.

Candlelight is used throughout the house: electric wall scones are replaced with iron, three-branch "cross" candle scones. A massive two-tiered iron chandelier with crackle-glass hurricanes drops from the high ceiling. A Tree of Life iron floor standing candelabra with nine candle columns flickers with light.

Highlighting the massive fireplace chimney is a wonderful hand-painted canvas mural in a dreamlike jungle motif illuminated by computerized spotlights. The other bit of modern technology is paddle-wheel fans, used both as pedestal fans and also suspended from the ceiling.

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