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Surf Turf

A House in Newport Beach Returns to Its Rustic Roots

October 08, 2000|PENELOPE ROWLANDS

To spend time in Mimi and Peter Buckley's beach cottage is to feel as if you've entered the heart of Southern California. The sound of the ocean accompanies everything. The famous Newport Beach boardwalk is just yards away, a magnet for what architect Laura Hartman calls "boardwalk culture"--nonstop rollerbladers, joggers, dog walkers, and the like.

With a surf shack just outside the door and a kitchen counter made from a surfboard, this 2,500-square-foot five-bedroom house speaks on every level of the beach. "It's a very appealing place for people who like big waves and want to get in the water," says Mimi Buckley, whose environmentalist husband is a serious surfer and who describes herself as an architect, mother and designer. "It's very relaxed."

The 1940s-era bungalow-style cottage had been in her family for years. She and her husband bought it from other family members, along with a property next door, and hired the Berkeley firm of Fernau & Hartman Architects to bring it up to date. "It was a fairly humble and somewhat frumpy beach house," recalls Hartman, who, with partner Richard Fernau, had done several projects for the Buckleys in Northern California, where they live. In an inventive renovation, the architects refocused the cottage, removing several previous additions to return it to its original structure. They redid the interior finishes and reoriented some bedrooms, adding a dormer window to one, so that each has an ocean view. New structures, including a guest house, the surf shack--used to store surfboards--and a garage with an attached bunk room that's designed to sleep six children, were added and centered around a garden for a courtyard effect. To the hot tub, considered almost a necessity in this part of the world, they added new framework.

Here, as in their other projects, Fernau and Hartman were inspired by the Japanese tradition of saki ori, a technique in which patches, added to an original fabric, are made deliberately evident. Similarly, when these architects undertake a renovation, they try to make the scope of their additions clear. In this case, they varied the building material for each part, using, for example, rustic redwood for the surf shack and cedar shingles for the main structure. "You can see the intentionality to it," says Hartman. The neutral tones of the exterior walls are accented by bright pastel shades at the windows--what Hartman calls a "Diebenkorn palette," after the California artist.

Working with landscape architect Teresa Clark, the architects created a garden rich in tropical plantings--a living variation on the beach theme. "Almost all our residential projects have a garden at the center," says Fernau. "We design the inside and the out so that they're inextricably linked." The interior, too, speaks of the shore. Working with designer Marci Ellison, Mimi Buckley filled the house with vintage Hawaiian bamboo-cane furniture, much of it brightened by antique fabrics she picked up on the island of Kauai. Interspersed among these are fun, attention-getting contemporary pieces, including a bright red couch by the Los Angeles furniture designer known as Harry.

The couple share their house with a steady stream of friends and relatives, and it seems to be in constant use. Amazingly for such a small structure, it sleeps 17. The architects designed it with visiting hordes in mind. "We wanted the house to be easy to use, legible," says Hartman. "It's very clear. You know where the dishes are." So do those who come here, drawn to a place where life really is a beach.

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Excerpted from "Weekend Houses," by Penelope Rowlands, photographed by Mark Darley, with permission, Chronicle Books, 2000

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