When it came to remake their Laguna Beach house, Mark and Cindy Evans wanted to emulate the calm of California missions they loved while celebrating their favorite pastime: shopping flea markets.
"I love the peaceful feel you get whenever you walk through a mission," Mark says. "It is completely different from anywhere else."
So is his house. Mark likes to joke that he and Cindy refer to themselves as the Flea Marketeers, adding with some hyperbole, "We're collectors as long as it's cheap."
Up at 4 a.m. and armed with flashlights, the couple hits its favorite Southern California markets looking for antiques before the crowds arrive. The pair's circuit consists of the markets at Irvine Valley College on the first Sunday of the month, the Rose Bowl in Pasadena on the second, Long Beach Veterans Stadium on the third and the Santa Monica Airport on the fourth.
Nearly everything in their hacienda overlooking Laguna's Main Beach is courtesy of these excursions over the last 25 years. Monterey-style furnishings with an early California vibe mix with collections of San Jose and Tlaquepaque pottery, Mexican yard art and their favorite Laguna Beach plein-air paintings from the 1920s, '30s and '40s. Asked whether anything in the house is not from a flea market, Cindy jokes, "the bed and the coffee maker."
After 11 years of redecorating, capped by the recent conversion of a balcony into a sleeping porch, the three-bedroom house and garden appear to be done. But do the Flea Marketeers consider their work over?
"We'll never be done," Mark says.
The couple's mission-meets-flea-market mash-up has its roots in Mark's youth. As a teenager in Pico Rivera in the early 1970s, Mark often would hitchhike down to Laguna Beach to explore the picturesque artists colony.
"I would marvel at the beauty of the geography," he says. "But I was just as impressed with the architecture and beauty of the art colony atmosphere. I couldn't get over the feel of Laguna and its people. It just seemed like they were living in a beautiful art scene that they were appreciating in real time."
In 1999, he and Cindy realized their dream of living in Laguna when a rundown 1929 Spanish Revival home came on the market. Their timing was good: Property values were depressed following a fire that destroyed 17,000 acres and 366 homes in the area, including the house next door. A palm tree in the frontyard still has burn marks from the fire.
The house also came with some history. Architect Aubrey St. Clair designed it for the Bird family, who owned the White House, one of Laguna's early restaurants. The couple heard that "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" author Ken Kesey rented the home at one time, and that fellow counterculture figure Timothy Leary was rumored to have lived across the street.
Equally novel was the home's layout. False walls had been installed to create a makeshift boarding house. Most rooms were partitioned off and rented out, including a dining room and balcony where a bathroom had been added. Mark guesses that about five renters split the space.
But the house never lost its great bones.
"We removed all of the crazy partitions inside and cleaned every night," says Mark, who owns a roofing company. Much to his delight, the original Malibu tile fountain had been left intact in the courtyard, and the windows still had the hardware designed by St. Clair. The house mainly needed fresh paint and the couple's personal touch.
Today, rooms are loaded with concrete statues, Día de los Muertos figurines and Mexican serapes and sombreros, but the house doesn't feel crowded. It is, in fact, quite comfortable.
"You can put your feet up," Mark says. "I like my house to feel like a den everywhere."
That cozy, airy feeling is partly due to the home's glorious sightlines — views of the ocean and the dramatic garden that Mark has cultivated over the years.
It's also partly derived from a keen sense of balance, a look that is neither 100% stark and dark nor overly exuberant with color or kitsch. Although one of the more rustic bedrooms could be straight out of an early California mission, the kitchen is a warm and delightful hommage to Cindy's Mexican grandmother: green ceramic tile counters, bright red refrigerator, Mexican pavers and colorful Mexican pottery. Among the surprises: beer trays from the 1940s nailed to some of the cabinet fronts.
Outside, Mark was determined to carry the same mix into the garden. After they purchased the house, the couple tackled its overgrown landscape, filling 12 large trash bins with brush and debris, leveling off parts of the yard, installing irrigation and drainage, and rebuilding the terraces, he says. Then he planted drought-tolerant cactuses and succulents, partly for fire prevention.
"We planted pepper trees because they have them in the gardens of the missions and they give you a lot of privacy," he says.
Most recently inspired by an episode of Huell Howser's "California's Gold," Mark and Cindy transformed their balcony into a sleeping porch. They had Blinn & Young, a Costa Mesa maker of custom boating covers and building awnings, construct canvas blinds and mosquito netting to separate the sleeping area from the rest of the balcony.
And, of course, the markets always inspire more redecorating.
"It's so fun. It's like fishing," Mark says. "And we can always trade out. Flea market vendors are precious people that you get to know over the years. Most of them have a particular area of expertise, and they usually don't mind telling you the story behind their offerings."
The two seem to enjoy their shopping missions as much as each other. "Doesn't everyone need a 3-foot-tall painting of the Virgin Mary in their house?" Cindy asks.
And though the couple is fortunate to share similar tastes, the two don't agree on everything.
Says Mark with finality: "No gnomes allowed."