By Wayne Carlson
After nearly three decades in their large Spanish-style home in Point Loma, the homeowners' children had left the nest to start families of their own. The couple decided they would investigate the possibility of moving out themselves. While house hunting in La Jolla, they fell in love with a classic 1965 home by famed modernist architect Henry Hester that was on the market.
They especially liked Hester's unusual copper and brick details that begin outside the front door and are carried inside. But they also became aware that the house needed work, so they asked GDC Construction of La Jolla to fix the problems and bring the interiors into the 21st century.
FAMED PHOTOGRAPHER SAYS HENRY HESTER WAS ONE OF THE GREATS
In his heyday, Henry Hester's projects were photographed by the legendary Julius Shulman, who says he has always considered the modernist "one of the best San Diego architects."
Perhaps Hester's best-known project was designed on a 1958 commission from Colonel Irving Salomon, an industrialist, diplomat and philanthropist. The Colonel passed over, among others, John Lloyd Wright in favor of the La Jolla-based Hester, who designed an apartment building with 30 rentals, topped by a sophisticated and airy 2,715-square-foot penthouse for the Colonel that overlooked Balboa Park from its third-story perch on Sixth Avenue.
"Within the context of San Diego, Hester was extremely progressive," says KPBS program director Keith York, who operates the ModernSanDiego.com Web site and is the proud owner of a Craig Ellwood modernist home near San Diego State University. "The Salomon Apartments were boldly designed for where they were set. You have Irving Gill architecture nearby, the 1930s Balboa Park across the street, and then Hester built a great 3-D set of cubes."
When asked to comment on the restoration of the building 50 years later, Hester demurred. Architect Jonathan Segal says he understands why Hester didn't even want his name associated with the building. "Nobody wants their work touched."
Hester, who lived in a home of his own design on Torrey Pines Road in La Jolla, designed homes throughout San Diego but most were in La Jolla neighborhoods. He also was involved in residential tracts in Denver and Albuquerque. He died of cancer at his home in Palm Desert in 2006. He was 81.
"They could see that the '80s finishes needed to be freshened and updated," says Alison Smith Dorvillier, whose La Jolla design firm Inplace was hired by GDC to oversee the finishes, lighting and furnishings. "My husband Andy did the cabinets," Dorvillier says.
The homeowners, who requested anonymity for this article, began the project in June 2007 and told GDC they wanted to be in the house by Thanksgiving.
"That gave us just six months," says GDC, whose team met its deadline by working 10 hours a day six days a week and employing a construction model that is catching on in the business, especially in commercial projects: Build and design as you go.
"It was a unique project in which we were able to incorporate the historic features of the home and reinforce Hester's themes 40 years after they were conceived," GDC says.
"We also replaced the electrical, mechanical and plumbing systems. Throughout the project, we got three bids for everything."
"The interiors were gutted, but we didn't touch anything on the exterior except for one window modification," says Dorvillier. "The only other structural changes were to move two walls to make room for a kitchen island. A guest bath and bedroom were moved to accommodate the larger kitchen."
"The rest of the work involved reshaping the ceilings and wall treatments. The original Hester architecture and the homeowners inspired us to go in alittle bit of an Asian direction with the art pieces, furnishings and furniture. Not Japanese or Chinese, just a little of each. We found some beautiful Asian screens for a very large living-room wall about 12 feet high and 25 feet long with no windows. They look great."
"The finishes are exotic, with extensive use of glass tile in the bathrooms and kitchen," GDC says. "It took a long time to put the tile in. The homeowners didn't want any vertical lines, so we tapered the vanity and cabinet legs. The granite countertops were all beveled for an exotic look.
"It's a very sophisticated home while also being very family-friendly," he says.
Dorvillier adds: "The clients have five grandchildren, all of them under the age of 5. Though we designed the house for adults, it's also a place where they don't have to worry about anything when the grandkids are there."
"Our design was intended to make the living room, family room, dining room and kitchen all flow together," Dorvillier says.
The home has three bedrooms the master suite and two guest bedrooms. One is called "the kids' playhouse." It is furnished with tables and chairs for crafts and fun, a Murphy bed and crib. It's set away from the public rooms so children can make a little noise and no one will notice.
"We also replaced all of the windows in the house, pulling out the existing glass and replacing it with tempered
glass," GDC says. "If someone crashes into a window now, the glass will crumple into tiny harmless pieces, rather than the jagged shards that ordinary glass breaks into. Another idea the homeowners like is the extensive use of Winfield Flooring carpet that is durable and stain resistant."
"The clients were a dream to work with," says Dorvillier. "They made quick decisions. They were in love with the architecture and knew exactly what they wanted with the interiors."
"Our timetable was six months to do everything. We started construction just after the clients closed escrow in March of 2007 and had them into the house by Thanksgiving."
"We used a neutral color palette in tones that evoke the ocean and wanted the finishes to be contemporary without being hard-edged. We used such things as well-crafted woods and luxurious upholstery."
The GDC-Inplace team won an award in San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles' 2003 Kitchens of the Year competition.