It’s not every day that a half-acre undeveloped parcel of land perched on a hilltop with 270-degree views becomes available in Southern California. Let alone one overlooking the Pacific Ocean. So when the opportunity presented itself (an open auction held to sell the property by the city of Del Mar in San Diego County), a professional athlete and his wife took the chance and called upon Los Angeles–based KAA Design to make their dream home a reality.

“It was really unique,” recounts Duan H.M. Tran, partner at KAA Design, who, along with Grant Kirkpatrick, founding partner, and team, designed the 6,500-square-foot property and landscape design. “The city of Del Mar had owned it, and it used to be the old municipal water tower for the area. It’s such a premiere location because it sits on top of the hill looking west toward the Pacific Ocean and it has a view toward the Del Mar Racetrack. When you look east, you look toward the valley and over the wetlands, so it has an amazing three-point view. It gave us an opportunity to think of this as a clean slate. It was literally a raw piece of property [a piece of dirt with overgrown grass and trees] that allowed us to mold it.”

Carefully hugging the hillside, the resort-like residence features an infinity swimming pool, a sport court, a custom 10-person Jacuzzi, an entire second-story indoor/outdoor master suite with an outdoor shower, and a 500-square-foot private casita for visits from friends and family. “It’s designed in a way where the profile mimics the hillside, so sensitive to the environment,” explains Tran of the fastidious site plan. “That was really important to Grant and me in terms of how we approached this project. We didn’t want it to look like a mansion on top of the hill. It was much more sympathetic and part of the overall landscape.” 

For the aesthetic, the husband and wife had a concise design vision: a clean and inviting white palette with a single accent color (charcoal), even down to the custom charcoal felt pool table, as well as a cohesive indoor/outdoor flow to maximize the property and their active lifestyle with their three children. Designed in an H-shape with two primary living areas and a connecting great room in the middle, it was also essential that the property—composed of materials such as board-form concrete, sun-washed plaster, and mahogany-stained siding—be modern without feeling stark and cold. “They chose mahogany because they just loved the color tone,” explains Tran of the relatively low-maintenance, weather-resistant wood ideal for the proximity to the ocean. “And it also allowed us to bring this almost rustic, cabin feel to some of the interiors.”

Los Angeles–based interior designer Mark J. Williams, of Mark J. Williams Design, outfitted the home with the hand-designed, marine-varnished Alton House furniture line, including chairs and sofas all slip-covered in creamy white linen fabric by Holly Hunt for continuity and easy maintenance. “It feels almost like a yacht,” says Williams of touches such as the Ann Sacks “White Thassos” tile and hand-woven leather barstools by Mark Albrecht Studio along with warm, walnut floors chosen for high-traffic and wet bare feet coming into the kitchen from the pool. “For me, this project was invigorating. The amount of time that was spent on editing, discipline, and all the details are what I’m most proud of—and keeping it all authentic.” 

There are examples of this thoughtful curating process in the light and airy great room appointed with table lamps by Rose Tarlow, a pair of custom steel consoles by Williams, and a large-scale painting by Southern California artist Wolfgang Bloch, a friend of the husband and wife. In the serene master bedroom, Williams layered a two-inch-thick natural mohair rug; a custom, overstuffed double chaise lounge for naps and movie-watching in front of the fireplace, and glamorous, tiered-glass “Odeon” chandeliers from RH, while the master bath is fashioned with a soaking tub wrapped in walnut, and “For Loft” mirrors by Kallista. “When you walk into the master bath, you just go ‘oh, my God,’” says Williams. “it feels like a spa at Big Sur. It’s timeless.”

At the end of the two-year project, Tran takes pride in the result: “This is a funky lot that’s along a hillside and is kind of triangular in nature. I think the reason why it hadn’t sold or been developed in the past is that people looked at this and said, ‘You can’t build a house there,’ or ‘how do you do that?’ It was about taking a creative approach and being sympathetic to the terrain. This was one of our favorites.”  

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