Both family-friendly and perfect for entertaining, the forever home SoCal architect Chris Brandon designed for himself, wife, and kids marries modern design with old-world charm. 

(Above) Solar panels on the backside of the pool house roof capture the daytime sun to heat the water in the pool. Photographs by Manolo Langis

To find a lot in East Side Costa Mesa that’s big enough for a house and a yard, the stars have to align just right. No one knows this better than architect Chris Brandon, who not only has lived in the neighborhood for years but also has designed numerous houses in this and other Southern California seaside towns. “We were looking for a piece of property where we could have a big backyard,” explains Brandon about embarking on a new home for his family. “When this rare, half-acre lot came up, it was a great opportunity, so we jumped on it. We’d been dreaming about something like this for a long time.”

A walkway and driveway made of stone, plus carriage garage doors, bring out the old-world charm of the transitional French style house.

Together with frequent collaborators contractor Andrew Patterson, founder of Patterson Custom Homes, and interior designer Brooke Wagner, of Brooke Wagner Design, Brandon and his wife, Kaley, brought to fruition what they hope will be their forever nest, a 4,600-square-foot, four-bedroom, five-bath home with a pool and a pool house. As for the transitional French style they selected, Kaley likes to think of it as a love letter to her, Brandon says, explaining that his wife has a penchant for arches. They both admire the stylistic juxtaposition of old and new. 

“We planned on raising our young kids here, so it wasn’t going to be a modern, museum-like structure,” says Brandon. “We wanted the house to have a sense of permanence, some history to it, even though it was brand new.” In addition, the couple were adamant that the house fit well in the fabric of this traditional and established neighborhood.

Archways in a variety of contexts and materials throughout the home are an inspired design feature.

From the front, the 60-foot-wide lot looks typical of those you see around town. Its 300-foot depth, however, puts it in a whole different league, one where not only a large pool and 600-square-foot pool house were possible, but also a sport court and a generous lawn where the kids can run around. Here in the back, the outside of the home is sheltered from the southern sun with two steel-and-wood trellises that cover outdoor seating areas and incorporate heaters. Brandon designed the yard and outdoor amenities—such as the sunken fire pit and pool house bar—for maximum family fun and for entertaining friends. All of the exterior doors on the main level are pocketing glass doors that encourage a natural inside-outside flow. 

Indoor living areas are open and oriented toward the yard. The family room, dining room, and kitchen, all of which comprise the great room, are unified by a 10.5-foot-high ceiling of Douglas fir that has been brushed and sandblasted, and then bleached and whitewashed. “We wanted to give it a distressed look, like we had scraped away plaster and stucco from the ceiling,” explains Brandon, who achieved an “old, authentic look” for the house in other ways as well: reclaimed wood for the kitchen countertops and pantry doors; tumbled Carrara marble for the countertops; unlacquered brass Waterworks hardware that will take on a patina with age. “We wanted to use natural materials that wouldn’t look out of character if they were dinged or chipped,” says Brandon. “A lot of the materials helped tell the story of a house that might have been around for a while.”

Clockwise from top left, a crushed-gravel floor in the temperature-controlled wine room gives it a Napa feeling. Marble and brass in a bathroom is a Parisian bistro look. An elegant arched alcove in the primary suite frames a Waterworks soaking tub. The marble-floored butler’s pantry houses all the stainless steel appliances and offers plentiful storage space.

Along with contemporary elements and more transitional touches like the big pieces of glass on the front of the house, steel windows, and big sliding pocket doors, the Brandons sought the comfort that comes from being surrounded by meaningful items. Much of the artwork in the house is cherished heirlooms from artists on both sides of the family, mainly Kaley’s grandmother. Taking pride of place in the foyer is an antique bench once used as a church pew that was the first piece of furniture purchased by Kaley’s parents. 

Plenty of entertaining space inside and out was a priority for the these consummate hosts. 

Brooke Wagner’s interiors are “a mix of clean lines, luxe fabrics, and vintage pieces that add texture and layering,” says the designer, citing how the ocean blue crushed velvet in the primary bedroom picks up a color in the heirloom artwork over the bed. Elsewhere in the home, color judiciously layered against a neutral backdrop—like the charcoal-stained kitchen island and cabinetry—brings warmth to the rooms.

The earthy colors and jewel tones for the primary suite were drawn from the heirloom artwork over the bed.

The marriage of modern design with old-world charm is striking throughout the home, starting in the entryway, a natural light-flooded space with French oak floors and an archway lined with reclaimed bricks from Spain, which, Brandon says, they wanted to look “like a brick wall we tunneled through.” The arch motif continues throughout the home, offering stunning sightlines, especially where the arches line up under vaulted ceilings. In the master suite, there’s an arched doorway between the bedroom and the bathroom, an arch over the tub, and an arched steel-and-glass door leading to the outside. 

Smaller versions of the carriage garage doors, two arched wooden doors on either side of a Lacanche range lead to arguably Kaley’s favorite room in the house, the butler’s pantry, a 10-foot by 20-foot space with lots of storage, where stainless steel appliances and a mudroom area are tucked away from the panelized kitchen that’s out in the open.  

Consummate hosts, the Brandons incorporated plenty of entertaining spaces into their home, both inside and out. But even more important was creating the perfect home for raising their children, a place to put down roots. Wearing both his architect and head-of-household hats, Chris Brandon says simply and with heart, “This house is a dream come true.”   

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