The Cheryl Alley home in Arroyo Grande: Eclectic meets equestrian by the sea

Working with a team of artisans, Cheryl Alley created a home that celebrates her passions and honors her new lifestyle

rajuretic@sbcglobal.netFebruary 26, 2014 

Cheryl Alley’s Arroyo Grande home is more than a place to hang her hat — it’s where she returned to her roots.

She fell for the 2002-built house for its coastline views that stretch from Point Sal to Pismo Beach. And having lived most of her life in small spaces, its 2,800 square feet gave her room to play with the interior.

Another major selling point was its 12 acres. Although Alley loves horses and collects equestrian art, she had not ridden since her youth. Her new home allowed her to acquire two Rocky Mountain horses, Kid and Maggie Mae.

When she purchased the contemporary Mediterranean home just over a year ago, it was simple and nondescript, Alley said. She hired Noel Allan of PB&B of Arroyo Grande as her general contractor to tweak the floor plan and transform nearly every interior surface over the course of 10 months. Working closely with Allan and a team of artisans, she was able to create a space that honors her history, her passions and her lifestyle. Alley favors western decor, so she chose handscraped Virginia maple floors and traditional cabinetry. Wrought iron with intricate scrollwork accents repeats throughout the house, including on her front door custom-made by Baltic Iron Doors of Santa Ana.

“It took four guys to install. It weighs 1,200 pounds,” she said.

Landscape designer Tyler Addison of Addison Landscape continued the rustic theme outdoors with the use of stone and manufactured stone products. Addison and his crew installed more than 5,000 square feet of warm-hued, textured interlocking pavers for the front driveway, patios and pathways. He used rough-hewn, antiqued Celtik stones to build retaining walls. The home exterior was accented with Minnesota Fieldstone, a manufactured stone veneer made by Coronado Stone. And at the rear of the house, where a steep slope previously made most of the backyard unusable, Addison Landscape created a main patio and smaller terraced seating areas, with a fire pit in a spot with the best view of the sunset.

Setting the tone at the front of the house are two dramatic water features: a rock-lined koi pond, and a 4-foot-tall bronze fountain sculpture. It is a mer-horse — half horse, half fish — merging her fondness for horses and sea life. Orangevale sculptor Patricia Borum took 10 months to create it, and, Alley says, “She was well worth the wait.”

For the interior, Alley happily embraced eclecticism. She began with a foundation of western design, tempered with a romantic, feminine quality. Then she layered in personal elements. For instance, she inherited a large collection of Asian pieces from her mother. This includes several rugs, Chinese embroideries and cabinets.

She found novel ways to display these pieces. For instance, she acquired a kimono that her father, a World War II flight instructor, brought home from Okinawa as a gift for her mother. Alley hired Johnson Framing Studio to remove it from its frame. Because the back was destroyed by glue, Gail Johnson recommended hanging it on apole. Morro Bay teddy bear artisan Lori Simon lightly stuffed the shoulders and mounted it on an aged bamboo pole. On display in her bedroom as a three-dimensional art piece, the kimono is “a wonderful memory of the love my parents had,” said Alley.

She took care to integrate each piece into its new environment. For example, in the bedroom, she used an Oriental rug with a bold floral pattern that she calls “an attention grabber.” To keep it from stealing the spotlight, she combined it with a few pieces of painted, distressed bedroom furniture that are equally colorful and a touch whimsical.

Alley accessorizes with her personal collections. This includes equestrian pieces, animal-themed art, and ocean-themed art, some of which was handed down from her mother and grandmother. She is also an avid photographer and displays her work along one hallway.

Working directly with artisans allowed Alley to experiment with novel designs. Her team included Gary Thiessen, who designed and built custom cabinetry, and Joni Jackson of Valancing Act, who created custom window treat ments.

Jackson gladly indulged Alley’s creative instincts and concocted numerous imaginative draperies for the house. For instance, Alley wanted something dramatic for the music room to complement her beloved baby grand piano. They went with an “ebony and ivory” theme. Jackson created draperies from black silk velvet with a cream lining that wraps around from back to front. Sheer panels are off-white and have vertical lines running the length to represent the lines of the piano keys. She topped it off with an arched valance edged with black crystals to match the chandelier in the room.

In the master bedroom, Jackson was commissioned to create blackout drapes for the windows.

“I can’t sleep if there is any light, and on a full moon, this house is lit up,” said Alley.

After discovering that the 12 feet of blackout material required to cover her tall windows would not allow the silk drapes to hang properly, she and Jackson decided to instead hang blackout drapes on the canopy bed. Alley took the idea of a bed retreat a few steps further. She installed a sound system within the bed and had luxurious custom pillows made from Indian wedding saris purchased on eBay.

Alley wanted to be enveloped in purple, a color she has loved since she was a teen. Various shades of purple and mauve cloak the walls. And when she made an offhand comment to Thiessen that she wished her bathroom cabinets could be purple, he suggested purpleheart, which is a dense and water-resistant wood with a natural purple hue.

Alley balanced all the purple with accents in burnt orange.

“I’m told those colors together are royal colors. So I’m exercising my inner empress,” she quipped.

Most rooms accommodate the needs of her menagerie of beloved pets, which include miniature schnauzer Mia, standard poodle Serafina, two rescued stray cats, T.J. and Sinatra, and W.C., a California Desert tortoise. Her two conures, Izzy and Luis, enjoy the view from a shaded rear window. Alley had a large whirlpool tub installed by a picture window in the revamped master bathroom so she could enjoy a soak while watching her koi swimming in their pond at the front of the house.

She also spends ample quality time with her horses, which are learning cowboy dressage and starting to attend horse shows. Alley, who is a retired college professor, is learning her own new skill: how to live the lifestyle she had long hoped for.

“I lived in the Silicon Valley area for 19 years, so I was very used to that corporate fast pace,” she said, “It took almost a year to realize I could do what I wanted and take things much more slowly. It’s just so much better here.”


EMBRACE THE UNEXPECTED Dead ends during a design project often lead to unexpected, and sometimes better ideas. Also, delays are a good time to re-evaluate your goals and design scheme. Home projects rarely go by the book, so embrace detours as opportunities to take a new look at what you are doing.

MIX IT RIGHT Diverse styles can play well together, especially if there is at least one element in common, such as color or shape. The Oriental rugs in Cheryl Alley’s bedroom work well with her new painted furniture because both have a similar color scheme and playful feel.

REIMAGINE HEIRLOOMS Family heirlooms can often be displayed in a new way to better fit into your space. Alley wanted to use a kimono passed down from her parents but wasn’t crazy about its frame. She had the kimono stuffed and mounted as a three-dimensional art piece. A framing expert can often make recommendations on how to preserve and display family mementos.

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