Perfection is impossible and yet this Morro Bay home and garden is an example of what can be achieved with vision, talent and creative energy.
Mid-century modern homes were influenced by Japanese aesthetic, and this sublime garden with its peaceful feel enhances every inch of the home.
Home owners Aloha Windsor and Paul Darbinian were looking for a quieter Morro Bay neighborhood when this house became available. It had been rarely occupied for 14 years when their Realtor noticed a gardener working there and stopped to inquire. The previous owners were ready to sell. One look and the couple was sold on the house. They bought it in 2013, then embarked on a remodel.
In 1950, a young Cal Poly architecture graduate, Don Smith, was impressed with the work of Joseph Eichler and Frank Lloyd Wright. He was hired to design a home for the site, which adjoins Morro Bay Golf Course. Using techniques from the architects he admired, he designed the home so that window walls focus on the garden and a corner window in the living room focuses on a view of the sea. Morro Rock is framed like an exquisite oil painting.
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Today, two bronze herons stand on blue-green slate from Carmel inside the home’s entry. It is complemented by blue-green dymondia ground cover, selected by Aloha, which floats in a serpentine shape just outside the floor-to-ceiling windows.
Bright lantana in yellow, orange and red frames one side of the dymondia lawn. Opposite that a trio of bright burgundy Festival grasses (cordyline) alternate with blue-gray chalk fingers (senecio mandraliscae). The block wall outside the master suite is fronted by the unusual Strelitzia juncea, a lean upright variety of Bird of Paradise.
The sleek, uncluttered interior is echoed in the courtyard patio with squares of black Indian slate. It appears to step into gray gravel when in reality the “stepping stones” are black concrete. The expertly made and beautifully laid path one walks on provides design interest from the interior of the house and easy walking outside.
Patricia Cullinan, landscape designer and contractor; Jim Schemmer, masonry contractor; and Nichols and Smyth, landscape contractors; worked as a team in developing the project. Custom woodworkers John O’Connor and Ken Rhodes installed the fence and built the pergola. Both, designed by Cullinan, are built like pieces of fine furniture.
“Paul and Aloha were wonderful clients, really trusting,” Cullinan said. “Everybody was professional. You can design all you want, but when you work as a team everyone works to make everything look the best.”
One enters the home’s front door by walking past a sculpted Japanese black pine accented with broken pieces of slate. The shaded north entry features Kaffir lily, which blooms bright orange through the cooler months. A combination of mondo grasses, black and green, accent the path beside the house. Astelia, with silver leaves, an Australian native also known as pineapple grass, offers contrast to the black mondo grass.
Olive trees, already more than 10 feet tall, were placed along the street as a gentle but effective privacy screen. “Emerald Carpet,” a ground hugging Manzanita, and ice plant in purple and gold dot the hillside.
The view side of the home slopes toward a river rock catch basin while a series of tiered block retaining walls hold cascading lantanas in yellow and lavender. Russelia “Coral Fountain” sends sparks of red-orange brightness shooting over the view. New windows in office, bedroom and bathroom all see the ocean through this colorful frame.
Specimen size Aloe marlothii, Agave “Blue Glow” and Aloe “Little Red Riding Hood” punctuate the gray gravel and black concrete footpath on the top level. A pair of teak steamer chairs invites the owners to leave their home and step outside.
When Windsor says she has strong feelings for the house and its transformation, she is not alone. The drama provided by her elegant choices for the home and the design team’s work on the garden create a remarkable pairing. Some might call it a stunning masterpiece.
The architect, now 89, visited the home recently and said he was really pleased at how the original intent of the house was retained through its restoration.
Although the kitchen was updated with blue-green granite, matching glass backsplash, Morro Bay cabinets, and stainless steel appliances, it feels timeless.
This no-clutter environment offers serenity and a total indoor-outdoor feel. That is no accident. Windsor made a major effort to simplify life.
Now that all the interior and exterior work is complete, Darbinian says: “I feel like I’m living in a five-star resort. I’ve never lived in a place like this before.”