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AnnaMaria Stephens | Photo: Ethan Pines | December 6, 2013
A Laguna Beach Architect helps reimagine midcentury in San Diego for the ultimate in socal living.
Midcentury modern never goes out of style, especially in Southern California. But standout originals are scarce, and imitators often focus on style rather than substance. That’s why Robert Fleet took matters into his own hands in Solana Beach, and he tapped Laguna Beach architect Si Teller of Teller Architects to help.
Fleet knew he was onto something when he first spotted the odd-shaped lot just a block from bustling Cedros Avenue. “It was a teardown, and the yard was overgrown with oleander,” says Fleet. “The ugly duckling of the ’hood.”
His tip-off to buy? “The house next door was really nice!”
Neighborly curb appeal is a big perk when you’re planning to build your dream dwelling. So is hailing from a prominent local family synonymous with forward thinking. Fleet is the great-grandson of San Diego aviation pioneer Reuben H. Fleet, and his grandfather developed Fleetridge, a Point Loma neighborhood still dotted with ’50s homes.
“I grew up loving midcentury modern,” says Fleet. “Those homes were lived in really well. It wasn’t about big houses and unusable space.”
Fleet, whose friends call him by his last name, also inherited his developer father’s passion for the design-build process, which Fleet realized when he designed his first custom home in Del Mar in 2003.
Fleet and Teller had become friendly when Teller-whose CV includes the interiors of the first House of Blues venues-designed Rimmel’s and Zenbu, in which Fleet was a partner at the time. Fleet also brought on Brian Glen, an eagle-eyed contractor he’d worked with on the Del Mar home.
Talk about creative chemistry. The clean-lined home is a stunning, beach-inspired riff on California’s midcentury modern aesthetic, with a sunken family room, a pitched roof and walls of glass that slide open for seamless indoor-outdoor living.
Every inch of the Palmitas Street house is meant to be used. An open layout—you can see straight through from the fire pit in front to the fireplace in back—epitomizes laid-back California living, right down to the outdoor kitchen replete with a Kalamazoo pizza oven.
A statement fireplace visually divides the house. It’s as striking as it is functional. Clad in old-growth cedar siding, the mantel hides a flat-screen behind a motorized pocket door, while a custom-fabricated Heatilator pushes warmth into the living space.
The cedar—sustainably sourced from centuries-old trees abandoned on the forest floor in the Pacific Northwest—carries through on the exterior. The 4-inch-thick front door is made of more exotic monkeypod, a Hawaiian hardwood similar to koa.
“I love building with wood,” says Fleet. “It is warm, nurturing and organic. It adds a lot to
the cost, because the amount of craftsmanship that goes into it is huge, but that’s the whole point of custom homebuilding.”
The bedroom wing—three bedrooms and a floating gallery wall set back from the main living space—features marine-grade mahogany ceilings, bleached to remove any trace of red, as well as Rhone Oak floors and a bespoke cedar wall unit with a floating bed and nightstands.
Custom tile work also gets its due. Earthy-modern Heath tiles balance the wood on the indoor fireplace and hand-glazed cerulean tiles in the spa-like bathroom evoke the ocean, even though they come from Fire and Earth Ceramics in Colorado.
“Si had a very heavy hand in how this home was finished,” says Fleet, who scoured midcentury shops in San Diego and San Francisco in search of mint vintage finds.
The collaboration proved so successful that the three are teaming up again. Fleet recently nabbed a rare virgin lot in the hills of old Solana Beach.
“It’s going to be modern early California,” he says. “Cliff May meets Richard Neutra.”