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In Living Color

With a few slick moves, a century-old dwelling in San Diego achieves an artful artifice.

A quartet of Cassina chairs, designed by Gerrit T. Rietveld, complements historic Arts and Crafts windows and glass-enclosed bookcases in this airy, art-filled study. Tom Dixon designed the round table (foreground), used for playing chess. A painting with found objects by the internationally renowned, San Diego-based Kim MacConnel hugs the wall just outside this room.

In an ensemble that appears to enlarge the dining room, glassybaby votives and a glass-topped, Doge table base by Carlo Scarpa seem to float between a custom chandelier from David Weeks Studio and a handmade felt rug by Claudy Jongstra. Small paintings visually pop against walls painted a gray that Le Corbusier developed.



Architect and furniture designer Jennifer Luce and the family’s hound, Izzy, enjoy the comfortable, Rietveld-designed Utrecht chairs. Behind them, a smiley-face maxim (ironically misspelled) by Jean Lowe hangs above a pattern painting by Kim MacConnel.

For the living room, the owners commissioned two sofas, an ottoman and a rug from Paola Lenti; the pale green chair next to the Eames walnut stool is a family heirloom recovered in hide. Luce matched the fireplace’s bold architectural character by adding a hot-rolled steel surround and hearth. 

For two San Diego contemporary art collectors, living with their accumulated works has become an art unto itself.

A pediatrician and a financial executive, the couple takes special pleasure in supporting their city’s talented artists. The pair lives with their children in a 102-year-old, Arts and Crafts-style home—a local historic landmark—in the charming older neighborhood of Bankers Hill. For several years, the two-story interior has been undergoing an unusual transformation that respects the old, but still welcomes the new. No architectural elements were removed and none added, yet the deliberate alterations are both subtle and striking.

Cross the venerable threshold of this redwood, fieldstone and cedar shake house and you enter a rarefied realm. The walls and woodwork are painted a stark shade of white developed by architect Le Corbusier (via the Swiss company kt.Color), while the original, white oak floors have been bleached and stained light gray. Against this neutral backdrop, colorful art, custom furniture in solid colors and sculptural lighting designs spark virtual fireworks.

Beyond the vibrant hues indoors, the contrast between inside and out is also positively stunning—and there’s an intriguing logic to it. “While our house was built in 1911, like many Arts and Crafts homes it has a modern aesthetic with its symmetry and simplicity,” explains the owner. “Rather than dark moldings, ours was built with white enameled wood details and lots of large windows that provide a bright, open interior. Therefore, the house lends itself well to contemporary art and furniture [as opposed to period pieces], while still creating an interesting dynamic between old and new.”

Architect and furniture designer Jennifer Luce, who leads Luce et Studio Architects’ two offices in La Jolla and Los Angeles, helped heighten that dynamic through what she calls “artistic interventions.”

“We made no structural changes, yet every room in the house has been affected and shifted regarding one’s understanding of space, the connection between spaces and the light,” Luce says. 

The result is not quite as abstract as it sounds. As Luce observes, the results are richly layered or “peeled back” and highly personal. She’s mindful of the historic elements and a previous renovation for the owners by San Diego architect Mark Lee Christopher.

Luce’s ongoing collaboration with the couple involves choreographing the art collection (which is still growing) and complementing it by commissioning handpicked artists and artisans to contribute well-crafted furniture (Roy McMakin, Paola Lenti and Luce herself) and buoyant chandeliers (David Weeks, Roman de Salvo). In the dining room, beneath a glass-topped Carlo Scarpa table, lies a brilliant yellow felt rug made by Dutch artisan Claudy Jongstra from sheep’s wool in the Netherlands.

“We looked at the furnishings in the same way as the quality of the artwork and sought out designers and craftsmen who are pushing boundaries,” Luce says. She’s known for another essential ingredient found in this home: sumptuous combinations of materials that feel as good as they look.

The cantilevered sideboard Luce designed for a dining room wall combines layers of acrylic, wood (including a specimen from a beloved oak tree that died) and hidden writing, all of which convey this close-knit family’s story as told to Luce in interviews. Furthermore, the sideboard is based on a series of furniture Luce designed for the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

A vivid palette is another imperative in the home’s heady mix. “We consider light and color to be very important to our quality of life. Living in a house with vibrant color gives us a sense of joy and playfulness,” shares one of the owners.

More surprise “interventions” include bolting a steel plate to a fireplace surround that long ago lost its original tiles and adding a stainless steel and resin ladder so the family can enjoy rooftop views of San Diego Bay.

Despite its early 20th century origins, the whole house now vibrates for a new millennium with what Luce calls “thoughtful compositions to be lived in.” How fantastically futuristic.