In historic Rancho Santa Fe, “This where thousands of eucalyptus trees sway in near tropical breezes (a failed attempt by the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway to grow a crop of hardwood suitable for railroad ties), life travels at a very idyllic speed. Given in a Mexican land grant in 1841 by Governor Pico of Alta California, to Juan Osuna, the first Mayor of the Pueblo of San Diego, the land did not become a network of exclusive country estates until 1922, when the likes of such Hollywood icons as Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. and his wife Mary Pickford, began to flock there to get away from their fans. Fairbanks christened his land “Rancho Zorro” after the movie “The Mark of Zorro,” which he was filming when he discovered this piece of paradise.

Equally as enchanted by this peaceful enclave, Portland, Oregon principal designer Joelle Nesen of Maison, Inc. had to cross physical, spatial and architectural borders to transition her former Pacific Northwest clients from the husband’s übermodern bachelor's pad overlooking the Willamette River to this laid-back, Mediterranean Revival abode in the sunny climes of Rancho Santa Fe. The challenge was to blend the husband’s taste with the wife’s warmer, classically understated style without compromising either aesthetic.

“Joelle knows me so well. She understood the importance of creating a relaxed environment that was a strong reflection of both of our personal styles while honoring the Spanish Colonial architecture,” says the wife.

“The wife is a native Oregonian with a very relaxed but elegant style - very traditional, contemporary Santa Barbara horse ranch look. Her husband, who has a good eye and a strong opinion, likes a more stark, dramatic, masculine style, utilizing his large art and crystal collection,” says Joelle. “We’ve blended all those things, which, like the large crystal in the living room, seem to glow in their new environment.”

When the couple purchased the home, the interiors were done in a heavier traditional mode embellished with faux finishes, pooling drapes and bright colors that ranged from brilliant yellow kitchen walls studded with chickens to a burnished burgundy wood kitchen island.

“We left the bulk of the original structure,” explains Joelle, who visited the property a half-dozen times over the two-year-long project, including a week-long install. “We did add some modern touches, such as replacing the waist-high terrace walls with ironwork railings that both fit with the architecture, and open up the view to the mountains and down to the pool.”

“The view,” says the client, “was one of the things we loved about the property. Joelle walked in and immediately knew we should replace the stucco walls with iron railings.” During the two long weeks it took to jack hammer out the poured concrete walls, the couple had their doubts. “When it was finished, we both said, ‘This was brilliant!’”

The work began slowly, allowing the couple time to adjust to the new lifestyle. “Once it began," says Joelle, who worked with Bob Holcombe’s son Jeff to coordinate some of the remodel, “it ramped up very quickly.” To provide both visual flow and pleasing contrast with the Douglas Fir beamed ceilings, Maison, Inc. chose a single wall paint color - Natural Cream by Benjamin Moore - for the open areas of the home, which splay out along a single, long corridor. A handwoven rug by Merida crafted with Abaca fiber - a member of the banana family - grounds the peaceful living room, where splashes of chocolate brown reference both floor and ceiling.

“The whole house is very open," says Joelle, "not like a great room, but with large windows and elegant archways that open one room onto another.” Touches of soft apricot are found in the entry, where a handmade Kush rug ties to Italian made Global Views pottery in the niches and the newly upholstered antique chairs from C’est la Vie in nearby Encinitas. In the library, where a large 5’ opening from the living room reveals soft apricot cashmere curtains and Randolph and Hein Dragon Scale pillows on the copper daybed, the color is also reiterated.

Designed as a warm weather home for Maison’s Pacific Northwest clients, the home required its fair share of areas for simple pleasures - reading, watching television, and, of course, enjoying the outdoors. One of the couple’s most treasured spots for these pastimes is the seating area off the kitchen with its cozy fireplace that overlooks the now more open veranda, and out to the pool and the ivy-covered Spanish tiled roof of the so-called "Gator House" beyond, where the John Deere 4-wheel drive utility vehicles are stored.

The English arm chair design, fashioned after the husband’s favorite chair from his Northwest home (done here in China Seas fabric), is so comfortable that Maison had several made in varying fabrics for other spaces in this home. A flat screen TV rises above the built-in bench alongside the fireplace.

Bold mirrors located throughout the home catch and accentuate the presence of year-round light in nearly every room. A custom Lara Sydney mirror in the powder room, the grand Bedford Brown one in a corner of the living room, and the sumptuously carved vintage bronze Maitland Smith beauty that blossoms in the entry, add drama and presence to each room.

In the formal dining room, located between the kitchen and living room with views onto the veranda, a long narrow wooden table designed expressly for the area was purchased from the previous owners and paired with nail studded chairs from Ironies. Maison commissioned Emanuel Morez to design the contemporary chandelier. A trio of Spanish Mission style bells - an original Holcombe touch - hang in the open niche above and can be rung by a pulley to call guests to dinner.

Finding the right artwork to fill the home became a collaborative process. “The wife, a consummate shopper, who is super energetic and loves the whole decorating process,” says Joelle, “found this 1978 Richard Saba oil painting on 1stDibs® and bought it in New York for the dining room. I can't believe how beautifully it plays off the Morez chandelier and fits so perfectly in the space between a pair of arched doorways that lead to the living room.”

The back of the house presented some challenges for the couple and their landscape designer. “It’s difficult topography,” says Joelle, "and there is a huge elevation change between the house and the wine cellar, where an underground sitting area is centered around the existing fireplace, to which we added furnishings and a light fixture.”

To assist in creating a visual step down to the landscaping, by Joshua Soto of The Landscape Guru, planter retaining walls were added alongside stairs at left and right. These areas were heavily planted with mature succulents in order to minimize any hardscape and keep the look timeless. "The only part I had in designing the pool,” says Joelle, “was to say that less is more, so the pool should appear like a slice of water in the grass – a vision the wife and I shared for a long time.”

“Century old olive trees and large agaves,” says the wife, “were handpicked to soften the edges and make the entire area feel as if it had been there forever.”

Restoration Hardware chaises and umbrellas line the patio with Trina Turk pillows from Kravet and garden stools by Maison. “The original floor plan for this Hacienda style area, which is located off the master bedroom," says Joelle, "was called out as 'The Mexican Alley.” The 5’ wide hallway runs the length of building all the way down to the kitchen, where Morgie, the Tibetan Terrier, enjoys basking upon the original Saltillo tile by the Holcombes.”

The original blue paint that appears on some of the exterior doors remains today, along with a shuttered window that peeks out from the alley. A sentimental bonsai tree, very carefully shipped from Portland to Rancho Sante Fe, is displayed upon a copper table in the alleyway. Portland’s Tony + Michael, LLC, Spaces, Gathering & Ideas, planted the owners' baker's rack and did most of the indoor greenery.

Being based in Portland, says Joelle, doesn’t often give her the opportunity to work with such unique architecture, or employ a near perfect and elegant palette. “Because the owners totally trusted us, they gave us a lot of leeway to juxtapose old with new upon a simple, yet amazing backdrop,” she says.

She adds that: “Working on out of town jobs can provide challenges, but in Rancho Santa Fe, where everything is idyllic, peaceful, and temperate, it was like nothing else in the world.”





CUSTOM IRONWORKS: Gearhart Ironwerks

KITCHEN APPLIANCES: Dacor, Sub-Zero, Kitchen Plumbing Fixtures: Rohl, Bath Fixtures Lenova Sink, Rohl Faucet