The Stuff Dreams are Made of

A tour of homes that are more than you can afford, but not more than youd want

Photo by Ann Mitchell/
Ann Mitchell Graphic DesignThe rich are different from you and me. They own houses—by New York architects—and, in some cases, fine art collections. On the other hand, they're eager to open their grottos, lofts, bay-view terraces and landscape collections to other, less-fortunate architecture and art buffs. They're suckers, one day a year: June 5, when will be held the seventh annual Orange County Museum of Art/American Institute of Architects Orange County Art & Architecture tour. Some tours are a chance to see what you could do with a coupla gallons of paint, an Arts & Crafts-era stencil reproduction and a weekend with no kids. This one is self-guided, giving you a chance to meander, to get over the ticket price, and to think big; this is the stuff dream homes are made of.

"In Orange County, you know, everybody makes an assumption about it being new, and tract homes, and on the level when you're doing production housing, we're the center of that for the world," says Michael Patrick Porter, the Orange County AIA chapter's director of community outreach. "On the other side of the coin, for the [fine architecture] customer, we have all these great buildings, and I think that gets glossed over."

There are many significant custom homes here, Porter says, offering the six houses in this year's lineup as partial proof. The standout in the tour brochure is a stark, modernist dwelling by New York architect Paul Davis, a friend of the owner. All sheer, naked concrete, carefully placed glass walls and the obligatory splash of color on the red front door—it's a standout.

"It's in Newport Heights," says the tour chair Susan Paul. "They moved into this settled neighborhood and put up this stark home." Yet it works in the context, Porter says—just as well as it worked in the making.

"The architect in New York was a roommate of the owner, so they're longtime friends and always wanted to do a house together," he says. "When you do architecture for a client in his own home it's a very personal experience to begin with." This one, obviously, was even more so—but the two men are reportedly still on speaking terms.

Sliding down the stark scale somewhat, you'll come to a new, white, stucco Newport Beach loft at some point in your wanderings. Its inhabitants include a professional photographer; and, apparently, concern over its construction makes it stand out even today, several years later, from other lofts in the city's Cannery Row.

"It's one of the houses that brought Newport Beach together instead of dividing it," Paul says, describing this neighborhood's reinvention as mixed-use residential properties. "It makes use of the land in a very efficient way." As a loft should; its narrow, two-story footprint makes it a natural near the water, where land prices reach the stratosphere.

But then, home prices everywhere are touching the sky. Locations, themes—whether stark oceanside modern or rustic canyon retreat—and extravagant flourishes: central grotto with waterfall, folding patio windows—help distinguish the rich.

Their homes are different from ours, and in these cases, different is undeniably better.

ART & ARCHITECTURE TOUR, ORANGE COUNTY MUSEUM OF ART, 850 SAN CLEMENTE DR., NEWPORT BEACH, (949) 759-1122; WWW.OCMA.NET. JUNE 5, 11 A.M.-5 P.M. $90, WHICH INCLUDES LUNCH AND SHUTTLES FROM HOUSE TO HOUSE.

 
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