This year's Orange County Philharmonic House of Design, its annual fund-raiser, is within sight of last year's Sunset Magazine design house, in the gated Covenant Hills area of Ladera Ranch. But, this being Ladera Ranch, there is seemingly no one around who is not on the home tour to look at either house, or at the hills yellow with spring flowers. The suburb exudes an emptiness; it begins with the cars, which the PR person says must be parked in their garages, and it must continue with their drivers, who seem to spend much time indoors.
Houses like this 8,700-square-foot, Spanish Revival-style home—built by the same company as the Sunset house, and on the market for $5.9 million—supply the motive. It begins well enough, like all design houses, which are so beautiful. These master bedroom walls are Venetian-plastered within millimeters of their lives, leaving them nearly as smooth as your high-thread-count sheets. Crown moldings in the dining room (you don't have crown moldings? Home Depot!) have been painstakingly fitted with gold leaf. Arching doorways have been faux-finished to look just like dark wood. Chandeliers, murals and florid window treatments cozy up the look.
The result is gorgeous, but a little deceptive: wall hangings and two-way mirrors hide the fact that inside its walls, this house has more electronic hardware than your average private investigator. There's the now-commonplace keypads for temperature control and security—a little incongruous on freshly painted walls. There's the wet bar, coffee maker and mini-fridge-equipped master bedroom, and there are the iPod charging stations. And most of all, there are the televisions—which sound retro but are not.
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The house is fitted with at least five: one each in the master bath, the great room and the family room—and two in the kitchen. Why two in the kitchen, you ask? One is for you; it pops up from one overhead cabinet. The other is for your cook; it drops down, from another, across the room.
Every television here is hidden; it's like TV is the new smoking, and you know how people feel about you smoking. The family room flatscreen is camouflaged by a tapestry that rolls out from the ceiling; the great room flatscreen is framed, like an artwork. And the TV in the master bath is projected onto the mirror from behind it.This is why there are no people in Covenant Hills.
"You never have to leave," the PR person says, referring to the fridge in the master bedroom—but she could be referring to any room in this overstuffed hacienda. And, I suspect, to virtually any other house in this development.
OC PHILHARMONIC SOCIETY HOUSE OF DESIGN, REACHABLE BY SHUTTLE FROM 111 CORPORATE DR., LADERA RANCH, (714) 840-7542; WWW.PHILHARMONICSOCIETY.ORG. TUES.-SUN., 10 A.M.-5 P.M.; THURS. TILL 9 P.M. THROUGH MAY 21. $25-$40.