In honor of mother’s day, a look at my mother’s house in Del Mar, California felt fitting. The house is a modern architectural gem, full of angles, patios off every room, walls of plate glass and vistas of the California coastline.

When my parents retired and began looking at places to build their dream house, they settled upon Del Mar after exploring Austin, Texas and Carmel, California. As my mother recounts, Austin was too hot, Carmel too cold, but Del Mar was just right. The lot they found was a very steep one graced with a massive old Torrey pine tree at the top with swoopingly dramatic branches like a piece of sculpture. Views abound of the Pacific Ocean below and the town of La Jolla across the Los Penasquitos lagoon.

My father’s room mate at West Point, Herbert Turner, became a designer of buildings instead of pursuing a career in the military. He studied architecture with John Lloyd Wright, Frank Lloyd Wright’s son. Herb’s houses are decidedly California modern in style and incorporate many Wrightian features. Dentil molding, using outside siding materials inside, and bringing the outside in are all features of Wright’s style that Herb Turner re-tooled for the California coast. Once the empty lot was found, a scarcity in the area, Herb Turner drew up plans for the challenging steep hillside lot. The garage was placed on the lower level and the house situated above and behind it. A challenge was, how to get from the garage up into the house without climbing many steps? As my parents planned to live in this house for the remainder of their lives, an elevator was placed at the back end of the garage, which carries you up to the living room, two stories above. Ground was broken for the construction just as my father discovered that he had cancer.  Unfortunately, he never saw his dream house completed. Single handedly, my mother moved forward with the project. Although I lived three thousand miles away, I helped as much as I could.

The end result is a stunner of a house which fits the lot and is in perfect scale with its surroundings, which so few new homes are these days. Designed for just the two of them, it is not large but has a spacious feel when inside. The living, dining and kitchen areas take up one side of the house. The ceilings there are two stories and give the spaces a sense of drama. The bedrooms, baths and laundry room are on the other side of the house with lower ceilings for a more intimate feel. These two spaces feel separate and are divided by a wide galleria which runs the entire depth of the house. It also doubles as a large, high ceilinged entry hall. The walls of the galleria are hung with artwork collected over the years, including a painting by Herb Turner.

My mother Wootsie (nicknames abound in my family), proper name Margaret, has happily lived in this house for over twenty years now. The house has been featured in newspaper articles and is featured prominently in the book Art and Architecture of Herbert B. Turner.  While my father Tom never saw his dream realized, this house above the Pacific serves as a fitting capstone to the adventurous years of my parents’ life together.     

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