Taking Industrial Design Home
BY JILL ESTERBROOKS | PHOTOGRAPHS BY JIM BRADY
GAD SHAANAN designs products that millions of people worldwide use every day. From cell phones and kitchen utensils to rear-projection televisions and commuter trains, his brilliantly simple yet sleekly sophisticated product designs have earned praise from high-tech start-ups and Fortune 500 companies alike, not to mention discerning consumers who use the stuff.
So when it came to designing his hillside home overlooking the green fairways of La Jolla Country Club and the blue waters of the Pacific beyond, Shaanan borrowed a page from his successful industrial- design firm, GadShaananDesign. Melding form and function, he designed the three-level, 5,500-square-foot modernist home just blocks from the bustling village with “maximum ease of use and maintenance.
“With products, you’re designing with millions of users in mind, so there’s a long process that involves understanding the company’s true goals and strategic direction, then intensely studying the product experience,” says the 54-year-old Shaanan, who once rode cross-country on a train to get a better understanding of sleeping compartments and rail travel. “But with this house, there was just one person to satisfy—my wife, Suzan,” he says with a sly grin.
Indeed, many of the gee-whiz gadgets were incorporated for Suzan’s domestic comfort and convenience. There’s the dumbwaiter that takes groceries from the trunk of her car directly to the shelves of the upstairs kitchen pantry, and the fold-out ironing board near the flat-screen TV that sits over the fireplace in the master retreat.
“We really thought it all through,” says Shaanan, pointing out the five ovens and two freezers that service the ocean-view gourmet kitchen—the main hub of the entertainment-oriented home, which allows the residents (including two dogs) and frequent guests to flow freely from room to room, from indoors to outdoors.
Describing the home’s architectural and interior style as “Bauhaus on steroids,” Shaanan says its philosophical roots are in “less-is-more minimalism,” but it also imbues a “warm and inviting place where people feel very comfortable.”
This pared-down yet luxurious aesthetic first announces itself at the front gate. From here, creamy Jerusalem stone (which he hand-selected with the help of his mother and cousin at a quarry in Israel) meanders throughout the main-floor living quarters, leading visitors across the spacious outdoor patio, decked out with chaise lounges and a canopied fireplace, to the massive glass front door that swings open to unveil the sparingly decorated but richly textured living areas.
“We didn’t want to compete with the blues and greens of the water, sky and golf course, so we kept the palette very neutral and earthy,” Shaanan says of the furnishings and finishes. They include the blond and gray wood veneers he used on his custom-designed cabinets and coffee tables as well as the contemporary wood-and-glass dining room table that comfortably seats 14.
For his first full-fledged home design (previously he’s done several residential renovation projects), Shaanan chose to integrate the house and landscape so that it’s sometimes difficult to tell one from the other. He brought natural light and a hint of the outside world into the home with window-filled walls and disappearing doors—all without compromising privacy and comfort.
“Some folks think modern homes are stark, cold and uninviting, but it is all in the design execution,” he says, sketching on a piece of paper the floor plan as a series of checkerboard squares—some sunny and expansive, others walled in and private.
FOR SHAANAN, it’s these light, bright spaces that accentuate the sweeping canyon terrain and ocean panoramas and comprise a world of welcoming warmth for his guests and family—a haven far from the bitter cold weather of Montreal, where he had mostly lived, studied and worked since the age of 13. After landing a number of San Diego–based clients (including Qualcomm, WD-40 and Buck Knives), Shaanan fell in love with the city’s temperate climate and evolving cultural and design scene, moving his family and business here in 2002.
First taking up residence on Fay Avenue, across from the athletic fields at La Jolla High School, the Shaanans purchased the underutilized, wedge-shaped lot for a new home six years later. They immediately started plans to replace the existing house (which had a cracked foundation) with their own California dream home.
“I had a pretty clear vision of what I wanted, so it didn’t take long to design, but it took three years to build,” Shaanan says, noting structural engineering challenges due to the sloped site and his propensity for being “very finicky about little details”—such as using cast-iron (not PVC) rain pipes, and creating 12 climate zones with HVAC delivered through ceiling slits.
His creative design touches are evident throughout the house, from bottom to top. In the downstairs wine cellar, for instance, bottles rest on stainless steel rods and are secured with rubber O rings until placed on a serving cart and sent upstairs in the private elevator. And in the top-floor master-bath, the vanity appears to float in the middle of the room while clever panels discreetly hide toiletries and other personal accouterments.
Perhaps nowhere are his whimsical and innovative designs more evident than in the living room. Shaanan uses specially rigged roller-skate wheels to open and close the glass doors of the fireplace, which is the central focus of the hammered stone façade he calls his “private wailing wall.”
And directly opposite, filling the entire south-facing wall, is one of the centerpieces of the stunning showcase home. Titled Life is . . . , the interactive art piece created by Shaanan contains 180 wall-mounted glossy white tiles (representing birth) and 20 matte green ones (denoting our footprint on life), which guests use to craft their statement on the meaning of life. On this day, Shaanan uses a sliding library ladder to install his 25-year-old daughter’s statement: “Life is about choices.”
And what about Suzan’s influences on the custom-designed home?
“They’re everywhere,” he says, gesturing outside, where her mark is emblazoned on the terraced landscaping of native specimens framing the cascading water wall and infinity-edge lap pool. Another obvious and bold touch is her selection of mostly modern art, much of it by Canadian and French artists.
Though relative newcomers, the Shaanans are deeply involved in San Diego’s arts and culture scene. He’s a board trustee at La Jolla Playhouse and has been a strong supporter of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, San Diego Opera and Salk Institute, where he’s an international board member. The son of a diplomat, Shaanan gives credit for his community activism and philanthropic bent to his parents, who insisted the family get to know about each of the European cities they lived in by attending local schools and cultural events.
“San Diego is like a teenager, still young and exploring its identity, so it is extremely exciting to be a part of its amazing growth and maturity,” says Shaanan, who is putting his own design stamp on the local landscape.
General contractor, Heflin Construction Corp, Carlsbad, 760-804-0096, heflinconstruction.com. Rugs from Aja Rugs, La Jolla, 858-459-8720, ajadesign.com, and Outrageous Rugs, Miramar, 858-536-9118, rugclick.com. Lighting by Eklipse Luminaire Architectural, Montreal, Canada, 877-590-0099, eklipselighting.com; and Urban Lighting, downtown, 619-232-6064, urbanlighting.net. Furnishings and accessories through Gardenology, Encinitas, 760-753-5500, garden-ology.com; Diva Inc., Los Angeles, 310-278-3191, divafurniture.com; MPLA Associates, La Jolla, 858-456-6600, mplaassociates.com; Ligne Roset, La Jolla, 858-454-3366, ligne-roset-usa.com; Roche-Bobois, La Jolla, 858-459-5711, roche-bobois.com; Jules Seltzer & Associates, Los Angeles, 310-274-7243, julesseltzer.com; and Divan + Studio, La Jolla, 858-551-0405, divanstudio.com.