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Home: An Eclectic Modern House in Mission Hills

At home with David Contreras Curiel of the Karina’s restaurants family


Published:

Stats
1,600 square feet with 2 bedrooms and 2 baths, plus a 280-square-foot guesthouse

Built
1940

In a time when so much of how we live is defined by how we work, it makes sense that restaurateur David Contreras Curiel’s home resembles the Mexican seafood empire his family built in San Diego. When he was a year old, his father, Don Arnulfo Contreras, opened the first Karina’s Mexican Seafood in Spring Valley. Karina is the eldest of the Contreras Curiel siblings; there are seven altogether, plus 24 grandchildren. All of them have a hand in the family business, which currently spans five Karina’s properties, Karina’s Taco Shop in Encinitas, and Savoie Eatery in Otay Ranch Center.

David Contreras Curiel

David, now 36, runs the restaurant group with his brother Arnulfo. His love of design evolved after heavily influencing the interiors of several Karina’s spaces. Eventually he started to take on whole projects. “I was doing so much of the work anyway,” he says.

So when he recently bought this Mission Hills house, it was a chance to showcase his personal tastes and what he’s learned over the years. The result is a blend of bold materials and mixed metallics, bright whites and pops of color, high-end touches and cost-friendly accents. There are vibrant, statement-making paintings, flat-screen TVs, and big mirrors in almost every room. “I like a lot of mirrors. It makes the space feel bigger.”  

A Carrera marble fireplace, flanked by sets of marble stairs, divides the living and dining rooms. Sofa, side chairs, lamp, and end tables by Marso Collection; coffee table available at West Elm; accents by Jonathan Adler; mirrors from Z Gallerie.

The living room is defined by an eye-catching slab of Carrera marble that stretches across the stairs to the dining room and climbs the fireplace, which was previously made of traditional red brick. “I wanted it to be all one piece when you walk in,” David says of the unique design, fabricated by A & L Tile in National City.

Gilded coffee and side tables add a touch of glam to the white shag rug and leather sofas, which he’s had for 10 years. It’s also the third time David has recovered his side chairs, which are now upholstered in a luxe navy blue velvet. “I like to recycle,” he says, without apology.

Family is an essential part of this space. David’s niece painted the smaller floral artwork on the mantel, a lovely personal touch, as is the fiery red painting by artist Stephanie Bell May, a friend of David’s. The restaurateur also uses stacks of coffee table books as decor throughout the house. “I have a lot of books,” he says. “They are all things I want to do, or places I want to travel, or design.”

The media room features a slanted geometric bookshelf and rectangular light fixture, both custom designs. Sofa sleeper and ottoman by Marso Collection, throw pillows by Jonathan Adler.

David opened up the living room by cutting holes in the wall and adding sheer panels that look through a geometric bookshelf in the bordering media room. That room serves as a more casual living area, complete with a large flat-screen, sound system, and adjacent covered patio. The ceiling light fixture is custom-made with drywall to create a soffit and painted dark blue, offering dramatic contrast and visual interest. 

The kitchen’s dark red cabinets are flooded with pools of natural light via overhead skylight. The built-in appliances, black quartz countertops, and porcelain tile floors are extra durable and chef approved.

The home itself is set in a decidedly urban spot of San Diego, near downtown and the I-5. Its perch on a steep and winding road inspired many of David’s design ideas, especially with regard to the deep merlot cabinets in the kitchen. “The color of the kitchen is the first thing I picked out in this house. It’s so red! But to me this location—uphill, near the freeway, with all the cars and the hustle and bustle—reminded me of San Francisco. It needed to be more vibrant.”

It’s the kind of custom and unique kitchen expected of someone in the restaurant business. Ironically, David says, “My fridge is always empty because I am always at work.”

The small pool is surrounded by stucco walls for ultimate privacy. 

David transformed the grass backyard into a 280-square-foot oasis, with an outdoor bar and kitchen, 5-by-10-foot swimming pool, and full bathroom. The innovative indoor/outdoor area, built by contractors Nakhshab Development & Design and Casa Disegno, represents SoCal living at its best. He converted the existing garage into a guest suite, and switched the door so it faced inward. Teak trimmings and ceiling panels, surrounded by Santa Barbara stucco walls, give the whole space a resort-like feel, similar to the posh properties in Cabo or Playa del Carmen. It certainly has all the amenities of a nice hotel: a poolside flat-screen, an Hermes throw blanket at the foot of the bed, terrycloth robes in the closet, and more. And when friends show up for an impromptu party, David has easy access to a buffet of food. Ah, the benefits of being a restaurateur.

The back house’s pool, outdoor kitchen, and guest suite serve as one great space.

 

The garage door opens to reveal a cozy bedroom.

 

David and friends gather at the bar for a seafood feast from Karina’s (artist Stephanie Bell May is pictured on the far left).

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