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San Diego by Design

On Uncommon Ground


THE PRISTINE, OH-SO-CONTEMPORARY DREAM HOME sits atop a Del Mar bluff, capturing sights, sounds and cool breezes off the nearby Pacific. The 3,500-square-foot house also boasts a glorious panorama of Carmel Valley, Torrey Pines State Park and the La Jolla shoreline in the distance.

Beauty and tranquility abound. But it wasn’t always that way.

Flashback to the early 1980s: Del Mar city leaders viewed the rugged, ravine-cut land under the home (near Carmel Valley Road and Camino Del Mar) as prime, but unbuildable. The 13-acre urban parcel had been previously zoned into a dozen or so residential lots, several of them landlocked. Creating the necessary access to any newly built home meant treading on delicate environmental toes and the property lines of other owners, the death knell for many projects.

The lot owners were motivated. After all, they were sitting on expensive Del Mar real estate. But at times, getting them to agree on a united front to tackle the environmental and planning logjam made Shakespeare’s feuding Montague and Capulet families seem like jovial bridge partners. Could such a deal ever be struck?

To its credit, the city of Del Mar turned to a problemsolving team led by Del Mar’s ex-mayor, Tom Pearson, and citizens Richard Fletcher and Lew Dominy. In order for all the owners to obtain building rights, a revolutionary plan was proposed, one of the first such efforts in the state. All owners agreed to transfer their lots into a single masterplanned entity called the Carmel Valley Precise Plan. (The plan is now known in California real estate practices as “the transfer of development rights.”)

Next, the entire 13-acre parcel was mapped. Lots were drawn and reparceled around a new cul-de-sac built in the least sensitive section of the project. This recently completed residence is one result of this creative collaboration.

Many of the lots lay empty until the current homeowners purchased one and hired Lew Dominy, AIA, to create their dream home. Dominy named his architect son, Jonathan, project leader. Lew, who began his San Diego– based firm, Dominy + Associates Architects in 1986, viewed the dramatic lot as “the most difficult to build on.” The lot restrictions called for the preservation of four mature Torrey pine trees in the middle of the property. There was to be absolutely no grading in the canyon. In addition, some kind of bridge entry to the parcel had to be built to keep the natural drainage pattern in tact.

Despite all the difficulties, the result complements the environment by melting into the landscape around it.

Dominy’s architecture evolved from the inside out, with stacked room locations giving views to most of the house. The curved copper roof—a Dominy trademark— has already patinaed to the green color of the pine needles. The sandstone tile from India matches the colors of the nearby bluffs and ravines.

The interior plan was drawn around a central staircase. Guest and children’s bedrooms are on the lowest level. The living and dining spaces are in the middle, while the master suite occupies the top level.

Because the home is set in a steep ravine and shaded by Torrey pines, light was an issue. Dominy’s solution incorporates glass into the entire façade of the south-facing wall. The home’s many decks use sturdy glass to allow sunlight to reach the lower levels. During the day, natural light articulates the architecture and the site. At night, intricate lighting patterns showcase the owners’ impressive art collection.

“It’s like living in a work of art,” says Lew Dominy, who believes anything good is worth the effort. He points out that this home is relatively small, and the owners’ lifestyle makes use of every room, including the main redwood deck.

On the once-unbuildable site, the Del Mar aerie shines with uncommon beauty, brought about by a community/government collaboration with a beauty all its own.


Living Room: Custom chairs, stairs and sofas designed by homeowner. Sandstone tile on fireplace façade is matched throughout the home. Similar tile was used at Petco Park. Tete d’homme au nez rouge painting by Pablo Piccasso, 1965.
Kitchen: Curved island wall is maple and stainless steel, with a granite top. Flooring is white maple. Appliances include a Sub-Zero refrigerator, Gaggeneau cooktop and oven and Miele built-in coffeemaker.
Dining Room: Electrical by Gibson & Gibson. Wood chandelier designed by Sheryl White and fabricated by Glenn Paul Carlson. Eight Redspainting is by Donald Sultan, 2002.
Staircase: Designed by Jon Dominy from one steel bar waterjet-cut by Franklin Industries. Steps are maple.
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