Above It All


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LATE FOR SUNDAY BRUNCH at a friend of a friend's aerie, you find yourself lost in a labyrinth of winding roads that cover Mount Soledad like a giant asphalt spiderweb. Suddenly, you spy a remarkable house ahead. It is not your destination, but you realize the contemporary mansion with lines mimicking the contours of the mountainside is the one that has La Jollans buzzing over their mimosas.

It's not often a spectacular, scenic lot on Hillside Drive comes on the market. In 2002, the 18,560-square-foot site, where the house with the distinct curvilinear lines now rises, was offered for sale. Some believe thereis a mystery whirling around the land, which once housed the fabled Munchkin houses built by the late Cliff May in the 1930's. But when you ask the right Realtor, the fog lifts. It's just real estate, after all.

Architects Francisco Mendiola and Jess Gonzales headed an investment team that bought the scenic property. "The opportunity presented itself to develop this unique piece of land, and we went for it," says Mendiola, who, along with Gonzales, is a principal in the Gaslamp Quarter architectural firm Concepto Design Group International (CDGI).

Last summer saw completion of the 9,000-square-foot, multilevel "spec" house Mendiola and Gonzales call Essencia, derived from "the essence of the land, sea and sky," according to a romantic slice of CDGI marketing prose. Given the prime land and its breathtaking 270- degree view - stretching from La Jolla Cove to Torrey Pines - a bit of sales hyperbole can be forgiven.

Seeing Essencia from the roadside is only half the thrill. "Stepping inside, the house reveals its secrets as you move room to room," says Mendiola. "Before you know it, the plane between inside and outside disappears."

the home's exterior From the expansive rear deck - next to the vanishing-edge pool and saltwater spa - you gaze at an almost unparalleled coastal view. The view from indoors is through curved sliding-glass walls that slide into pockets. Mendiola and Gonzales play with curves in every configuration to define the interior. "These curves relate to nature and the human body - both literally and figuratively," Mendiola says.

No room or space has predictable divisions. A stairway that leads to the master bedroom is cut away to reveal the split-level great rooms below. Higher up the staircase, openings present additional opportunities to be dazzled by the panorama of ocean and bluffs.

CDGI also has mastered contemporary lighting options that make Essencia equally brilliant at night. One-touch, smart-home illumination is computer controlled, including custom Spectra lighting in the pool and spa. Uber-modern colors are incorporated into the semicircular living spaces with furnishings selected from Lawrence in Hillcrest.

The split-level great room offers a sleek mahogany-paneled kitchen and an adjacent circular nook surrounded by glass. The lower half is the living room, where one can view the sunset or the action on the deck.

Huge copper-clad entry doors greet visitors. Tall ceilings are soffited with exotic woods, especially in the kitchen, with its sleek cabinetry. Toys include a full-size home theater, wine room with adjacent tasting alcove and a parking elevator in the garage designed to lift two cars to the ceiling for added storage.

All six and a half bathrooms are designed with the best in European and American fixtures, including shower heads that can be adjusted from gentle rain to monsoon. The master bath offers a oneway mirrored window, keeping what's inside private, while bathers can view the action out by the pool's barbecue and wet bar - or stare at the stars or the twinkling lights of La Jolla Shores below.

To their credit, Mendiola and Gonzales had the courage to roll the dice on a remarkable design inspired by the site, rather than fast-tracking another bland stucco box along Hillside Drive. And they're in no frenzy to sell the $21 million spec house.

"One potential buyer wanted to remodel the dining room to put in a billiard table," says Realtor Lisa Kent Mc-Nulty, "but the architects said no sale."

Mendiola learned patience working in his father's architectural firm in his native Mexico City before coming to the United States to attend the University of Notre Dame and the NewSchool of Architecture in San Diego. U.S.-born Gonzales met Mendiola at the New- School of Architecture, and after graduation in 1989, they formed CDGI.

Their distinctive curvilinear residential designs can be found in La Jolla, Coronado, Coronado Cays, Steele Canyon, Jamul and Alpine. More-current work includes a two-story boardwalk house on the ocean side of Mission Beach and the San Diego home of Major League Baseball's Ryan Klesko.

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