Bea and Bob's Place
By Virginia Butterfield
ON A QUIET STREET just off Sunset Cliffs Boulevard in Point Loma, neighbors have watched a small wooden bungalow grow into a showcase home. The lot has the same configuration shared by most cottages near the ocean: extremely narrow but gloriously deep. How to expand—maybe even go up two stories to capture a view—and still keep the interior from looking like a stacked railroad flat?
Bea and Bob Roppe solved the problem by turning the entire front cottage into a bedroom suite. Then they created a vaulted entry that leads to the back half of the lot, opening out on a two-story living/dining/kitchen space—a “great room” almost as wide as the lot. A soaring ceiling hovers over two loft bedrooms and another bath.
The house, blending modern with mission architecture, is a couple of blocks from the ocean and has been under construction for six years—longer than most people would have the patience to endure the upset.
“It’s unusual in that the owners never had to move out,” says Regina Kurtz, ASID, who designed the interior. The Roppes (“really all Bob,” says Bea) did the work themselves with the help of a few experts.
Bob Roppe, a battalion chief with the San Diego Fire Department, loves carpentry and operates, like most firemen, on a flexible schedule. According to Bea, he apprenticed himself to everyone he hired—the electrician, the tile-setter, the concrete-pourer. “He was everybody’s assistant,” says Bea. “Some things that he did alone, he shouldn’t have. Like the roof.” No, Bob never fell off—but Bea thought that task was an overly ambitious enterprise.
“The whole thing was a giant undertaking,” says Kurtz.
“We pulled the permit seven years ago,” Bea admits. Then they hired architect Andrew Welsh and explained to him their plans and dreams. The idea was to demolish the front cottage—but not before constructing enough of the two-story addition so they could live in the rear during the renovation. Bea feels uncomfortable with her inability to visualize spaces (“Just something I can’t do. Everybody’s different,” she says). So Welsh not only drew the plans but constructed a model.
As it turns out, there was probably no other way a client could have visualized the final product. High ceilings, rooms askew from the normal right angles, walls diagonal to the furniture groupings, a kitchen that juts into the living space, a bridge leading to loft sleeping quarters. And the entire original cottage converted into a spacious bedroom with glass-bricked bath and enormous red-brick fireplace. (The fireplace, an unusual design that spreads across the entire room, was built by hand by Bob. Bea is now debating painting it white. Bob disagrees.)
The wonder of this home is that despite the stark architectural design, the overall feeling is one of cozy, livable informality. “They didn’t want a separate dining room,” says Kurtz. “Most of their entertaining is informal, with food served from a buffet. We kept the background neutral. There are no carpets—just hardwood floors with a few rugs. There are no window treatments, except here and there soft pleated shades to control the light. Bea has allergies to dust, so we had to be careful of fabrics. The French doors give it an airy feeling.”
The loft of the “great room” is where the Roppes lived for five years while the cottage was being demolished, rebuilt and joined to the enlarged quarters at the back.
“How did you manage, with the new kitchen and everything else taking so long to be built?” we ask.
“We lived in the two new bedrooms of the addition (now twin offices/guest rooms), and Bob hiked a refrigerator up those stairs and we had a burner,” Bea answers.
“For five years?
She pauses. “I would be lying if I told you all was roses. I was cranky some of the time,” Bea confesses. “But we love what we have done.” Because the closets aren’t finished, her clothes still are hanging under dust cloths in the upstairs section, quite a distance from the present master bedroom. “That comes next,” she says.
But despite the inconvenience, the time passed. And as Bob worked three days at a time on construction, Bea spent many hours at her own job as project manager for Collaborative SABER, a social-service provider for Latinas and families in the Sherman Heights area.
Bea’s mother was Mexico-born, and Bea’s heart is with Mexican culture—clearly apparent from the artwork in her home. Trips to Mexico produce sculptures and paintings by famous Mexican artists, which she displays in every room. “We are surrounded by saints,” laughs Bea as she surveys the work of so many santeros (Mexican sculptors whose subject is the saints).
As we tour the home, we are accompanied by two frisky puppies, Ginger and Sydney. Sydney is an Australian sheepherder, sort of, and Ginger was proclaimed by the vet to be of no discernible breed, probably “the original dog.” The Roppes acquired them when their dogs of 15 years died in the same year. When not tussling with one another, or making off with a strip of wicker worked off a chair or a slipper from a closet, the dogs snuggle in a cabinet under the kitchen counter.
“Regina thought of this,” says Bea. “She knew we loved dogs. And this way, they can be with us when we have company and still not be in the way.”
The Roppes met Regina Kurtz during an open-studio design tour on Morena Boulevard. “It was friendship at first sight,” says Bea. “When she handed us her card, she said two very important things: ‘I am reasonable, and I work well with people.’ I’ve seen what happens when women think they can do their own designs. Just because you like pretty things doesn’t mean you can put them together. I don’t do brain surgery on myself, and I don’t fix my own teeth. I’m not an artist. I rely on experts. The architect gave us our structure and the movement from room to room—the grand aesthetic. Regina did everything else.”
Kurtz calls the Roppes “two of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with. Sometimes I wouldn’t hear from them for a year. Then Bea or Bob would call and say they were ready for the next step.”
When you’re doing all the work yourself, what does an interior designer do? Kurtz consulted at every step. She reworked the kitchen and the bathrooms, tweaking the architect’s design to fit the needs of the owners. She helped pick finishing materials—cabinets, hardware, tiles. She designed the sofas and chairs and chose rugs and fabrics. And she introduced lighting soffits to break up the immense height of the walls—also to provide ledges to display Bea’s treasures from Mexico. Furnishings and artwork in sharp, primary colors enliven the basic off-white of the surrounding environment.
If patience and tenacity can produce miracles, a miracle certainly occurred on this street in Point Loma. “Call it Ocean Beach,” suggests Bea. “It sounds less pretentious. We’re officially in Point Loma, but we go to Ocean Beach for everything—shopping, the library. We’ve always lived in Ocean Beach, one way or another.”
Or just call it Bea and Bob’s place. Unpretentious, but oh, such a special feeling to this ultradramatic, warm and welcoming home.