One Door Away from Heaven
Dean Koontz finds sanctuary in his Newport Coast home, designed with a writer's eye for detail
Dean Koontz doesn’t get out much and that’s entirely by design.
The author of thrillers, such as the recent “Saint Odd” and scores of earlier best-sellers such as “Watchers” and “Intensity,” says he likes to put in at least 60 hours a week at the keyboard of his old-fashioned MS-DOS computer. When he takes a break, it’s usually for some quiet pleasure with his wife, Gerda, and their golden retriever, Anna.
“One thing we like to do is take long walks with the dog,” Koontz says during a recent walkthrough of his 27,219-square-foot Newport Coast home, the third largest in Orange County. “We put the dog in the car and go down to Corona del Mar and walk the village because the streets are so pretty. And then drive south and walk Laguna Beach. Keep on going down the coast to different towns until you can’t walk as much.”
Mostly, Koontz says, he and Gerda and Anna are happiest at home. “We’re homebodies, so most of our things we like to do are with friends. Having friends in for dinner. Spending a day together playing cards or whatever is for us as good as it gets.”
Staying in seems like a particularly appealing prospect when the house is as lovely as the one Dean and Gerda Koontz built. They’d settled in Orange County years ago, pulling up stakes in Pennsylvania to resettle in California, and lived for many years in the Harbor Ridge neighborhood of Newport Beach. But sometime in the mid-1990s, they decided to design and build their own home from the dirt up.
“We’ve worked very hard all our lives and decided to finally build sort of the dream home,” Koontz says. “And it got completely out of control.”
With four lots on which to build there was room to roam as the design he and Gerda dreamed up shifted and changed in the early stages of the project. They wanted a home that reflected the aesthetic of Frank Lloyd Wright – there’s plenty of glass and stone, wood and water to create that organic feeling Wright loved – with touches of art deco style that include an amazing amount of custom stainless steel fixtures blended into the mix.
“We had our first architect tell us, ‘People who build large houses, a lot of them end up divorced before they finish,’” says Koontz, who’s been married for 48 years. “I said, ‘I don’t think that’s going to happen with us.’ We both have the same taste, so there didn’t end up [being] any arguments.”
As he takes a visitor on a tour of the sprawling home, his eyes shine as he talks about how different decisions and designs came to be. Where Wright loved darker woods, the Koontzes wanted more warmth. So the library, which is filled with a few thousand volumes, including first editions from the ’20s and ’30s with beautiful art deco jacket art, was done in a blonde wood that positively glows in the light.
In their custom-built movie theater, he and Gerda watch new releases, classic films or movies that friends recommend, such as “Edge of Tomorrow,” the 2014 Tom Cruise sci-fi flick they’d seen a night or two before. Anna, the golden retriever, usually perches on a seat between them (the late Trixie favored a large pillow that remains in a place of honor on the landing behind their seats). The 20-seat theater is approached by a hallway adorned with bespoke movie posters of favorite films such as “The Maltese Falcon,” “King Kong” and “The Big Sleep.” The marquee outside spells out its name – “Moonlight” – borrowed from the drive-in theater in the small Pennsylvania town where he and Gerda grew up.
The project took seven years to build. Today, after nearly 12 years in the house, Koontz talks about the people who worked on it as if they’d left just a day or two before. Contractor Mike Martin, who died as it was almost finished, became a good friend over those years, as did architect Leason Pomeroy and many of the other craftsmen who worked there.
“So many of our friends are in the building trades,” he says. “I have a few friends who are writers but that’s not a world I really move in very much. But I learned a long time ago that if somebody is a very good mason or a very good cabinet maker... I have so much in common with them.
“Because they think about their cabinet the same way I think about trying to get that sentence right and that scene right. And we discovered that we had all kinds of stuff to talk about because your worldview ends up being very similar.”
Among the many stainless pieces incorporated into the home are two large doors bearing phrases that say something about the house but also its inhabitants. “Amazing Grace” is written across the large gate at the entrance. Pomeroy had told them a house like this needed a name, and though Koontz said he’d never planned on it, after he and Gerda caught themselves talking about the graceful nature of the design, the favorite hymn came to mind and so it was named.
The second entry is on the ground floor, at the end of the hallway that leads to the theater. The door leads to the garage and on it is written the words “The Real World.”
“Because the real world is out there,” Koontz explains. “Not in here.”