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Tuscan Touch

A farmhouse for a family cements a popular Architect's legacy

Ocean views add beauty to the warm-toned patio.

Businesswoman Anne Krizman always knew just what she wanted in her dream home – and she got it just in time.

“I always thought, ‘God, if I could someday live in a John O’Neill house, that would be a dream,’ ” the longtime Fresh Produce sportswear store owner recalls.

It certainly helped that Krizman knew the renowned architect O’Neill personally and spent a lot of time at his Italianate mansion on Mystic Way in the hills above north Laguna Beach, just steps from a property she had owned (and rented to others) for years. “John had a beautiful home that he recently sold right here in the neighborhood, at 508 Mystic, that I would go over to and visit him. I always loved going over there because it was just stunning.”

Aware that O’Neill was planning to retire to Palm Springs, Krizman knew she had to make the decision to enlist his genius in reimagining the “nondescript house” she owned in his Laguna neighborhood. So about two years ago she asked him to add one more design to his legacy of Tuscan-influenced homes that dot the Orange County landscape.

“I had this old house and I needed something done,” she recalls. “And John said, ‘Yes, we can make this into something nice.’ Because of the lines – it was just a kind of square box – he said we could make it into an Italian farmhouse. And I just put it into his hands.”
It helped that O’Neill was familiar with Krizman, her life partner, Laura Puente, and their two children, Lucca and Quincy, now 7 and 9. “He knew our family really well, he knew the kids, he knew we all wanted to be on the same floor (for sleeping) and he knew we liked a big kitchen. I said, ‘I want it to be your typical Italian look, with your French doors going throughout and the stone on the outside.’ And then he went from there.”

The result is the last house he designed before retiring, exactly the Italian farmhouse she wanted, which replaced that single-story house built in the early ’70s that perched on the hillside. Krizman’s family dream home took 18 months to create, saving only the footprint of the original 1,800-square-foot building and transforming it into a two-story house with close to 3,600 square feet of living space.

“We took it down to the studs on the main level, leaving only the original fireplace,” explains Krizman’s general contractor, Michael McElheny of Laguna Beach-based McElheny Construction. “Then we dug under the house to create another level. We had to dig 28 caissons into the hillside, which took about four months to do.”

Both Krizman and McElheny agree that every step of the building process went incredibly smoothly, from obtaining city permits to neighborhood concerns to following O’Neill’s vision for the house. In fact, only one major change happened along the way, in the master bedroom design.

“Originally John had designed it where we had a much bigger bathroom and we had a little sitting room off the master. And I said, ‘John, I just need a room to sleep in. But I need a really BIG closet!’ So he redesigned it and gave me my closet,” laughs the woman who has made her fortune in the clothing business. “You know how guys are; he just wears five different shades of black T-shirts and five different pairs of shorts, so that’s his closet. So he didn’t quite understand our need for a big closet.”

Every other signature component of an O’Neill-designed house is in place here, from his light-stone exterior walls created to mesh with the landscape to the arched interior hallways, distressed-wood ceiling beams, and solid knotty alder, dark-stained French doors and windows that open out to a comfortable patio with expansive views of the Pacific Ocean.
All of that combines with the key element that Krizman admires the most about O’Neill’s architectural vision: “John’s signature style is solid-wood cabinets, built-ins everywhere, lots of storage, even in the bathrooms. I love all the built-ins that John does. Everything has its place; you can be so organized because of it. We moved from a house that didn’t have good storage, so this is just so great to have.”

And while Krizman and her family brought along numerous items of furniture and particularly some eclectic pieces of art from their previous (and much more contemporary) home on Bayview in Laguna Beach, she’s also enlisted the help of Randy Boyd of Thurston Boyd Interior Design to help evoke the Italianate feel of this lovely Tuscan farmhouse.
The result is a place she can call her dream home – that is, until she gets the itch to start all over again. Krizman admits she “really likes to renovate houses,” with this John O’Neill beauty following in the footsteps of others, including a couple of cottages in Woods Cove and a spectacular midcentury modern home in Palm Springs designed by Donald Wexler that she no longer owns.

But until the urge strikes again, Krizman is extremely content with the home that her good friend designed for her as his swan song. “I really do love our house,” she says happily. “It’s wonderful.”

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