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HOMEOWNERS — Victor and Randi Montgomery

BUILT — 1998-2000

LOCATION — Avila Beach, California

CONSTRUCTION — Wood frame with plaster exterior and green tile roof

PROPERTY — 13,000 square feet on California's central coast

LIVING SPACE — 3,600 square feet

BEDROOMS — "Designed specifically for our family" with master suite, son's bedroom, and guest suite off the courtyard

FAVORITE AREA — The lanai, a four-season outdoor living room with fireplace

HER FAVORITE PASTIMES — "I'm having a hoot of a time sitting on the lanai putting acrylics on canvas"

HIS FAVORITE PASTIMES — Ocean watching, feeding the birds, and "messing around on cars with my son"

WHY FRONTGATE? — "The quality is terrific. We once ordered the same kind of product from Frontgate and from another company. There was no comparison — Frontgate's was much nicer."

Living Room

Family Room

Master Suite

ARCHITECT
Victor Montgomery of RRM Design Group (805.543.1794)

Avila Beach, California — Happily situated in their turn-of-the-century bungalow near the Mission in San Luis Obispo, Randi and Victor Montgomery had no intention of moving, let alone building. They'd purchased the house in 1983, and it was the only home their son had ever known. As for convenience, the downtown location just couldn't be beat. And then suddenly one day, none of that mattered anymore.

Victor's architectural firm, RRM Design Group, was slated to act as planners, surveyors, and civil engineers for a thousand-acre master-plan community to be built in Avila Beach, and one of his engineers suggested Vic drop by the job site. It was love at first sight. "I was slack-jawed," he remembers. "It was above the fogline at the beach, so the weather was incredibly warm. The view was fantastic. Only 100 acres were to be developed, and this particular lot was surrounded by open space on three sides. I had a very peaceful feeling. I could almost envision living there. So I went to the developer, our client, and said I'd like to buy the lot when the time comes.

"The next day I dragged Randi up there. She had the same reaction. We went home that afternoon and put our house on the market. Our son couldn't believe his stodgy old parents were selling the family home. It sold three days later. We hadn't been looking to move — not at all. But we couldn't pass up the opportunity. The site had a very special feel. It was just a matter of time."

DESIGNING FROM THE OUTSIDE IN

Though the sale of the house freed up the money to build, there were no guarantees that the developer would actually move forward with the project. Obtaining all the necessary clearances was no easy task, and until that hurdle was cleared, the lot couldn't officially be put up for sale.

But Victor and Randi were in no rush to get started. They knew that designing a house as remarkable as the site would take some doing. So they packed up their belongings and moved into a 400-sq.-ft. studio apartment they owned where, though they didn't realize it at the time, they would live for the next three years until the house was finally completed. "It was a lot like camping," says Randi.

Over the course of the next nine months, they visited the lot regularly. "We'd stand on top of our Suburban to see what it would be like to live in our house," says Randi. "The more we were up there, the more attached we became. When the developer finally got the clearances to sell the lots, we put the deposit down on our lot the next day."


The south-facing site overlooks the infinity-edge pool to the Pacific Ocean beyond. Shop Pool & Beach.

As she and Victor talked about their objectives for their new home, they found themselves far more concerned with what the house would feel like than what it looked like. Their ambition was to capture the sense of deep relaxation they felt when vacationing in Hawaii. Though Victor had spent two years on the Big Island during his high school years, he and Randi knew they'd never live there — "but we wanted to feel as if we did. We were determined to incorporate some of the things we thought were most wonderful about Hawaiian living, especially the lanai."

Though Victor had done a small number of custom homes for commercial clients, he'd never designed one for himself. His strategy was to visit the lot at all times of day and in all seasons, carefully noting where the sun rose and set. "I designed and redesigned the house three times in an effort to get it right," he says. "I spent a lot of time looking at the site, seeing what it had to offer in terms of view, how light could be admitted into every room, how to incorporate transparency, to erase the distinction between indoors and out."

Victor designed from the outside in, striving to create a home that felt connected to the site. "We knew we wanted the pool and lanai to have a southern exposure," he explains, "and we knew we wanted a courtyard entry to the house." The floor plan he and Randi ultimately adopted was shaped like an H with a courtyard in the lower center, a foyer at the crossbar, and the lanai in the upper center. "You open the front door, and suddenly you're in the backyard with the sun and the view and the lanai, and that all happens in a few steps because of the shape of the house," Victor explains.

TEAMING UP TO GET IT RIGHT

Once Vic and Randi decided to build, they began wondering whether they even wanted to bother with a general contractor. "Sometimes it's hard to get to talk about what you want," Randi says. "They're often building five other houses at the same time." They finally settled on a builder Victor says he would recommend "above all other builders in the world: my wife. She wanted to do it, and I was very supportive of that."

"I designed and redesigned the house three times in an effort to get it right."

Over the years, Vic and Randi had not only remodeled both of the homes they'd owned, but also had some work done on their rental properties, and Randi had been in charge of it all. "She's very good at it," Vic says. "Between the two of us, we pretty well understood the building process."

Randi went to the job site every day for the next two years. "I had no business being the general on this," she says, "but it worked! We'd done some complete remodelings, right down to the 2x4s, but this was a much larger scale. There was nothing here but oak trees, nothing to go by." Her first thought was to rehire the framers and other sub-contractors she'd worked with previously. "But when I started going through my list of different craftsmen, hardly anybody was available. There was a building boom here on the central coast — we were just coming out of a period of zero growth and building moratoriums. I thought, 'I'll never able to put it together!' I'd make five calls, and only one would call back."

Randi was an unknown in the building business, and that proved to be yet another obstacle. "My husband has a good reputation, but when they learned they'd be working for me, they would back off. I thought, 'I have no business building my own home,' and I was probably right. But I knew enough to recognize good craftsmanship." And that was what saved her in the end, that and the fact that she and Victor were willing to wait however long it took to do the house right.

As the weeks and months rolled by, Randi began assembling her team, one skilled and passionate craftsman at a time. "I'd drive around, see some stonework I liked, and find out where the stone came from. Then I'd go to the quarry, get a name, and wait until he was available. Or I'd put out the word that I was looking for a cabinetmaker. I talked with several, explaining our vision, and when I looked into someone's eyes and saw the excitement, I knew he was the one."

"It was an evolution of real, true artists having the same vision we did, people who wanted to create something special, not just a normal house. They constantly redesigned things to all of our expectations. There were no time limits — they just kept going back at it, and back at it, but the end result was worth every minute. Luckily we were able to take the extra time to put it all together. We created some wonderful friendships, and now I know exactly who I'd call in every trade."


Paved entirely in stone, the courtyard is a place for relaxation.
"I start decompressing the minute my feet hit it," says Vic. Shop Outdoor Living.

According to Victor, Randi had a real knack for tapping into each craftsman's creative potential. "She had a great rapport with the people she worked with. They all remarked that she didn't just tell them to do this and do that. She collaborated with them on the special talents they could bring to the house, letting them do what they knew how to do best. They encouraged her to talk about her ideas, and then they'd do them. Every person that worked on the house really, really had a good time — I think it's because they got to be creative. That's part of the spirituality of the house now."

AS SOLID AS STONE

The most labor- and cost-intensive aspect of building was the stonework. "The entire bottom floor is stone," Vic explains. "The same floor goes onto the lanai and the pool deck — you don't even change flooring when you come in and go out of the house." The courtyard and driveway are also paved in stone. First-floor bedrooms, living room, kitchen, and dining room are all laid in different types and colors of stone.

"We'd spend weekends going up to a stone outlet some thirty miles away. Randi selected it all. The masons worked with her on laying the stone; they were here for over a year. All in all, we put over 600,000 pounds of stone into the house." In-floor heating keeps the interior stone warm underfoot. "The stone makes the house," says Victor, "the stone and the green tile roof — we'd seen something like it in Hawaii. The house looks like it's been here for years, like a Montecito house. It should age well."

The home's durability is no accident. Taking into account a nearby off-shore fault, Victor engineered the house to withstand seismic events. His careful planning paid off handsomely. "The house weathered the recent earthquake unharmed," says Randi. "I used to tell Vic he was overbuilding, but when you have a shaker like that, you're glad. Some neighboring houses didn't fare well. Ours performed beautifully — I only lost a couple pieces of pottery."

INTERIOR INSPIRATION

Randi brought the same enthusiasm to decorating the house that she did to building it. She chose the colors and fabrics, and she selected Moorish-Andalusian lighting fixtures handcrafted in Santa Barbara.

Next, she faux-painted the woodwork and had painted columns from Mexico stripped and waxed and gilded to look like ruins from an old altar, then mounted them atop the built-in server dividing living room and dining room.

Decorating the ceilings in the living room, dining room, and lanai was Randi's favorite project. "They're a conglomeration of things you might find in Hearst Castle or an old house in Europe, a mixture of paints and wood floral medallions. The cabinet man came up with them. He'd go home and draw and come back — we just went wild, painting and gilding. It took six months!"

"The house accomplishes our goal completely, we have that 'I'm at the resort feeling' as soon as we arrive."

Though the house showcases many of her collectibles and antique furnishings, even more of them remain in storage. "I've been collecting for over thirty years. The collection I have here is minimal compared to what I lived with before. I still haven't unpacked a lot, maybe never will. I had a lot of Arts-and-Crafts things, but they didn't work here at all. This is like another life."

HERE TO STAY

Carved on a rock pillar at the head of the driveway are the Hawaiian words "Hale Maluhia": House of Restfulness. "The house accomplishes our goal completely," says Victor. "We have that 'I'm at the resort feeling' as soon as we arrive. Everyone remarks on how restful it is. I've never had a house like that before."

Evenings find them sipping cocktails on the lanai with their dogs, watching the ocean, and, in winter, warming themselves by the fire. "It's the perfect place to relax. We plan to be here the rest of our lives."

Already Randi is reluctant to leave, even if it's just to go for groceries. As Vic explains, "I try to get her to travel with me but she says, 'Where would I go that would be any nicer than this?'" The last time the two of them went to Hawaii, Randi couldn't wait to get home. "This is paradise," she says. "It's like living in the country. It's quiet here, no hustle and bustle, and I don't have to see anyone if I don't want to. We have bobcats and vultures and an incredible variety of wildlife. The gophers are ruining our yard, and the deer are eating all the plants, but we don't care. It's wonderful! We thank our lucky stars every day."

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