Second Story | An Orange County Home With a Twist by Michael Fullen

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Second Story | An Orange County Home With a Twist

Michael Fullen
In Orange County, a seemingly single-level beach house comes with a twist—a basement that’s the heart of the home.

In Corona del Mar, California, the newly built, Orange County home has all the attributes one would want for a house just steps from the beach—a modernist design, an open, breezy floor plan and a wall of windows that slide away to link indoors with the pool patio and killer views of the Pacific. But this abode has a feature that few others in the area have. There’s a basement. Not just a basement, really,  but a light-filled social space that serves as the heart of the home.

With builder Winkle Custom Homes, architecture by Geoff Sumich and interiors handled by Michael Fullen and Omar Enany, the 7,800-square-foot, five-bedroom house is an entertainer’s dream with plenty of indoor/outdoor space to accommodate parties. The impetus for the design, though, came about through local zoning restrictions.

Michael Fullen

But this abode has a feature that few others in the area have. There’s a basement. Not just a basement, really, but a light-filled social space that serves as the heart of the home.

“The client said, ‘build me a home with a basement that doesn’t look and feel like a basement,’” Sumich, principal of San Juan Capistrano-based Geoff Sumich Design recalls. “He wanted a two-level house, but because of local height restrictions, we couldn’t build up, so we dug down.” 

The lot, where an older house had been torn down, was between the neighborhood’s terraced streets that ease down a hillside towards the ocean. Sumich placed the home’s main level and front entrance on the upper street and used the lower street to create a garage entrance and to dig down into the hillside to create the bottom level.  In plan, the main level includes the open kitchen, dining and great room, master suite and two bedrooms. A casita just off the front door serves as a home office. The lower level includes another living room, game area, bar and bedroom that doubles as an exercise room.

Michael Fullen

“I like to use simple materials and forms to make a bold statement,” Sumich says of the home’s low-slung design and repeated use of rough-tumbled Texas limestone, square breeze blocks and glass walls. His boldest statement for the house, however, is the lower-level courtyard and light well, which bring in light from above to the entertaining space below.

Michael Fullen

Two of the walls are green walls—vertical gardens—dense with a variety of plants kept alive with a high-tech irrigation system. The courtyard itself, appointed with a water feature and fire pit, is accessed from the lower-level living room via frameless window walls that pocket to the side, while a sculptural, open-tread outdoor staircase leads up to the main level.

“These green walls are really works of art,” Sumich says. “They add so much to the house.”


Michael Fullen

Throughout the Orange County house, Fullen and Enany, principals of Fullen Enany Design Group in Laguna Beach, also created a work of art through their selection of colors, furnishings and finishes.

“This neighborhood has a 1960s, 1970s vibe,” Fullen explains. “We wanted to honor that, but without doing a midcentury cliché.” 

Michael Fullen

Another tried-and-true beach house theme the interior designers avoided was a “sandy” color palette, instead opting for pale backgrounds and deeper, golden hues in the furnishings. Pieces were chosen for classic lines and comfort, Fullen explains, and much of the upholstery was done with durable outdoor fabrics to withstand a beach-and-pool lifestyle, not to mention entertaining. 

While the green walls are the exterior’s piéce de résistance, the lower level bar is the interior’s showstopper. 

Michael Fullen

“The bar is influenced by a London nightclub or boutique hotel lobby bar,” Fullen says. “We played around with the concept and used Claro walnut for the bar, ceilings and walls, and LED lighting for accents. I also scattered several small tables and club chairs in the space to give people seating options in addition to the bar itself.”

Other details throughout the home draw the eye, such as an interior’s spiral staircase that connects the two levels, illuminated by day with a large skylight and, at night, with a blown glass and metal chandelier.  A hallway connecting the main level’s living areas with bedrooms called for a bookcase, which Fullen turned into a work of art by designing book niches, turned 45 degrees, to create an articulated wall of literature. 

Michael Fullen


Outside, the main-level’s front facade is accented by fixed wood louvers that filter light and provide privacy for street-side bedroom windows, a breeze block wall and a sculpture of stainless steel rods that rises out of the ground, piercing a circular opening in the roof overhang.

Completed and now occupied by a young family, the home is an epicenter of casual living and entertaining, with the lower level being a magnet for family and friends. Nonetheless, the residence also exudes a sense of quiet serenity. 

Michael Fullen

“I stopped by the house when it was finished,” Sumich says, “and while I was by the green wall, a hummingbird appeared. I have to admit, it was magical.”

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