A local designer helps bring new life to a Spanish Colonial Revival home on the Peninsula

It’s all about resorting faith.

  • Category
  • Written by
    Eliza Krpoyan
  • Photographed by
    Lauren Pressey & Mark Lohman

Before Carmen and John Phillips made an offer on their 1920s Spanish Colonial Revival home, the real estate agent left them alone on the property and asked them to lock up on their way out. The couple had stumbled on the house about six months earlier but took it off their minds when they learned of its hefty price tag. Fast-forward and the house was still on the market with a price reduction.

“The home had a lot of foundation issues,” explains Carmen. “It’s like no one wanted to touch it. But then the price came down to such a point that probably a contractor or developer would have come in and demolished it.”

A family had lived in the home since the 1970s, and after the father passed the children decided to sell the estate. “They had an endearment with the home,” shares Carmen of the family who was very involved in the sale. “They had grown up here, had weddings and baptisms here. The home had a lot of life.”

It got dark, and Carmen and John were still sitting talking about how much they wanted the home … but it was a stretch. The couple looked out the upstairs balcony and noticed the cross from the neighborhood church was illuminated. “Look, it’s a sign. We were meant for this house,” they said.

Despite uneven flooring and original plumbing and heating, Carmen and John purchased the home to restore it to its glory days. “We wanted to stay true to the architecture and period while updating the home’s systems,” shares John.

“This is exactly what I had been thinking about and dreaming about … and here it was right in front of me.”

The restoration piqued his curiosity to learn more about the history of the home, Palos Verdes and the time period. At the local library the staff helped him find a huge file on their address including pictures of the house being built, information on the architect Raymond Struthers and a sales brochure with a list price of $75,000.

John uncovered a passion for Spanish Colonial Revival architecture and tiles from that era. His newfound interest led him to pen his first book, Palos Verdes Estates: Images of America, on the development and community of Palos Verdes.

Although it took more time and was costly, John preserved the home’s original terra-cotta roof. “We had to take it down to waterproof and then put the roof back on,” he explains. “I couldn’t bear to see the original tiles with the fingerprints of the makers lost.”

The Phillips waited eight years after purchasing their home  before hiring a designer to decorate. They enlisted Caroline Burke Designs to blend the traditional Spanish architecture with contemporary and comfortable furniture and a collection of antique treasures. The result is an updated, livable family home that doesn’t conflict with the period of the house.

“Good design enhances a lifestyle,” says Caroline. “You want furniture where people are going to go in and sit down and want to be there and relax.”

When the couch was installed in the family room Carmen had tears in her eyes. “I walked in, and my whole family was there,” she recalls of John and their three boys—Charlie, Tommie and Henry (ages 16 to 9)—sprawled out and labradoodle Pepper in the same room. “This is exactly what I had been thinking about and dreaming about … and here it was right in front of me.”

Throughout the 6,500-square-foot home are custom pieces by Caroline, like console tables in the great room and counter stools in the kitchen. “All the upholstered pieces of furniture and wood pieces you see in any of my projects fit the room wonderfully, because we are able to have these pieces made to scale for the room,” she says.

For instance, the couple wanted to create multiple spaces where family and friends could gather and agreed that the home needed a bar where they could also store their collection of tequila. Here Caroline designed a custom floor-to-ceiling banquette in a rich blue color.

The inspiration behind the décor in each room was the artwork the couple has collected throughout their travels. Caroline drew on the colors from the collection. In the study is the Santa Barbara courthouse building by Paul Cumes—Spanish Colonial Revival architecture that’s iconic of the 1920s. The background is cerulean blue, which is echoed throughout the room.

Pablo in the kitchen was a piece of vintage art from an antique dealer in San Diego who specialized in 1920s furniture and art. John loved the portrait, and Carmen went back for it and surprised him for their 10th anniversary.

In the kitchen are 100+-year-old reclaimed terra-cotta tiles from France. Some of the tiles on the floor are flipped, showing the maker and region of France where they were made.

The couple enjoys antiquing. Carmen has collected retablos and religious icons, while John has lots of colorful tiles, pottery and artwork. Though Carmen knows what she likes when she sees it, it was with the help of Caroline that they pieced it all together—blending contemporary touches with the older home through details like prevalent colors from the ‘20s.

Though the house is 90 years old, it still looks almost exactly as it did when it was built but functions like a modern family home. Goes to show: A little faith goes a long way.

Join the Southbay Community

Receive the latest stories, event invitations, local deals and other curated content from Southbay.
By clicking the subscribe button, I agree to receive occasional updates from Southbay.