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AnnaMaria Stephens | Photo: T. Whitney Cox | Portrait by Robert Benson | July 9, 2013
An acclaimed NYC architect transforms a midcentury gem in La Jolla into a glamorous, art-filled vacation home.
New York architect William T. Georgis calls his vacation home in La Jolla the Akropolis, a playful nod to his Greek heritage and to the property’s location on a steep Mount Soledad hillside perched high above the Pacific. Like its namesake, this Akropolis is irrefutably iconic.
Georgis, who recently published his first monograph, the aptly titled Make It Fabulous: The Architecture and Designs of William T. Georgis, found the home a few years ago with his partner, Richard D. Marshall, a private art curator. The pair initially considered a modernist masterpiece by Russell Forester, but passed when they discovered a midcentury fixer-upper with major potential. Designed as a personal residence by architect William T. Lumpkins in 1956, the 3,000-square-foot home had fallen into disrepair.
“The concept was always to maintain the aesthetic integrity of the building,” explains Georgis.
Georgis’ renovation required structural retrofitting and a significant reimagining. On the lower level, the architect kept the original entry foyer and converted a garage to a guest suite. Upstairs, he reconfigured a cluster of bedrooms and bathrooms into an eight-room enclave: an upper-level foyer, dining room, kitchen, living room, library, office, master bedroom, and one and a half baths, all with magnificent ocean views. Out back, a new retaining wall allowed for a pool and a series of garden enclaves.
At this point, many architects would simply speed-dial their preferred designer. But Georgis, who boasts a seriously boldface clientele, is famous for his exceptional interiors. He favors an integrated approach that includes designing custom furniture and accessories—no real surprise, considering Georgis grew up admiring the works of Frank Lloyd Wright and later studied under Michael Graves at Princeton.
The Akropolis is a tour-de-force representation of Georgis’ trademark style, effortlessly mingling different eras and influences without ever taking itself too seriously. Especially eye-catching is the couple’s art collection, a covetable mix of contemporary and classic works acquired through the years by Marshall, a former curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, who frequently collaborates with Georgis. The two commissioned San Diego artist Kim MacConnel, a longtime friend, to paint lacquered murals for the dining room. MacConnel’s eye-popping hues and geometric motifs provide a striking backdrop to an Edward Wormley table in ebonized teak and a pair of wrought-iron chandeliers that allude to the area’s Spanish past.
Hanging in a nearby stairwell, looming large above a marble-top Saarinen table, a commissioned piece by artist and UCLA professor Barbara Kruger proclaims “BE HERE NOW,” a message that resonates with Georgis. “My mind is racing all the time and I’m never anywhere,” he says. “It helps to ground me.”
The home’s private spaces are eminently soothing, even for an architect who can’t sit still. In the bedroom, expansive windows frame the cerulean sea, complemented by shades of sandstone inside. To hide the closets, Georgis used bronze framing to transform a 17th century coromandel screen into doors. Ultrasuede wallcoverings and curtains add a touch of ’70s luxury, while a midcentury horn chair upholstered in magenta silk lends a shock of color.
A master bath features stunning views and a subtly beach-chic feel, with flooring and a vanity in unfilled travertine, and cedar paneling that was heated, bleached and stained to resemble driftwood.
In the living room, Georgis covered the ceilings with metallic tea-paper. “I wanted the afternoon light bouncing off the Pacific to bounce off the ceiling,” he explains. “It has a luminous quality.” The material also references the Japanese temples beloved by midcentury modernists, as do grass-cloth wallcoverings and the home’s original decorative wood screen, which Georgis carefully restored. Several seating areas, ideal for entertaining, are anchored by the architect’s elegant ink splatter rug. On one end, a particularly fitting 19th century painting of Agrigento hangs above a Danish Egyptian revival sofa. Across the room, flanking the gray-veined travertine fireplace, a pair of scrolled-arm art deco settees upholstered in deep blue velvet draw the eye beyond the cantilevered terrace to the horizon. “Completely deliberate,” reveals Georgis. “The living room is trapped between two bodies of water—behind you, the pool, and in front of you, the Pacific. We pulled the blues from sky and water.”
Inspired by wooden cigar boxes, the library takes its cues from traditional Mediterranean interiors. Paneled in olive-brown stained and cerused ash, it gives refuge from the rest of the airy and light-flooded home. A curved mirror-topped bar is as fully stocked as the built-in bookshelves.
The couple tapped L.A. landscape designer Judy Kameon to create outdoor spaces that relate harmoniously to the adjacent interior rooms. Canopied palms, soft hedges and plump succulents add texture and color. Lounging areas abound, from the dining table tucked beneath a heated pergola to the Sol Bloom chairs surrounding a flickering fire pit. The pool glows a soft jade at night.
“The idea of California as a paradise is very potent,” says Georgis, who fell in love with La Jolla when his parents retired there. For two harried New Yorkers, the Akropolis might just be the closest thing to Eden on earth.