Crown in the Canyon

A French Mediterranean estate transforms everyday living into art... and brings nature along, too


Written by Constance Dunn     Presented by Chris Valli, Surterre Properties

As you glide from the freeway towards Shady Canyon, it’s easy to see what inspired James Irvine and his partners to scoop up as much of this natural bounty as they could back in the late 1800s. Clean, gentle air whistles softly across the land and a peaceful expanse of rolling hills and valleys cradle a picture-book Californwwwia landscape, still vastly unspoiled. 

Once you enter the private community, there’s more of the same. Landscaped blocks of greenery and quiet, punctuated by a collection of homes, luxurious and symmetrical in their style, each a type of classic Mediterranean. Open-air floor plans, flush with courtyards and breezy alcoves, make it an architectural style ideally suited to Southern California’s kind year-round climate and pleasing scenery. 

Perhaps the most idealized, elegant version of this style exists at the end of a cul de sac, along a high elevation of the canyon, and with a bird’s-eye view stretching across miles of rolling hillside and including Newport Beach, Catalina Island and, on a clear day, even the water and downtown Los Angeles. It’s a stone-laden French Mediterranean estate, approximately 12,500 square feet and poised on over an acre of plush hilltop. If you’re fond of seeing neighbors at every turn, you won’t be so satisfied here: the nearest house is a short hike down the road.

Authentic Artistry

Sometimes attempts at grand properties fall flat because the bar is so high, and missteps—either in design, craftsmanship or good taste—become glaring, creating an irreparable chink in the armor. In this case, the result, was an authentic French-style country estate completed in late 2013 and perched in a perfect slice of California countryside. Its dyed in the wool, rusticated elegance comes from undisputed achievement on three fronts: craftsmanship, landscape, and design. 

Carlos Elenes of EBTA Architects, Robert Ferguson Company (construction), Carolyne Ferguson Design (interior design) and G. Grisamore Design (landscaping) produced the singularly realized vision.

The fine workmanship is visible to the eye, yes, but also palpable to the senses—and is consistent through the entire home. “The quality of the construction,” agent Chris Valli of Surterre Properties says swiftly when asked about highlights of the home. “Phenomenal craftsmanship. Phenomenal materials.” 

The most plentiful material, woven through the interior and cladding the exterior, is pale stone, a smart choice that, along with the clay-barrel roof, is impervious to heat and wind. Another dominant material is wood—ranging from rough-hewn, repurposed and aged to smoothly finished new stock. Valli points out an ancient wood-and-steel door sourced from an old building abroad. “A lot of the material was brought in from Europe.” Decor, from lighting and furniture to rugs, bedding and even floor tiles, if not custom-created for the home, is antique. 

Marriage of New and Old

The deft blending of new and old is found throughout the home. The family room is a place where crisp modern couches juxtapose against pale French Chambord oak flooring and a ceiling of reclaimed wood beams and tiered brass chandeliers. A painted Gustavian-style cabinet (think a restrained, Scandinavian version of French rococo) mingles with an antique French limestone fireplace. 

The colors throughout the home are an easygoing palette of creams, taupe and soft browns. It works, and spotlights the natural splendor that surrounds the place. This is where master landscaping kicks in. Like the rest of the home, the sophisticated duality between elegant and rustic is at play. European garden mainstays—slender Cypress trees framing the pool lawn, tidy boxwood hedges—mingle with scrubby olive trees, wild French lavender and lemon trees; the effect is free-form beautiful without ever being too precious.

The home’s thoughtful network of French doors and windows, plus a floor plan arranged around fresh-air courtyards enables an intimate interplay of indoor and outdoor spaces. The European-style kitchen, for instance, features a network of fine appliances (a decorative steel range from La Cornue is a highlight) and Cararra marble islands tucked under a curved, wood beam ceiling. It’s yet another grand, romantic space with close connection to the outdoors; this time via an adjoining morning room surrounded by walls of French doors to bring in sunlight and a panorama of valley views.

A Beautiful Break

For every grand gathering spot in the home, there is another offering peace and solitude. Poetic sitting areas and quiet spaces are found at every turn, including a studious office suite with full bath and separate entrance. “It’s a very flexible floor plan,” says Valli. “The layout is conducive to 90-percent single-story living. You’ve got two bedrooms upstairs, but the rest is down here.” Speaking of, the two upstairs bedroom suites (out of the home’s five) can function as a standalone visitor’s quarters, complete with a lounge. Likewise for the subterranean level, which houses a bedroom suite along with a gym.

The entrance of the home is fitting—one elegantly sculpted courtyard leads to another, then a row of doors welcomes you inside. It’s a first impression that is never diminished, and only builds while walking through the home and grounds.

In all, the property seems designed around letting one take a beautiful break from everyday life, which lies, conveniently enough, not too far from its custom, antique front doors. “It’s such a desirable area,” says Valli of the locale. “It’s one of the nicest places to live in the world.” Add to that a private golf course within the community, and being about 10 minutes by car from the beach or shopping. “We’re close to Orange County Airport, and you’d never know it,” he adds. “Bingo, you’re on a plane out of here in about eight minutes.” Heaven knows, though, why you’d want to do that if you called this address home.