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A GREEK ISLAND : A Laguna Niguel couple have been customizing their house with art and architecture that reflect thir love of the Mediterranean nation.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The home is filled with touches you might expect to find in a Greek cottage: rounded edges, sun-washed color, a burnished concrete floor. These touches and others have been used by Irini Vallera-Rickerson and Robert Rickerson to reinvent their Laguna Niguel tract home.

The original 1,400-square-foot house has gradually been transformed from a ‘60s bungalow into a 2,000-square-foot Greek-inspired house that reflects the couple’s love of Greece, architecture and contemporary art.

“The Mediterranean climate here is similar to that in Greece, so we thought that this type of house would fit in perfectly,” said Greek-born Vallera-Rickerson.

“We bought the house for its location,” she said. “It’s next to a private park so no one can build in front and take away the view. We also liked the low-key flavor of the neighborhood.”

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It isn’t until you actually enter the house that you notice the architectural details--added slowly but surely over the years--that customize the interior.

The couple’s combined knowledge of art and architecture permeates the house.

Rickerson, a San Diego native and graduate of the Southern California Institute of Architecture, is an artist and art gallery designer and teaches at UCI and Orange Coast College. Vallera-Rickerson received her doctorate in architecture from the University of Florence and is a full-time art history professor and gallery director at OCC.

Last year, Vallera-Rickerson was named Teacher of the Year for the county’s 11 community colleges. It was the cash award that came with that honor that allowed the couple to push closer to completing the work on the interior of their home.

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“We’ve been gradually adding on in the 10 years we’ve lived here,” Vallera-Rickerson said. “We drew up plans originally, but then we’ve modified them as we’ve gone along. We haven’t been able to afford to do it all at once.”

Moving slowly hasn’t been such a bad thing, Rickerson said. “We designed the house together, but we’ve changed our minds as we lived in it from what we had originally planned. It came out more what we wanted by not rushing into it.”

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The house’s interior originally began at the entrance to the living room. The first addition was a family room built in a garden area to the left of the entrance. The room still has a garden feel to it because glass doors along one wall look out on the garden, but it also is a mini-gallery that houses sculptures by California artist David Torosian, a painting by OCC professor Deborah Davidson, a cast of an original 2000 BC Cycladic figure and a Greek tapestry.

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Here, as in other rooms, all the corners were bull-nosed or rounded to give a sculptural feel. Skylights were added to let in the sun, as well as afford a view of tall eucalyptus trees surrounding the property. Niches were created along one wall to hold a contemporary sculpture and a Greek vase.

“Throughout the house we carried out the idea of bull-nosing: the drawers, the cabinets, the corners, everything,” Vallera-Rickerson said. “It is more expensive to do it that way, but that is what makes the house. Some things you can cut costs on, but some things you need to do the proper way. If you don’t, the project won’t come out right.

“For example, in the kitchen we used Formica rather than granite. That was a good solution, since we then put the money we would’ve spent on granite into the rounded corners. We also used aluminum sliding glass doors rather than the more expensive wood ones. But the bottom line is you cannot do everything cheap and have it look really great. It will just look cheap,” Vallera-Rickerson said.

The house’s color motif is white with Giotto blue, violet and terra cotta interspersed with touches of wood.

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“When you have a house that is all white like this, I think wood warms it up,” Vallera-Rickerson said. “I like contemporary very much, but I wouldn’t want to live in a totally contemporary house because it can be too sterile. I like the addition of wood and antiques.”

The Rickersons would have loved to have hardwood floors, but the cost was prohibitive, so they opted for a similar look achieved by having the concrete painted shades of brown.

“Ed Brown, who painted this floor, used two coats of primer, three coats of paint and three coats of sealer. It was a long process, but it had to be that way to get the right look and feeling,” Rickerson said. The concrete floor actually has a cushioned feeling due to the paint layers.

To the right of the family room, the Rickersons turned a small room into a guest room by adding built-in wood shelves that hold Greek folk dolls dressed in the costumes of the different areas of the country, wood blocks, cowbells, other artifacts and books. The room visually acts as an extension of the family room with its physical proximity and continuation of the use of artifacts and art.

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The hallway to the living room is enhanced by a Torosian sculpture, a blue head titled “Wisdom” that echoes the ancient Greek busts found throughout the house.

The focal point of the living room is a blue fireplace that seems to flow out of the wall into the room. This look was created inexpensively by using drywall and rounding the corners to create the illusion of stone without actually using stone.

On the fireplace is a replica of a bas relief from the Acropolis in Athens; on the hearth are two Greek akroteria or decorative blocks from the late 1800s. On each side of the fireplace, custom wooden bookshelves are also rounded in keeping with the tone of the house.

Also in the living room is a chest that belonged to Vallera-Rickerson’s grandmother, a painting by Greek artist Nataridou, a Greek folk art painting on an old wooden shutter and other Greek and contemporary art objects.

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In the predominantly white kitchen, Vallera-Rickerson had artist Michele Knutsen paint across three cabinet doors a scene of a Greek harbor from the 1800s.

Adjoining the Rickersons’ bedroom is a studio-office that looks out over the yard. It has the indoors-outdoors look they love, Vallera-Rickerson said. “That is so important here, where the weather is usually so wonderful.”

There are two other bedrooms in the house for their children: Vasily, 16, and Diana, 13.

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Now that the interior is almost completed, the Rickersons are getting ready to start on the yard.

Future plans call for a reflective pool with a small waterfall and an arbor for grapevines and flowers.

“Everything we have in our house means a lot to us,” Vallera-Rickerson said. “We never buy just to buy. Usually we know the artist personally and we like him or her, or it’s from our family. Everything is very personal.

“We think that’s what really makes the house special.”

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