IT takes time to get old. Ask Scott and Jan Dee, who wanted their new house to look as if it has been nesting in an Irvine hillside for centuries.
The Andalusia-style two-story was completed in 2004, but much of its decorative allure is very, very old: pavers made of pitted French terra cotta, columns and ceilings lined with well-trodden bricks from Spain and Moroccan archways outlined in fossilized Italian marble.
"We have such a passion for these beautiful old materials that it was almost like the devil gets a hold of you and tells you, 'Go and go and go,' " Scott Dee says. "This house was a labor of love. It didn't happen overnight. When we got finished, it was refreshing to go back to work. We were so weary."
He says they spent years wading through architectural history books and taking photographs during trips to Venice to find the time-honored elements they duplicated in Shady Canyon, a development of half-acre custom estates on what was cattle land. They worked with L.A. architect Robert Sinclair to re-create the architecture of southern Spain and Venice with a touch of Casa Bienvenida, the 1920s Addison Mizner-designed estate in Montecito.
The Dees acquired 7,000 square feet of handmade French pavers for their walkways and driveway. They were lucky to find 2-inch-thick terra-cotta pieces that centuries ago had been stacked as insulation in a building in France. A benefit of reusing old building materials is that they have already had time to shrink and settle. Previously exposed to heat, rain and wind, pieces often have softened colors and eroded surfaces, which add to their charm.
The pavers here have other markings not seen in new terra cotta: animal and human footprints captured in the soft clay while it was drying in the sun. "When children come over, we play a game where we send them out to find the footprints," Jan says. "So far, they've found 14 different ones, from a donkey to a small child's."
Because the couple owns Venetian Stoneworks, a design showroom in Newport Beach that sells new materials and a few antiques, so much of what they chose for their personal residence is the kind of reclaimed building material that can't be found in most stores.
And guests notice. "They can't take it all in at once," Scott says. "They come back four or five times and still say, 'I never noticed this.' That's a nice compliment. It shows that all the attention to detail has paid off."