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Balboa Island holiday tour welcomes visitors home for Christmas

Bob Olson is a builder by trade, and he constructed his house with Christmas decorating in mind.

Dedicated outlets on the exterior of his Nantucket-style home on Newport Beach’s Balboa Island are connected to an atomic clock that switches on professionally strung twinkly lights precisely after Thanksgiving, awakening displays that have been part of the winner’s circle for the local Ring of Lights decorating contest for years.

And this year, Olson’s lights — which can be seen from the Marine Avenue bridge leading to the island — aren’t the only way people can see how the founder and chief executive of R.D. Olson Development gets into the holiday spirit.

His bayfront home, aglow in blueish white on the outside and bathed in red, silver and gold on the inside, will be part of the lineup for Sunday’s Balboa Island Holiday Home Walking Tour.


Every downstairs room, even the powder room, is decorated with traditional Christmas themes, including Santa Claus, reindeer and nutcracker figures, luminarias on the curving staircase, glass balls that look like holly berries tucked among the fresh orchids in the kitchen, and small velvety Christmas trees that festoon fireplace mantles.

Olson’s favorite rooms are the music room, where a grand piano occupies a key place, and the formal “captain’s” dining room, with its bowed wooden plank ceiling and warm ash wainscoting that evoke the interior of a ship.

“It’s fun to share our home in the Christmas spirit,” said Olson, who lives there with his two teenage children. “Balboa Island really speaks to Christmas.”

His house manager, Monica Soto, coordinates the decorating, which takes a week. Hired setup crews handle the exterior, while the interior is her handiwork. She peruses stores like Hobby Lobby for inspiration, then handcrafts pieces.


“I love gold,” she said. “It’s so elegant and sparkly.”

Olson’s house, on East Bay Front on the Little Island, is one of eight homes that will be open to visitors Sunday. Balboa Island has an eclectic architectural style that will be reflected in the tour, with contemporary, Cape Cod, colonial and nostalgic shingled beach cottage looks. The tour is the chief fundraiser for the Balboa Island Improvement Assn.

Gail Vasterling, who does publicity for the association, said the Olson residence is the highlight of the tour.

The event’s poster and ticket cover are based on a painting of the home’s entry. Docents will share architectural details of the five-bedroom house, which inspired several key features of Olson’s Lido House hotel.

“Everybody is dying to see the inside of this house,” Vasterling said.


What: 22nd annual Balboa Island Holiday Home Walking Tour

When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Various locations around Balboa Island. A map will be provided with a purchased ticket.


Cost: $35. Tickets are available at the Balboa Island Museum the day of the event, Crystal Rose, Fresh Produce, Island Home and Sur Le Mer, all on Marine Avenue on the island; Blue Springs Home at 369 E. 17th St. in Costa Mesa; and online at

Twitter: @Daily_PilotHD