Home Business From a modest bungalow in California, he created a 'Micro Versailles'

From a modest bungalow in California, he created a 'Micro Versailles'

by SuperiorInvest

Bonnie McIlvaine has lived in three houses in San Diego County, all in the same location.

The first was an unheated cinder block house he bought in 1973 for $32,000. Mrs. McIlvaine, a recently divorced schoolteacher, wanted a break from urban life. She found herself in a small mountain town with expanses of undeveloped brush and forest, not far from the coastal city of Carlsbad, California, where she worked.

As she looked lovingly at the scruffy little building (or, more accurately, the half-acre it sat on), her real estate agent told her, “We can do so much better; “We are going to look at houses in residential areas.”

But all Mrs. McIlvaine could think was that she had always wanted a horse, and maybe that could happen here.

In 2001, the year she retired from teaching, she invited her mother to live with her. The women pooled their money and replaced the concrete house with a two-bedroom bungalow with a gable roof and central heating.

Today, that building is something else: a place where Marie Antoinette would have happily taken off her slippers and plopped down on a deck chair.

In 2007, McIlvaine, now 80, inherited a fortune from Hubert de Monmonier, a neighbor he had met on horseback decades earlier and with whom he had formed a deep, platonic friendship.

“My dad died in World War II,” he said. “He didn't have that close, comfortable male counterpart.”

M. de Monmonier, who was 23 years older, shared a love of literature, gardening and animals. “We just get along,” he said. And one day, he told her that, in the absence of close living relatives, he intended to set up a trust for her.

Mr. de Monmonier had been a gardener and metalworker for the Los Angeles Unified School District, but he made his money through shrewd real estate investing followed by successful stock trading. (As a rock hound, he had also accumulated nearly 900 geological specimens, which he bequeathed to the University of Arizona Museum of Gems and Minerals.)

With her inheritance, Mrs. McIlvaine paid for the college education of two of her Mexican gardening assistants. But he also pursued a dream that had matured during his summer trips to the Cotswolds in England and the Palace of Versailles in France: He reinvented his 1,600-square-foot bungalow as a place clad in weathered stone and antique wood, hung crystal chandeliers in the High ceilings and filled with antique furniture.

Tiffani Baumgart, the interior designer who was Ms. McIlvaine's partner in the transformation, described the intensely ornate small house as a “micro Versailles.”

Having appeared on the scene after the bungalow was destroyed and its interior undergoing reconfiguration (following the death of Ms McIlvane's mother in 2009, the second bedroom was converted into a garden room), Ms Baumgart spent more than three years requesting the theme of baroque luxury in every square centimeter.

He hired wood carvers to execute his sketches for Rococo cabinets. He organized the production of custom marble flooring. He worked with Ken Wildes, a plasterer living in Newport, Rhode Island, on installing 250 handcrafted roses on the ceilings of the living room and bedrooms. He oversaw the murals painted by Jennifer Chapman, a local artist.

“Jennifer was in the house for years,” Baumgart, 61, recalled. As the artist moved from room to room, painting birds and butterflies, waves of flowers and rose-tinged cumulus clouds against cerulean skies, she settled into a Fragonard-esque rhythm. When McIlvaine and Baumgart couldn't find an antique baby grand piano to fit into the living room, Chapman painted a newly acquired Steinway with gold ruffles and scenes of pastoral ruins.

Even the rarest acquisitions were given a personal stamp. Many of the 18th century furniture found through dealers or online searches were recovered in velvets, silks or Fortuny prints. Ms. Baumgart cut and reconfigured a pair of cumbersome chandeliers into matching pendants that now hang over the kitchen island and commissioned metal workers to twist iron into brackets to hold antique stone sinks in the powder room and bathroom. laundry. A carved panel she found in an antique store became the centerpiece of a bedroom closet.

At other times, the environment was modified to accommodate desired purchases, like when an arched niche was designed in the living room's crown molding to make way for the knobby top of an Italian gilt mirror. The arch inspired the curved door on the other side of the room.

The house was effectively completed in 2012, but Ms. Baumgart continues to work on it; She recently added custom exterior curtains to a secret garden area.

Was there a time, you were asked, when your client shut down an idea or purchase because it cost too much?

Never, said the designer.

Which raised the delicate question of the budget.

“I got all my bills and put them in a folder,” McIlvaine said. “And I thought, 'Someday I'm going to add it all up.' And then I threw it all away.”

He added: “I guess it would be a couple of million.”

Anyone familiar with the price of custom plaster and original Louis furniture is likely to suspect that this estimate is low. But the burning question was why, with his windfall, McIlvaine decided to invest so much in a modest bungalow.

“People have said, 'The neighborhood is not very exclusive. If you're spending all that money, you should move to Rancho Santa Fe,'” McIlvaine said, referring to an affluent residential community near Carlsbad.

But she never wanted to give up the property that stole her heart more than 50 years ago, she said. Although the horse she owned is now a treasured keepsake, she It has a couple of dogs, a couple of koi ponds, and a waterfall fed by a recirculating irrigation system.

“Have you ever heard of people who win the lottery and suddenly run out of money and don't know where it went?” she asked. “It's more or less like this. So I'm cooling my jets. I'm not going to spend any more money. “I already have my little paradise.”


Living Small is a fortnightly column exploring what it takes to live a simpler, more sustainable or more compact life.

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