A seaside home was reborn miraculously as a remarkable art gallery from the embers of a 2005 Laguna Beach fire. Owner Toni Alexander and her husband could have swept up the charred rubble of their 5,800-square-foot home and walked away. Instead, the couple vowed to rebuild their home of eighteen years as firemen gingerly rescued their art collection piece by piece.
The result, after 30 months, is like a presidential suite in a Balinese resort, filled with expansive windows, limestone floors, custom mahogany doors accented with plate or laminated glass and soothing coffee-colored Venetian plaster walls. The rooms of the house pivot around two central hallways that are perpendicular to each other.
Alexander’s art collection gives her a sense of completion. “When I walk around the house with a glass of wine and a party invitation in my hand, I think, ‘I don’t want to leave, I just love being here,’” she says.
A Keith Haring plaster sculpture rises up like a cream-colored totem pole on the front patio, welcoming visitors. Alexander worked closely with designer Kit Lietzow of Kit Design Studio, keeping the original footprint of the house intact and repurposing the space so that several previously existing walls were removed. Now, gallery walls intersect floating pavilion rooms with dramatic overhead wooden beams and woven paper matting. Lietzow saw the home as “environmental sculpture. I love the idea of…creating a gestalt unlike one you’d experience anywhere else.”
Tony DeLap’s massive wooden rectangular sculpture provides a focal point in one of the main hallways. Its buckling wood and solid black bottom suggests a shuffled deck based on DeLap’s fascination with card tricks. A huge, wall-size, black-and-white Dennis Hopper painting of friends jumping gleefully on the beach is perched on the opposite wall. Both artworks share a hallway with a small wall niche filled with a Sam Francis pen-and-ink self-portrait and a maroon Ching Dynasty vase. It all works. At the end of the hallway, a small, black granite abstract Isamu Noguchi sculpture sits on a pedestal in front of a plate glass, mahogany-framed door, forming a modern-day vestibule.
Lietzow and Alexander didn’t overthink the placement of art in the house. There’s a surprise waiting around every corner. A sassy “so” peers out of an Ed Rusha painting on paper. The word looks like it’s stitched on to the canvas. “It had such attitude,” explains Alexander of her reason to add it to her collection. A Robert Rauschenberg lithograph on aluminum that collages silkscreened images of the artist, a galloping horse, and a chicken dresses up one side of the bar. A simple red Dwayne Valentine canvas with a slash of multicolored glass through it adorns the other side. A small David Hockney collage of a metal outdoor chair anchored in the sand has a place above a hallway table, while a Jasper Johns black-and-white bull’s-eye painting keeps company in the kitchen with a handsome walnut slab, Lietzow’s modern interpretation of a George Nakashima table. While the collection is formidable, several walls still wait to be filled. Alexander has only scratched the surface.
As a student at UC Irvine School of Arts, she compiled a slide show library for her art professors, which began her awareness of great art. Alexander found the inspiration for her 25-year-old art collection in the L.A. School of artists from the 60s and 70s. “I became enchanted with these guys. They surfed together and lived together,” Alexander says. It was their “craziness” that attracted her. It’s the craziness that fuels her still.