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Thursday, February 11, 2016


Editor’s Note:  Today through Feb 21, Modernism Week will be celebrated in Palm Springs, CA.  One of the events (Feb.16), a street in Palm Springs will be named in honor of 92-year-old William Krisel, one of the icon architects of the Mid-Century Modernism movement.  Mr. Krisel—early in his career—designed one of the first high rise condominums in California at 666 Upas Street in San Diego.  Pillar to Post reposts here the award winning article on a stunning penthouse atop Krisel’s condominium.
An inspired homeowner, Interior designer Anita Dawson; Contractor Tom Mortensen/Nautilus breathed new life into an aging 1973 penthouse originally designed by William Krisel.  The Ipe wood decking runs seven times harder than cedar or redwood and is naturally resistant to the harshest weathering.


Article by Thomas Shess, San Diego Home/Garden Lifestyles magazine.  Reprinted with permission.
Photography by James Brady, Brady Architectural Photography []  Images reprinted with permission.

Blog note:  The following reprint is about the first high rise condo built in San Diego by famed Palm Springs area architect William Krisel.  Located on Upas Street adjacent to Balboa Park, this penthouse unit is remarkable for its commanding views, but now also for its first rate interior design. It was a treat to be able to visit the condo after driving by it for so many years.

PENTHOUSE BY KRISEL--“Now, it truly is the best designed condo with the best view of any high rise tower in the city,” said Tom Mortensen, a principal with Nautilus General Contractors, who teamed with Anita Dawson, Allied ASID to remodel the 18th floor of the venerable Del Prado Condominiums at 666 Upas Street.

Years earlier, the Bankers Hill penthouse was the crown jewel of the 66-unit tower designed by William Krisel, the icon architect of residential modernism.  But time had taken its toll.  Even with mild San Diego winters, the flagship was sinking from sea air damage and poor roof-top drainage.  Originally, built in 1973 for San Diego real estate mogul Bill Starr, the top floor had great bones offering a rectangular 5,000-square-feet of living space with another 5,000-square-feet of surrounding deck area.

A couple of years ago, when rainwater poured in under the rusted sliding glass doors, the homeowners had enough.  Instead of moving back down to dry land, the couple fought back by assembling an all-star team of high-rise expertise to create new glory for the home they bought 20 years ago.

Jumping ahead in the story, the resulting total makeover created an amazing transformation.  The original unit was always unique but was never over the top. 

Now it is.

Designer Anita Dawson, ASID, succeeded in making a spacious 5,000 sq. ft. interior appear cozier by creating several 
separate but interlocking centers of attention.  The south-facing vista, here, offers Balboa Park, Cornado Bridge and commercial flights over downtown on approach to San Diego International Airport.
Boldly planned and executed, the completed remodel took advantage of the 360-degree view that on a clear day offers vistas all the way from Big Bear to the Baja coastline beyond the Los Coronado isles. “There is something about this penthouse that can’t really be described until you’re in the space,” said Dawson, who owns Dawson Design Center in San Diego.  “We all knew we had a rare chance to do something truly significant with a one-of-a-kind penthouse.  It’s uniqueness seems to be the combination of elements:  the huge view of the city from atop Bankers Hill; living areas that simultaneously connect the calming green space of Balboa Park with the activity of the airport and downtown; and the expanse of a wrap around deck that really grounds the interiors – it’s not just a balcony but a real living space of garden and trees.”
Durable Iroko wood flooring with Dakota Jackson
bar stools.  All lighting by Lightworks.  Furnishings 
designed by Anita Dawson and fabricated by CTT.
Manolo Valdes print (right).

Mortensen, whose firm has fixed construction defects in high rises throughout the southwest, including the Horizons and Renaissance towers in San Diego, insists the success of the Del Prado remodel falls on the early trust builder and designer established with two-generations of the homeowners family.  “Once, we gained their trust by continually communicating what we were going to do in advance, they graciously backed away and gave us the flexibility we needed to succeed,” he said, “That doesn’t mean they weren’t interested. Anita Dawson and the homeowner were more like sisters than interior designer and client.  It was fun to see them create wonderful solutions and as the builders we just had to hustle to keep up with them.”
Cassina chairs and contemporary
zip to the custom dining nook as 
does the Fabbian pendant lights.

Dawson added, “Our design goals were to achieve a certain elegance, but bring in organic elements, play with lots of different textures and also infuse some whimsy into the design. I hope this project ultimately reflects the essence of the homeowners, who are sophisticated, highly artistic, and a great deal of fun.”

In addition to Nautilus General, Dawson praised a team of really talented sub contractors including Lightworks Architectural Lighting (lighting, A/V, shade solutions), CTT Furniture (cabinetry and furniture), and Architectural Landscapes, to name just a few.

Overall, the major focuses of the remodel were the kitchen and bath areas.

The kitchen was the most major plan change. The kitchen and nooks were for the most part closed off from the entertaining areas – more of a “backstage” that was hidden by soffits and lots of cabinetry.  “We shifted the entries into the kitchen and were able to open the area with a new seated bar that relates much better to the great room and takes advantage of those remarkable views,” said Dawson. 
A large, north-facing master-bath spa replaced a his and her bath. 
White quartz countertops  repeat here from kitchen area.  Flooring
is a carrara marble in resin.  Porcelanosa tiles are from Unique Stone. 
Cabinet design, installation and lighted mirrors by Clyde Turner's
CTT Furniture.

The second big-ticket effort was the redesigned of the master bath suite.  Originally, the master bath included two side-by-side his/her rooms complete with glass block showers and no views.  Now, the new single bath is more open.  The team added a large tub area and windows to allow in natural light from the North side. Creating one bath from two enabled the adjacent master closet to be opened up for more functionality.

One of the very first pieces Dawson designed was the large entry sliding shoji with the aluminum rings. “I think that piece solidified that we were going to have some fun, and have fun with geometry,” she said.  “Geometry and volume plays a part in most of the custom furniture, including the circular table and sofa, and the glass display cases.  And, we were able to experiment with different materials and methods in the resin kitchen table and office writing desk, all thanks to a great furniture maker, Clyde Turner of CTT,” said Dawson.

CTT Furniture provided the custom wood and acrylic
display cabinet and added the sliding main-entry door.
Mortensen admires Dawson’s eye for space planning.  “Five thousand feet is a remarkable size of any residence, never mind a condo.  But, Anita was able to create so many independent areas that flowed into each other that this minimal contemporary design doesn’t come off as a design center.” 

But, it all wasn’t smooth sailing, Mortensen pointed out.  “Working on a penthouse has its own set of dilemmas.  We had to be very careful moving walls because all the heating, cooling, water and major electrical are atop the penthouse.  Everything flows down through the penthouse walls to the other 17 floors below.  The trick was to keep or realign utility patterns very carefully.  We did some magic in the bathrooms by building up a built up floor to be able to redirect plumbing underneath to flow better to existing drains that were inconvenient to our new design.”
Southwest corner of 5,000 sq. ft. deck shows landscape
design by Architectural Landscapes.  A bit of whimsey
is "Mr. SnapPea" by TerraSculpture.  Patio furnishings are by
Gandia Blasco from DNA European Design Studio
All images by James Brady.

Below is an image of William Krisel 
courtesy of Boomerang for Modern

To sum up, this remarkable penthouse has set the bar very high for tower residential design.  Reasons include an all-star cast of builders, designers and crafts persons working as a unit and a same-page relationship with the build/design team and the owners.   The resulting winning effort will be hard to beat for a long, long time

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