Open House

A quirky 1929 bungalow becomes an airy and accessible home for art, music and entertaining.

By Mark Storer

Photo by T Christian Gapen


olene Riffo glides from room to room to outside patios with an abandon befitting a hotelier. Her Ventura home flows like the ocean breezes it catches, making inside and outside work together, bringing elements of each to the other in a corner space on a busy street that feels more like a small beach-town hideaway. Sitting just below Hobson Heights, the 1929 bungalow caught Riffo’s eye last year. “This house had a lot of quirkiness to it,” Riffo said. “But I can see why it functioned the way it did and I wanted to expand on that.”

That function sparked a renovation that occupied Riffo (an animator and artist) and her partner of 22 years, Greg Powell (owner of an HVAC company), for a year after they bought the house in July of 2016. The work opened up the space, changed the front entrance and brought a vision of comfort and versatility to the home. 

Riffo’s work as an animator in the 1970s and 1980s gave her a hands-on approach to her art. “I love working in digital format, it’s a really nice medium. But I was raised doing everything by hand,” she said. “Working by hand gives you the feel of it, swathing out giant backgrounds with paint. It’s a different animal.” The tangible, the tactile feeling of texture is present throughout the house.

It was the fireplace that drew Riffo’s and Powell’s attention when first they decided to renovate. “It was not the most attractive piece and it’s the focal point in a living room,” said Riffo. The couple worked with artisan Jerry Kenton assembling a collection of stone, including one called Yukon Gold. “I wanted a combination of warm and cool colors, and Jerry recommended this to us,” Riffo said. The finished product came to influence much of the rest of the renovation.

The stone became a theme. Yukon Gold and a stone called Cherokee became the wall covering for the counters. The Mexican tiles remained in place along with the wood floor throughout the house, which the couple refurbished and gave a natural finish.

In the dining nook (added by the previous owners) off the galley kitchen was placed a long, thick and solid dark stained-pine wood picnic bench for seating. In addition, a grotto that echoes the missionlike entry and room divisions is furnished with a bar stool and seating for two. 

An office space adjacent to the kitchen has been transformed into a beautiful and beautifully functional bathroom. The stone floor starts off with earthy, beachlike colors, gradually becoming pale and then darker blue to resemble the ocean. The fully open shower (set far enough from the toilet and sink to prevent splashes) has a high window and a view of the ocean. A hammered copper sink and teak furniture can withstand the moisture. “I like the stone’s colors, the gray that runs through darker in the Yukon Gold and lighter in the Cherokee and it just gives the whole that bright, warm feeling,” Riffo said.

In the house’s original bathroom, a natural story unfolds, with hammered copper bordering more of the stone on the wall, creating an image of a cliff and of water flowing. An added skylight continues the feeling of openness, while a vibrant photograph of lush greens and mosses brings a sense of the outdoors in. “I’m inspired by nature,” Riffo said. “The whole of these elements, iron and plaster, metal and stone — I’m addicted to stone.”

The bright and open feeling is also intended to create space for music and art. “We’re very much interested in supporting the local arts community,” said Riffo. The living room is enhanced by a grand piano and other musical instruments, which Riffo plays while jamming with other local musicians. “We have hosted and want to host more house concerts,” she said. The room opens up to a small porch next to what once was the front door. Now this entry is a sitting and gathering area with a full-glass window-door that allows views of the living room.

The new front door of the house opens to a small foyer highlighted by more stone on the wall, sea shells and an octopus that Riffo designed and had fashioned from iron by Luis Jaime of Old World Elegance in Ventura. Jaime’s work is evident in several interior areas as well, in several refashioned wrought-iron fences in patio areas outside. Interestingly, these fences seemingly do the opposite of what fences typically do: Here, they redefine small boundaries, open up spaces and provide context to layers of concrete work that flow seamlessly from an entryway ramp to a driveway to front, side and backyard gardens that Riffo designed with the help of Paul Reininga of RKN Landscaping Concepts in Santa Clarita. These gardens are filled with bee-attracting flowers, drought-resistant plants and a number of vegetables, too.

Back indoors, adjacent to the living room is what Riffo calls the “social room.” It contains two round and tall bar tables of marble with accompanying stools, allowing space to move while also accommodating six to eight people. Fine-art photography bedecks the walls all the way down the hall. “It’s a kind of gallery and I want to be able to use it to showcase local artists’ work. We’ve got room for about 12-15 pieces and the space to spend some time looking at them, which is really the goal.”

Two bedrooms offer views of the garden and a bit of the quaint Lincoln Drive neighborhood. “I like how you can sort of see life out there, just a glimpse of it,” said Riffo. The glimpse is filtered by greenery and branches.

In the backyard, an above-ground spa, quiet and efficient, is surrounded by a curved bar and stools and lit subtly with LED lighting through glass bricks. Gently fenced on the Lincoln Drive side and flowing with grapevine and leafy branches on the other, a private oasis with room for entertaining becomes an extension of the kitchen. The detached garage is more a play area complete with Ping-Pong table and several futon beds for overnight visitors.

“Greg and I naturally complement each other with skill sets in the mechanical and the aesthetic,” said Riffo. “He’s addicted to creating energy efficiency. I’m addicted to creating beauty. And we’re both addicted to sustainability.”

Powell fitted the house with an efficient air-conditioning system, which comes in handy on late summer and early fall days here, and it completes an oasis feeling. The house at once allows views of the ocean, of the close-knit neighborhood, provides open space for music, entertaining and guests, and provides room for various pieces of art on the walls, all while creating a feeling of close coziness, textured land and seascapes, stories wrought in stone, iron and natural elements giving residents and visitors alike the chance to tell their own stories. 

Finished Carpentry
Gary Ogden
Christian McCarthy
HVAC Mechanical/Building Automation
Enerlon Inc.
Iron Fabrication
Luis Jaime, Old World Elegance
Landscape & Interior Design
Concepts by Colene
Landscape Irrigation
Paul A. Reininga, RKN
Jerry Kenton, Dream Team
Christian Rodenas
805.428.8902 (exterior)
Prisoliano Seberiano (interior)
Steve’s Plumbing
Window/Door Restoration
Anthony Perrone, AP Property Services
Couch Potato
Fuller Glass
Pat Willis Real Estate
Shirley Lang Tri County Office Furniture
Sunbelt Rentals
Tile Encounters
Ventura Metal Supply

With a grand piano, chic furnishings and a handsome fireplace, the main living room is a stylish gathering spot for jamming and concerts. Large windows let in sunshine by day, moonlight by night.

The ‘social room’ is great for a crowd.

A grotto off the kitchen lends itself to more intimate conversation.

A bathroom bench sits atop stone cobbles (whose layout includes an embedded octopus) designed to mimic the ocean environment.

Riffo and Powell with pups Snowden and Jewel at the spa bar, complete with colorful lighting for evening adventures.


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