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Fantasy and Reality

When he’s not designing world-class themed environments for clients like Disney, Ron Esposito is busy at home in Hobson Heights, Ventura, perfecting the 1925 Spanish Revival house he shares with interior designer Christine Simms.

By Mark Storer—Principal photography by Gary and Pierre Silva

 

on Esposito is one of the few adults you’ll meet who grew up in Santa Clarita, on the desert’s edge, amid citrus trees and imposing brown and beige mountains. He moved there with his parents in 1969, when the town was nothing more than a few simple houses set between Interstate 5 and Highway 14, which both gamboled along the perimeter of orchards and fields. He watched as Valencia became a sprawling suburbia and home to the rollercoaster haven Magic Mountain. “It was a great place to grow up. We never had to worry about anything, we could come and go as we pleased,” said Esposito, who now lives in Ventura’s Hobson Heights.

Spanish and French Country furnishings keep the home’s interior in line with its 1925 Spanish Revival style.

His idyllic childhood led, as it often does, to dreamy creativity, and Esposito found himself working at Universal Studios, doing construction for film projects to pay for school. “I fell in love with the craft,” he said. “I just loved creating these environments that were so realistic but also so controlled.”

If the name sounds familiar, then you are likely a Disney fan. Esposito and his imagination went to work for the Mouse early in his varied and artistic career. An art director and Imagineer (blending imagination and engineering) for Disney, he was one of three art directors for the park’s celebrated Splash Mountain attraction. Over time, his handiwork would be felt all around Disney’s kingdoms, including the exteriors of Paris Disneyland, Tokyo’s Disneyland Toon-Town and Disney Seas, Animal Kingdom in Orlando, Indiana Jones in Anaheim, and many others. He completed the first major rehab on the Matterhorn this summer.

A gurgling fountain and redone courtyard are part of the owner’s intent to “make a living room outside.”

Passionate about his work, Esposito has the focus of a professional artist and counts among his close friends people like Glen Keane, Disney’s lead animator, who made Beauty and the Beast, Tarzan, and others. “I really enjoyed working as an Imagineer,” Esposito said. “I loved the people and creating these environments with no limitations.”

But there were some limitations. In 2002, six months after coming home from Tokyo, Esposito was called to go back to Asia to help build a scaled-down Disneyland in Hong Kong. “I had been traveling so much. It was a brutal schedule. I wasn’t excited about that project, and so I started my own business,” he said.

Ron Esposito worked on the color design for Le Grand Hotel in Paris.

It probably wasn’t as easy as all that, but Esposito and his eldest son, Neil, who lives and works in Valencia, have been in demand since they launched Esposito Enterprises ten years ago. “It’s a family business,” he said, “and we’ll keep it in the family.”

The company builds themed environments for commercial and high-end residential properties, from shopping malls to office buildings and backyards. Essentially, the Espositos create worlds. And they’ve gotten so good that Disney has become one of their clients; this fall, Ron plans to return to the park to spruce up the Indiana Jones and Big Thunder Mountain rides.

To transform stucco walls that plagued the interior, Esposito’s team created an adobe look. Rounded corners add to the effect.

“I like the challenge of approaching something that has the bones, the structure, and taking it to the next level—taking something ‘okay’ and making it special,” Esposito said. “It’s an obsession.”

Esposito moved to Ventura after having come here to surf as a young man. “I fell in love with the town and this area,” he said. He shares his Hobson Heights two-bedroom bungalow with girlfriend, Christine Simms, an interior designer. The small house gives way to a larger yard, designed practically and simply with Mediterranean trappings, water features, and outdoor furniture. Like so much of what he creates, the home tells a story.

Rockwork and water features.

When the couple bought the house five years ago it was an empty canvas, and the two artists set out to dress it up. The interior walls were handled with a textured coating that Esposito and Simms used to create the illusion of adobe bricks beneath a smooth stucco-esque covering. Elegant, simple furniture combines with the walls and wood and tile floors to create something of an old Mission feel.

The 5-star hotel entrance to the new Tokyo Disney Seas park.

Like so many other environments he’s created, however, the house’s most intriguing feature is the way outside and inside flow seamlessly together. “When I bought the house, it was kind of cluttered. The outside didn’t really flow, and there was so much in the way,” he explained. “I just sort of made some adjustments, cleaned it up, and put in some simple things: a fountain, a gazebo, and some simple furniture. I wanted to make a living room outside.” Esposito replaced a clutter of fruit trees with a fire bowl with bits of glass as a centerpiece on the back patio. The result is a small home that works.

The Matterhorn, Disneyland. (Esposito art directed the first and only major rehab on the ride’s exterior, completed in summer 2012.)

“Main Street at Disneyland is scaled down, and the buildings are set back,” he said. “That way people aren’t intimidated by them. There’s this combination of sight and smell and feel—and it all comes together in a simple and natural environment.”

09-01-2010

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