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Making History

Ron and Kathleen Noblin’s proud Hobson Heights home was built in 1931, but over the last 35 years the family has built a history of its own. MARK STORER pays a visit.

Photography by Stephen Schafer

Looking south and southwest from the hills above Ventura High School one takes in close views of Anacapa and Santa Cruz islands. The view on a clear day, blue sky and green sea horizons fading together with the offset of rolling green and beige hills from the islands, sailboats and oceangoing freighters puffing away in the distance, is world-class by any standard.

The homebuilders who came here knew that. They had to as they started building homes up here as early as the 1920s. And it’s here that Ron and Kathie Noblin came in 1978, the third owners of a custom Spanish Colonial house that had been deflowered by the decorating excesses of the 1950s and ‘60s with carpeting covering every surface and great draperies and curtains drawn against the views. What they saw wasn’t simply a craftsman home. They saw a place to raise their growing family. Ron is now a retired ophthalmologist and Kathie is the executive director of the Ventura Ballet Company and the Ballet Academy in Ventura. Here, amid the spectacular scenery, winding and narrow streets, the happy spirits of Christmases, Easters, falls, springs, and winters past, the Noblins raised three children—Toby, Josh, and Rachel—creating a warm, loving environment for them and a home that is not a museum piece, but very well could be.

Family photos adorn a stairway. Three generations of Noblins have enjoyed the home, one of the originals in Ventura’s Hobson Heights.

The Stennett building company built the Noblin’s house in 1931. “They hired craftsmen from Los Angeles,” said Kathie. “There wasn’t much work then, so they were easy to find. They brought them up here and the crews camped out in tents on the property.” Kathie said the crews weren’t in any hurry to finish, as the Great Depression had rendered finding other jobs difficult. “They took their time,” she continued. “I like to think the result is something really spectacular.”

Original tile work on the fireplace in the living room is just one example. Laid in patterns that alternate from traditional placed tile to longer and thinner strips as it gets closer to the fireplace, the attention to detail is apparent. The mantle piece is hand-carved wood, and mahogany is the predominant choice throughout the house for doors, exposed beam ceilings, and even floors in some cases.

“These beautiful hardwood floors were covered in carpet when I first came to see the house,” said Kathie. “I came here with our realtor after the previous owners moved out. We spent five hours pulling back drapes and lifting up carpeting to see what we could see.”

What they saw was the Channel Islands view that dominates the outside of the house, though a front courtyard planted with a mature olive tree, a magnolia, and several melalucca trees. But inside, the rounded archways that enter the family room, living room, kitchen, and dining area open up a space framed by dark wood and pastel colors that Ron and Kathie chose as they renovated together.

Rachel still lives in the pool house, an 1,100-square-foot structure behind the pool deck with an islands view of its own. The walls are filled with family portraits, pictures, and snapshots, and each room has a story about what happened there from 1978 until today. But Toby, who now lives in El Segundo, and Josh, who stayed local, are never far either, frequently bringing their children to grandpa and nana’s house. “My grandchild told her mom that she wanted to live in a house like nana’s,” Kathie said with no small measure of pride. No one could fault the child.

With its porthole window and exposed redwood beams, the great room has the appearance of a ship’s lower deck. The kids who used to gather here now bring their kids, and the grandparents are considering a toddler-friendly renovation.

The split stairwell just off the main entrance to the home reveals another craftsman surprise. Looking up to the ceiling, frescoes were painted on the exposed wood and the effect is a story in the heavens: openness rather than confinement as the hand-carved stair railings guide you to the second floor bedrooms and baths. A small room just to the right of the entryway serves as the television room. “We can have the grandkids and the kids over and have all this space, but we all wind up in here. The kids set up their little tents and bring their toys in, we watch a movie or a show, and we’re all in this little space,” Kathie said.

Meanwhile, back in 1931 when the craftsmen were taking their time, inspired by the nautical view, they went to work building the basement, which isn’t really below ground since the house sits on a slope. The great room downstairs has been created in the form of the lower decks of a great sailing ship, complete with a porthole window of three-inch-thick glass and exposed redwood beams that run from floor to ceiling. “The kids used to come down here a lot,” said Ron. Toby, who was a championship football player at St. Bonaventure High School, would bring the team back to this room on Friday nights after the game to watch game films. “We’re thinking of renovating it again so the grandkids can use it,” Kathie said.

Twilight on the pool deck. The house was built in 1931 by the widow of Judge Felix Ewing, once the only judge in Ventura County.

Outside, the pool gives way to a surprisingly large grass area that gently slopes down to a fenced-off garden where Kathie’s pet giant African tortoise, Sam, lives among palm and fruit trees. “We used to own the land right next door, but we sold it to the neighbors when the kids got older,” Kathie explained.

Back inside, the main floor is furnished with a few antiques as well as more modern and practical furniture and appliances. It’s not the kitchen nor the fireplace nor even the ship’s hold that are the favorites. “My favorite place in the house is the breakfast nook,” said Kathie. “It’s where we are every morning and where we eat our meals. All of our kids ate dinner in there, and sometimes their friends and our friends with us.”

The formal living room.

The room is small, about 12-by-15 feet. A feature of the house is that several of the main floor rooms are smaller than the 4,400-square-foot edifice would seem to justify, but they are functional and beautiful just the same. Turquoise paint now covers the walls of the nook and a built-in china cabinet holds the Noblin’s crystal and dishes. The south wall, of course, is made of large windows opening to that glorious view of the islands. “I get inspired in here,” Kathie said.

Inspiration from home is as old as civilization, of course. But even gorgeous views and rolling hills, mild weather and blue skies can grow tiresome after a time. No, what brings us back home are the stories we create there, and the Noblins have a wealth of them.

02-01-2013

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