Stairway to Heaven

One’s an architect, the other a retired solar consultant. Together this forward-thinking duo transformed a modest Midtown house into a celestial retreat.

By Leslie A. Westbrook

Photo by Kurt Jordan

A deceptively simple floating staircase features oak slab treads and a sinuous curve of plaster that hides custom steel framework.


n 2009, retired solar consultant Chris Frederic purchased a half-remodeled, two-story, 2700-square-foot “California Faux Tuscan/Spanish style” house on a hill above Midtown Ventura.

The only problem was that if Chris wanted a cup of coffee in the morning, he’d have to walk from his bedroom and climb the rickety outside stairs to get to his kitchen on the main floor. (Good thing for him we haven’t gotten much rain in recent years.) With an eye toward connecting the upstairs and downstairs—without having to go outside—he began collaborating with Ventura architect CJ Paone of Archipelago Workshop.

There were other design goals as well. “All I wanted was a view,” the Southern California native said. And with elements like clear glass railings, the collaborative design project would soon render the sort of views most people only dream about.

Connected through “friends of friends,” the architect and the homeowner hit it off right away, and their fruitful collaboration led to a relationship that remains strong. But stylistically, the project began with a dilemma: It was a Spanish-style house owned by a man who leaned towards modern design. “To balance those two was a challenge,” said Paone, explaining that the outward appearance of the modest one-story belies the “wow” factor found inside. “We think architecture, design, and building things are all super fun. We want our clients to play along.”

And play they did. Frederic and Paone brainstormed together during a six-month incubation period. “It was a real nice cyclical process,” noted the architect. “We weren’t rushing through the project. Chris really valued the process of getting it right.”

Their goals were simple in theory: To bring modern elements to the Mediterranean flavor of the structure and have them meld seamlessly. Mission accomplished, but it would be false to claim the task at hand was easy in practice.

It’s about those stairs. Stairs have to meet certain requirements so a person can ascend or descend safely and gracefully. These ones couldn’t take up too much floor space; their design needed to flow with the design of the remodel and existing structure; and they ended up being exceedingly difficult to construct.

What the architect conjured are graceful, lyrical, and solidly built stairs of white oak with a simple, sinuous but effective hand-forged rail that has echoes of the great Spanish architect Gaudi, without the frills. Which makes perfect sense since the rest of the house has a Spanish-Mediterranean flavor.

“Once we got rolling on the stairs,” said the owner, acknowledging this was one of the most difficult aspects of the project, “we forged ahead and tore everything open.”

The upstairs had one small window and French doors that offered no indication of a stunning 180-degree vista from Point Mugu to Surfers Point. Wall-length folding doors replaced the original small windows and doors facing the view; downstairs, the original frosted glass doors were repurposed as pocket doors dividing the master bedroom and the music room.

The owner handcrafted many of his home’s furnishings: the low-lying Zen-like bed frame, bookshelves of walnut and copper, and a couch in the music room. As CJ put it, “The house really exemplifies the values and benefits of living in our beach town—local craftsmen, a surplus of solar energy generated by the PV panels, indoor/outdoor living, amazing views, and an owner who values quality and design.”

In the end—after sketching, tinkering, and following nature’s lead—the duo’s vision came to fruition as an elegant abode that’s just what the owner wanted. “Never say never,” laughed Chris, “but I am never moving from here.”

ARCHITECT OF RECORD: CJ Paone AIA 805.451.6914, or
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Mike Gray PE 805.901.8984,
STRUCTURAL STEEL FABRICATION: Taylor’s Steel & Welding 805.487.7811
DOORS AND WINDOWS: California Door & Hardware 805.643.4700,
DRIVEWAY: JFK Paving; 805.577.9507,

Natural light and sea breezes flood an open-plan living room with Spanish details.

Glass railings and a full-width folding door system make the most of views from Ventura Point to Point Mugu.

In the kitchen, mod-inspired bar stools and a contemporary range by Bertazzoni mix with traditional Moorish carved wooden cabinets.


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