Sunday, November 13, 2011

Home & Garden Tour - Beautiful Loreto Bay!

Last weekend I wrote about the different activities that took place during the Re-Discovery weekend, and I had promised to write more about the Home and Garden Tour that took place on the Sunday afternoon.

The Tour was sponsored by Baja Screens , a Homeowner owned business that supplies and installs the popular Phantom Screens in a growing number of Loreto Bay homes.  Shortly after he purchased his home in Loreto Bay, Bert Huisman, who operates the business with his partner Laurie, realized that the Phantom Screens he had in his home in Calgary would be an ideal addition to his Baja casa – allowing windows and doors to be left open while stopping insects and cutting down on sun exposure.  Being entrepreneurial by nature, this led to him securing the Baja Sur territory for the product, which marked the beginning of his new side business in Loreto. 

The tour began at Bert and Laurie’s Casa Chica #474, located near the Community Pool.  There have been a number of upgrades done to this pretty home, with Canterra stone surrounds added to the doors and windows and of course – every opening in this two bedroom corner unit has been fitted with Phantom Screens.  The main feature of these screens is that they are retractable on a spring loaded roller mechanism that discretely stores the screen when it is not required.  Most Loreto Bay homes have more doors than a typical enclosed home design because they are usually built around interior courtyard space.  This makes for an ideal application for the retractable French Door screens that have two panels that can be opened separately and are held closed together by magnetic catches.  Although most insects here are seasonal, and not an ongoing problem, In the past month or so I have had several visits into my living room by birds that can sometimes take some coaxing to find their way out again, so these screens can certainly be useful for a number of reasons.

In addition to the screens and other nice upgrades, the feature that stood out for me most in this home was the built-in furniture they had made for their viewing tower.  Wooden benches with corner storage units have been built into three sides of the tower space accented with lots of multi-coloured cushions   creating an inviting seating arrangement that can be converted to day beds perfect for afternoon siestas.  The generous boxed tables in the corners provide ample storage for these cushions when they are not in use.

After viewing this first home we were given a list of the other homes on the tour with a map showing their locations and were encouraged to visit them in any order so that all the people doing the tour did not converge on the same houses at the same time.  My next stop was #498, a unique Nueva Chica plan that had been constructed on a larger than normal lot.  The Nueva Chica was a later variation on the popular Chica plan that makes up more than half of the Founders Neighbourhood.  With the home positioned in the center of this larger lot, open garden/patio spaces were created both back and front with entrances off the main Paseo as well as from the Community Courtyard on the other side.  The Paseo side is mainly patio space with a large canterra tiled sitting area, ideal for dining al fresco, with a sheltered outdoor shower area accessible from the main floor bathroom – perfect for rinsing off and drying equipment after diving, one of the owners many outdoor interests.

The open space at the back of the home is divided into two areas, a beautifully protected sitting area off the main floor bedroom, surrounded by exotic specimen plantings and a generous entrance area off the Community Courtyard with a spacious Bodega, or storage room, big enough for 4 bikes to be hung on the wall and space left over for lots of other outdoor toys.  Storage ideas abound in this compact home, where every square foot counts, including a pantry area next to the kitchen where custom shelving makes the most of this valuable space.  I was also struck by the sense of spaciousness that is created when the furnishings are carefully scaled to the sizes of the rooms.

Nearby on the Paseo #467 is a Bohemia plan with a large side garden running the length of the home.  In a standard configuration, the main floor living area of the Bohemia opens onto a large interior courtyard with a staircase running up the opposite wall to the second floor.  However, with the additional large garden space in this home, the staircase is free-standing between the carefully landscaped courtyard garden and a dramatic water feature that extends along the far perimeter wall.  Built of natural stone and extending almost two stories high, is a wall topped with large potted cacti and succulents.  At eye level this wall is accented by several arches in the stone work and stone conduits that pour water into a reflecting pool running its full length.

The dramatic effect of the stone work and running water, accented with the lush desert foliage combines to create a sense timelessness – standing there, it is possible to imagine that these surroundings could have remained unchanged for a century or more, rather than the three or four years since the home was built.  Upstairs, the iconic Loreto Bay coupola (a domed ceiling over the kitchen that helps to vent warmer air from the main floor) has been surrounded by a low wall creating a raised garden space that has been planted with more indigenous desert plantings creating another lush green space separating the comfortable, pergola shaded patio space outside the second floor bedroom, from the Paseo below.

The next home I visited was #437, the only Custom Home on this year’s tour, located directly on the 10th fairway of the Golf Course and one of the more recently completed customs, constructed a couple of years ago in a remarkable 9 months!  Custom Home lots are mainly located on the perimeter of the Founders Neighbourhood along the Golf Course and Beachfront and are built on lots that typically are 3,000 to 5,000 sq. ft., two to three times the size of the largest Village Home lots.  By definition, these homes are individually designed to capitalize on their location and views.

From the outside, the home has a contemporary architectural style with a dramatic stone faced entrance way that opens onto a covered transition area leading to an open central courtyard.  Inside this entranceway the opposite walls have been finished with faux-antique panels of plaster with exposed brick and painted to create a strikingly convincing passage that could well be generations old – making a dramatic contrast to the contemporary feel of the exterior.  As you enter the courtyard you eye is drawn through the open entrance to the main living area and beyond to the lush green rolling fairway with the Sierra de la Giganta mountain range as a backdrop – breathtaking! 

The open plan living area is furnished with uniquely upholstered accent chairs and low sofas that provide ample seating to contemplate the stunning views across the lush fairway to the mountains beyond.  A spacious granite trimmed “J” shaped kitchen wraps around a large central island on the right of the living room, while to the left, is the entrance to the Master suite, incorporating custom furnishings and a lavishly accented ensuite.  The French doors of the bedroom open onto the beautifully landscaped garden oasis that finishes the back of the home with tranquil golf course and mountain views separating the home from the fairway beyond.  Although the floor plan of the home conforms to the square shaped lot, the interior of the main floor is built on diagonals with a large utility room in one rear corner of the main floor and a second bedroom off the courtyard, both separated from the home by internal garden spaces providing additional light and air to the interior spaces.

Upstairs most of the second floor is open terrace with a shade pergola overlooking the mountain view and a second floor “casita” style guest bedroom with ensuite. Central on the terrace is a modified coupola feature that acts as a skylight to the living room below with side windows that can be opened to catch cooling breezes.

Next I made my way to #142 located centrally on the beachside of the Founders Neighbourhood.  This home has recently undergone one of the most extensive renovations to a Village home so far, with the main focus of the development being the large wrap-around garden.  Capitalizing on the exceptional outdoor spaces of this home, several distinct feature areas were created. As you enter through the impressively detailed entrance gate, on your right there is a pergola shaded seating area at the far end of the front garden with a unique water feature along one wall and sunken stone hardscaping that defines the space.  On the left is a beautiful outdoor dining area with a fully equipped outdoor kitchen as well as a pass through window accessing the main kitchen.  In the corner is a built-in acorn shaped fireplace, perfect for extending a relaxed evening dining al fresco, even on the occasional cool nights.  Around the corner there is a beautiful canterra outdoor shower conveniently located beside a new second entrance gate, beyond which a storage bodega fills the far end of the side garden with plenty of room for all the toys that make for an active outdoor lifestyle.

The main courtyard of the home has been partially hardscaped accented with sculptured plantings and a smaller wall fountain replaces the original central one, creating valuable additional space in this hub of the home.  Inside the main kitchen/dining/living area the attention to detail is obvious in the tile accents, particularly in the completely renovated kitchen and the arch separating it from the rest of the room which has been opened up even further by changing one of the windows to a French Door opening onto the side garden.  The rest of the home features many built-in ideas and subtle alterations to the original Encantada plan that spotlight what can be achieved with a total renovation of a Village home.

My final stop on the tour was #44, located in the first cluster of homes, just a few doors away from my own “Casablanca”.  This was another Encantada plan which was among the first dozen or so homes completed in 2006.  The owners, both of whom live and work most of the time in Loreto Bay, have done a lot of work and upgrades to their home over the years, but have just completed their biggest project so far, which included converting the courtyard garden into a canterra tiled outdoor living space, greatly expanding the sense of spaciousness in the home.  Replacing the original central fountain, a unique wall feature has been added below the staircase to the second floor terrace.  A sheet of trickling water ripples down the mosaic tiled wall which is dramatically accented with a propane fuelled fire bar across the base of the wall which must create a magical effect at night. In a side garden directly off the dining room/kitchen area, previously wasted space has been converted to a conveniently accessible BBQ counter complimenting the existing wall fountain and sheltered patio area, ideal for informal meals.

Upstairs previous renovations have included a lavish outdoor spa/shower area and the upstairs bedroom does double duty as a bright and airy studio/office with a built-in Murphy bed for extra accommodations when needed.  This home also features one of the first post-construction viewing towers accessed by a small spiral staircase that leads to a spectacular view of the Sea of Cortez and the Sierra del la Giganta mountains – truly the best of both worlds.

And so concluded my first annual Home and Garden tour – certainly a highlight of the Re-Discovery weekend for me – and I expect also for most of the 60+ participants, whose purchase of tour passes will contribute over $300 to a deserving local charity.  Although much of my work day involves showing Loreto Bay homes listed for re-sale, this “busman’s holiday” was a real eye opener to me – seeing how personal style and creativity can be expressed so dramatically in this small sampling of the many beautiful homes that make up this special community.  What is exciting to realize is that this is just the beginning of the next phase of renovation and personalization of the homes in Loreto Bay that will enhance even more the experience of “Living Loreto”.