The three sisters who run A’maree’s, a high-end fashion emporium in affluent Newport Beach, had long admired a graceful white pavilion overlooking the harbor. Built in 1961 as a restaurant, it had sat empty for 13 years, awaiting the right tenant. The sisters sought the advice of Paul Davis, a modernist architect with a deep respect for historic buildings, and he offered to restore it as the new home for their store. “I advocated a guerilla approach that would be very smart and strategic in recovering the glories of the original building,” says Davis. His meticulous restoration delighted the owners and their customers, and the project won a 2011 Design Award for Rehabilitation from the California Preservation Foundation.
Elegant and spatially rich
Davis had glimpsed the building on previous visits to Newport Beach, and describes it as “an enigmatic white elephant that was incredibly elegant and spatially rich.” Having just returned from a trip to Istanbul, he recognized the classical associations of the tall round arches and the slender columns that support shallow domes and a scalloped roofline. “It’s a period piece, like Lincoln Center,” says Davis, “and we felt the concrete structure had to be treated in a very deferential way, while stripping out the accretions of successive tenants.”
A’maree’s was moving from two conventional storefronts and the clients shared their architect’s vision of a soaring, gallery-like space that would highlight the drama of color and texture in their merchandise and lift the spirits of their clientele. Davis identified some basic themes—transparency, reflectivity, layering, and memory—to guide his firm’s work. The building projects out over the water and the interior is flooded with natural light. “Broad vistas complement the modular rooms defined by the domes and columns, giving the space a grand sweep and a human scale,” says Davis. “We had a lot of fun with glass and mirrors, bringing glazing into the interior to produce a variety of reflections and dematerialize our interventions.”
The original plan is asymmetrical, with a kitchen occupying one corner of the building and the entrance off-center. Davis retained that division and the raw, unfinished surfaces of the “back-stage” area. A customer lounge, changing rooms, offices, and bathrooms occupy this space, and the exposed ductwork and rough edges are the perfect counterpoints to the pristine finishes of the main space. A new sheer wall was inserted to meet the seismic code, and all the clutter—including fretted screens and ornamental ironwork—was torn out, leaving only two ornate bronze chandeliers that were painted white. Incongruous as these relics are, they serve as historic markers, along with the scars left in the floor from the original booths and partitions, which have been filled with seashells. The horseshoe counter of the open kitchen has become the sales transaction desk. At the clients’ suggestion, glass portholes were inserted in the polished concrete floor to reveal the water below.
A light and systematic touch
“We felt it was critical to touch the building only in a very light and systematic way,” says Davis. He devised a hanging system of stainless steel tubes embedded in the floor on the grid lines of the columns, subtly partitioning the space. The vertical posts of fixtures are canted to maintain an even four inches of separation from the flared columns. Each unit can be pulled out of its sockets and relocated; others are mounted on casters. The architects would have designed all of the display cases, employing a minimalist aesthetic, but the client decided to re-utilize some of the units they already had. The interior accommodates this eclectic mix of fittings, resulting in a much cooler and crisper atmosphere than that of the space’s previous neo-rococo one.
Every month, the sisters stay late at night reconfiguring the space to display the latest stock. “It’s like the stage of a theater, everything is constantly shifting around,” says Denise Schaefer, one of the owners. “We wanted to exploit the volume to create a lifestyle gallery for art and furniture as well as clothes, and we’ve collaborated with Donna Karan and other designers to create special installations.”
Climate control and lighting were crucial issues in the makeover. A pale blue film was applied to the expansive, single-glazed windows to cut 99.9 percent of ultraviolet rays, without recourse to shades. Those properties are sufficient enough to protect delicate fabrics, while still allowing the winter sun to warm the thermal mass of the floor slab. The microclimate of Newport Beach is benign, but skylights have been inserted in the service areas to discharge hot air in summer; operable doors allow for cross-ventilation, and a high-efficiency air conditioning system has replaced the old plant. Specialists were hired to create a computer-controlled lighting system with new suspended fixtures that enhance the purity of the architecture.
A landmark has been given new life, and the potential of the original building shell is more apparent than ever before.
A’maree’s. Architect Paul Davis Architects. Client A’maree’s. Where Newport Beach, California. What 8,100 total square feet on one floor. Cost/sf Withheld at client’s request.