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Going underground: O.C. homes with tricked out subterranean spaces

Going underground: O.C. homes with tricked out subterranean spaces

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Swimming pools, garages with car turntables and games, and theaters and deep courtyards are some of the subterranean features in homes along the Orange County coast. Open walls can provide “daylighting,” or natural light, much different from a traditional basement. COMPOSITE BY MARILYN KALFUS; COUNTERCLOCKWISE: PAUL RODRIGUEZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER; WILL EDWARDS PHOTOGRAPHY; COURTESY OF TIM SMITH; COURTESY OF BRION JEANNETTE

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Nick Lopez shoots pool in a subterranean level of his ocean-view Laguna Beach house, where his Lamborghini sits on a car turntable. When Lopez is ready to take it for a spin, he drives it onto a car elevator that raises it to his street-level garage. The house was designed by A-list Architect Brion Jeannette. PAUL RODRIGUEZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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A subterranean swimming pool with a spa at a home designed by Brion Jeannette in Laguna Beach’s Woods Cove is “daylighted,” meaning the pool is exposed to natural light. It also has a view of the Pacific Ocean. COURTESY OF BRION JEANNETTE ARCHITECTURE

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A newly constructed, 7,721-square-foot, 5-bedroom home in Cameo Shores has a subterranean level that includes an open, outdoor courtyard at the center. Other underground areas include a theater, bar, wine room and gym. The house, at 4601 Perham Road, is listed at $ 13.99 million. WILL EDWARDS PHOTOGRAPHY

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A circular glass elevator at the ocean-view Laguna Beach home of Nick Lopez leads to his subterranean garage and car turntable. The floor above that also is below street level, but “daylighted,” with bedrooms, glass doors and a terrace facing the Pacific Ocean. COURTESY OF BRION JEANNETTE ARCHITECTURE

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A footbridge leads to the house and a spiral staircase descends to a subterranean level at this newly built 8,315-square-foot home at 25 Montage Way on the grounds of the Montage resort in Laguna Beach. Asking price: $ 28.75 million. MICHAEL GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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The subterranean level at 25 Montage Way includes a theater, bar, and a wine cellar and tasting room. COURTESY OF TIM SMITH

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Another view of the subterranean level at 25 Montage Way MIKE GOULDING, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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There’s also room for a pool party at the Montage home. COURTESY OF TIM SMITH

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A closer view of the courtyard on the subterranean level of a new home at 4601 Perham Road in Cameo Shores. WILL EDWARDS PHOTOGRAPHY

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Stairs descend to a bar area in the Perham Road house. The outdoor courtyard is to the left. WILL EDWARDS PHOTOGRAPHY

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The rendering of a 6-bedroom home under construction at 4525 Camden Drive in Cameo Shores that will include”daylighted” subterranean levels, with a glass wall in the garage. See the car? COURTESY OF SUMMER PERRY

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A rendering of the exterior of the home to be built at 4525 Camden Drive in Cameo Shores. It will include subterranean spaces for features such as a home theater, game room and courtyard. The house, under construction by SC Homes, will have about 8,600 square feet and is expected to be completed in Spring, 2016. COURTESY OF SUMMER PERRY

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The Famous Portabello estate on a triple lot in Cameo Shores, designed by Architect Brion Jeannette, was completed in 2001. The oceanfront home has a subterranean street, including a jewelry store, diner and bowling alley. COURTESY OF BRION JEANNETTE ARCHITECTURE

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Subterranean shops at the Portabello estate in Cameo shores COURTESY OF BRION JEANNETTE ARCHITECTURE

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The subterranean movie theater at the Portabello Estate in Cameo Shores COURTESY OF BRION JEANNETTE ARCHITECTURE

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Remember the home in Laguna Beach with the subterranean swimming pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean? This underground family room, next to the pool, also is “daylighted.” COURTESY OF BRION JEANNETTE ARCHITECTURE

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Not all subterranean features are indoors. The tennis court at a 15,002-square-foot estate in Shady Canyon was built below street level. The home, at 28 Boulder View, also designed by Brion Jeannette, is on the market for $ 12.55 million. COURTESY OF BRION JEANNETTE ARCHITECTURE

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The underground catering kitchen at 28 Boulder View in Shady Canyon, shown here, is on a floor below the massive main kitchen. COURTESY OF BRION JEANNETTE ARCHITECTURE

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Architect Brion Jeannette stands in front of a construction site screen with a photo of Aerie, a condominium project he designed that is being built on Ocean Boulevard in Corona del Mar, with sweeping views of Newport Harbor. Condos and common areas will have a variety of “daylighted” subterranean levels. MATT MASLIN, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

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Tony Valentine, right, and Brion Jeannette at the construction site for Aerie, a condominium project that Jeannette designed and Valentine is building. The project, perched on a cliff in Corona del Mar, has expansive views of Newport Harbor. Condos and common areas will have a variety of “daylighted” subterranean levels. MATT MASLIN, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

Experience a 360-degree view of the subterranean space at a house on the grounds of the Montage resort in Laguna Beach.

Standing near a baby grand piano on the subterranean level of his house in Corona del Mar, Mark Binder recalled the basement of his boyhood home in the hamlet of Dix Hills, N.Y., on Long Island.

“It was cement,’’ the 51-year-old financial adviser said. “We had a pingpong table down there. It was more for storage.”

His new basement, by contrast, is something like the lower lobby of a boutique hotel, complete with a home theater, a backlit, wall-size piece of art, a wine collection, a full gym, bathroom and shower, and enough room for a piano-driven sing-along.

“This basement, I want it to be just as livable as any other part of the house,” said Binder, whose home was completed in 2013. “This is functional living space.”

At the very least. It’s also a way to build a bigger house without violating height restrictions or blocking the neighbors’ views, and, real estate agents say, it’s a way to command a higher selling price later on.

With that in mind, homebuyers are digging down.


Subterranean levels are an emerging trend to the south of Binder’s neighborhood, in Cameo Shores, where excavation below terraced streets is picking up steam. Builders there believe the new configurations – a garage entry on the street below the home and underground spaces for amenities such as theaters, bars, massage rooms and deep outdoor courtyards – will increasingly catch on and transform the neighborhood.

“There’s a lot of development going on in Cameo,” said Mike Close, president of Spinnaker Development, who notes that houses built there decades ago won’t be remodeled indefinitely. “These homes have kind of hit their life span.”

It’s a polite way to say some are teardowns.

Newport Beach doesn’t keep track of the number of homes built with subterranean levels, city spokesman Tara Finnigan said. In Newport Coast’s Crystal Cove, about 90 percent of the houses were built with subterranean levels, and in Shady Canyon, about 50 percent have them, according to Bill Lobdell, spokesman for the Irvine Company.

Some homebuyers who are digging deep are actually downsizing from massive homes in the Newport Coast hills, said Eliisa Stowell, an agent with Surterre Properties. “They want the same amenities,” she said, “just on a smaller scale.”

Real estate agent Summer Perry, also with Surterre, expects to see more buyers and builders going underground.

“The price per square foot in this community has jumped to over $ 1,200 a square foot, even $ 1,500,” she said, standing in front of a home with a subterranean level under construction in Cameo Shores. “A teardown (house) on this street is probably $ 6 million.”

Ron Millar of Arbor Real Estate Professionals represents a newly built, 7,721-square-foot Spinnaker home in the neighborhood that recently hit the market at $ 13.99 million. A large, subterranean courtyard open to the sky sends natural light into the 3,000-square-foot lower level, which includes a full bar, wine room and theater.

“I don’t even call them basements,” Millar said. “Basements, you think of an old, empty space. Now the finish levels are identical to the rest of the house – same stones, floor treatments and wall treatments.”

He, too, sees homebuilders continuing the trend: “It’s more likely that they’re going to do it than not.”


Houses aren’t the only properties going underground. Aerie, a luxury seven-condominium project in Corona del Mar designed by renowned architect Brion Jeannette will include units with a variety of “daylighted” subterreanean levels, meaning they will have exposure to natural light.

Set at the corner of Ocean Boulevard and Carnation Avenue, the condos under construction have sweeping views of Newport Harbor. A subterranean swimming pool and spa also will be daylighted and will have glass, see-through sections. A 2,000-square-foot lounge will look out on Aerie’s private yacht marina and remote beach.

The project is about 2 1/2 years from completion, said Jeannette, of Brion Jeannette Architecture, and builder Tony Valentine, of Tony Valentine Construction, on a visit to the site last week.

“It’s the largest basement structure we’ve ever done,” Valentine said. “It’s 1.75 acres on the bayfront, which is unheard of.”


The famed Portabello estate is Jeannette’s signature project.

Completed in 2001 on a triple oceanfront lot in Cameo Shores, Portabello was designed with extraordinary subterranean amenities, including a movie theater with a marquee and ticket booth, a mini-diner with a kitchen, soda fountain, bar and seating, a jewelry “store” for displaying family heirlooms, and a two-lane regulation bowling alley complete with a shoe and ball “rental” area.

As eye-popping as Portabello is – it even made the Oprah Winfrey show – it wasn’t Jeannette’s first subterranean project. He’s been designing over-the-top homes with “basements” (his word) since the late 1970s. In 1984, he created a home in Laguna Beach on a coastal bluff with subterranean levels that include an indoor pool, a bowling alley and a pistol range.

He also was the architect of the famous “Rock House” in that city, an entirely subterranean home built into, as the name suggests, a massive rock.

In fact, he’s designed basements for so many waterfront properties that he regards them as “commonplace,” he said, “particularly for properties with buildable square footage limitations.”

More recently, Jeannette and Valentine combined forces on an ocean-view Laguna Beach home with a circular, stainless steel and glass elevator that descends to a subterranean level where a gleaming white Lamborghini sits on a turntable. Homeowner Nick Lopez spins the car around and drives it onto an elevator, which brings it up to his ground-level garage.

Lopez, 34, figures he could house eight cars between the two garages. But, in addition to the Lambo – “for date nights” – and a BMW, the lower space now accommodates a specially designed poker table and a sleek pool table with a lighted base. He also wants to put in a wet bar.

The desire to dig deep must run in the family. Lopez, who works in marketing for his family’s medical device company, said his father, who lives in another Laguna Beach house, once considered installing a subterranean ice skating rink.


The increased cost of construction depends on the complexities of each property and how it’s meant to be used.

“Generally we suggest our clients budget 20 percent more for the subterranean square footage than the cost of square footage above ground,” Jeannette said. “Structural engineering fees are about 15 percent more, simply because of retaining walls and load-bearing calculations.”

Waterfront properties require “de-watering,” which uses pumps and other techniques and devices to build waterproof barriers during construction.

However, Jeannette added, on an expensive coastal parcel, the increased costs are more than offset by gaining additional, usable square footage.

“In some cases,” he said, “the subterranean footprint can nearly double the otherwise allowable building area.”


Homebuyers aren’t necessarily asking to see homes with subterranean levels, said real estate agent Tim Smith of Coldwell Banker Previews International. “However, they do ask to see homes with greater square footage,” he said. “If someone is searching for a larger home in coastal O.C., it’s almost inevitable that the two will go hand in hand.”

Houses with dramatic underground spaces that Smith currently represents include one for $ 19.99 million at The Strand in Dana Point. The 8,838-square-foot home has a window in a subterranean bar that looks into the swimming pool. He also has listed a newly built 8,315-square-foot house with a resort-style subterranean spread on the grounds of the Montage hotel in Laguna Beach. Pricetag: $ 28.75 million.

The most over-the-top underground space Smith has seen was a 50,000-square-foot house on eight acres in Rolling Hills in Los Angeles County with an asking price of $ 53 million. The estate includes five subterranean levels, including an indoor tennis court built to U.S. Open specifications that also can be used as a ballroom.

Even if it’s not part of a lavish behemoth, a submerged level, hidden from the street, often comes as a surprise.

“It’s spectacular to walk in and see these sexy subterranean spaces unfold,” Smith said.

Contact the writer: mkalfus@ocregister.com On Twitter: @mkalfus

The Orange County Register – News Headlines : Real Estate News