Marine biologist David Levine, CEO of Environmental Intelligence, loved living in a charming 1930s cottage in Laguna Beach with his French wife, Francoise, and their three children. There was one downside: the daily traversing of Coast Highway for his morning swim. “I got tired of crossing it and worried about our kids,” Levine says. “I cringed every time I heard a siren.” A local realtor was put on the lookout for a property on the other side of the heavily trafficked highway.
In 2009, a three-story home overlooking Victoria Beach, designed by noted midcentury Orange County architect Fred Briggs, became available for rent. Included in the AD 100 Issue of Architectural Digest as one of the world’s top residential architects, Briggs designed Laguna’s Main Beach as well as many prominent homes in the area. The 1979 cedar-clad dwelling with a Big Sur vibe offers seamless ocean views and is just minutes from the beach. The Levines packed up their household and moved to the dreamy dwelling nearer the shore.
“It was a beautiful home with great bones,” says Francoise, the president of Environmental Intelligence, whose avocation includes a passion for design, architecture, and fixing up homes. Good thing as the nearly 40-year-old house needed major TLC. A year after the move, the family made a successful offer to buy the home, then waited another 12 months before wading into costly restorations.
They began with the exterior, adding a new roof and rebuilding decks, plus replacing windows as well as the aging cedar siding. Inside, they opened up the first-floor kitchen to create one large living, dining, and cooking area. A new central island now presides over the wood-paneled interior, a perfect perch for watching pelicans and oystercatchers fly by. Cries of gulls, as well as the birds’ nests on the roof and bedroom terrace, are reminders of the home’s proximity to the ocean.
“The house is really a refuge from the outside world. We can stay inside and still feel like we’re outside at the same time.”
Seashells, rocks, and fossils David collected from beaches around the world accent the comfortable living room Francoise decorated in an eclectic-minimalist style. She mixed vintage Eames chairs, African benches, and Middle Eastern carpets with a contemporary Ikea sofa. Nearby Ligne Roset wicker chairs surround a 1920s French farm table under a painting of Crystal Cove, where the couple first met. “In America, people often want everything new. … In Europe, it’s just the opposite,” she says. “We tend to select each object very carefully and keep it for a lifetime—each piece represents a different time in our lives.”
But the home’s most significant draw for the nature-loving couple is its all-pervasive indoor-outdoor connection. Large windows and glass sliding doors that lead to decks on each level showcase daily antics by dolphins, porpoises, and sea lions, while gray whales spout and breach during their yearly coastal migration. “The whales pass so close, we actually hear them breathing,” Francoise says. The location holds yet another attraction for David: He and the family’s two dogs no longer dodge cars en route to their morning swim.