At Home With Bob & Karen Hoehn
Published June 6, 2012
They met on a blind date more than 25 years ago at the Fish Market in Solana Beach. Every year since then, Bob and Karen Hoehn mark that day, Ash Wednesday, to celebrate the meeting that led to their long and happy marriage. The daughter of a La Mesa minister and the son of a Carlsbad car dealer had found their match.
Karen, a flight attendant for PSA, had just returned from a sabbatical in Israel, where she had worked as a DJ at a Christian radio station in Northern Lebanon. (Just months after she left, terrorists blew up the station, killing Arab staffers.)
Bob, meanwhile, was working in the family car business, a dynasty that began in 1928 when his grandfather opened a Chevy dealership in Memphis. His father took over the business, later “retiring” to La Jolla where he got bored and, in 1975, decided to buy a bankrupt dealership in Carlsbad. Hoehn Motors, now run by Bob and his older brother Bill, has since grown to 11 dealerships.
Longtime Del Mar residents, the Hoehns recently welcomed Ranch & Coast to their ocean-view home, an Italian villa landscaped with lavender and citrus. The Hoehns worked closely with architect Rich Bokal and interior designer Sandra Tofanelli-Gordon on the 5400-square-foot house that reflects their devotion to faith, family, art, and travel.
Entry doors open onto an airy courtyard, paved with limestone and warmed by radiant heat that enables the Hoehns to dine outside year-round. At its center is a carved travertine fireplace topped with a marble piece from a Carmelite monastery in Sicily. Travertine columns were hand-carved in Italy, inspired by the design of a 12th century candlestick. Off the courtyard, a wood-paneled dining room boasts a reclaimed wood table bought in London, and is hung with chandeliers custom made from antique, upside-down candlesticks from an Italian cathedral. The kitchen has cabinetry by noted British designer Clive Christian, with specially-sized, hand-painted tiles.
The Hoehns’ favorite space is a comfortable but elegant living room, furnished with a baby grand piano, silk sofa, antique rug, a Chinese chest, and a side table from Florence. Old Italian grates were fashioned into fire screens. The room is a beautiful backdrop for its most striking feature: a gilded stucco relief dating to 1460 by Italian Renaissance sculptor Antonio Rossellino. “The thing that’s really special about it is that most of the paint is all original,” Bob explains. “At certain times of day, the way [the gold leaf] shines, is just stunning.” There is also a sculpture by Lorenzo Ghiberti, whose bronze doors for the Baptistery of the cathedral of Florence are considered masterpieces, as well as a statue of the Virgin of the Annunciation from a 14th century church in Sienna.
An avid art collector, Bob says his passion — his obsession — is a collection of Rembrandt etchings from the 1650s, all of Gospel subjects, which have been exhibited at the San Diego Museum of Art, the Timken Museum of Art, and the University of San Diego’s Founders Galleries. The Hoehns are generous benefactors, founding the Robert and Karen Hoehn Family Galleries at USD, dedicated to the display of prints and works on paper from the 15th century to the present. Bob is past president of the USD Board of Trustees, and a board member for 15 years. He also was past president of the Timken.
The Hoehns also share a passion for travel. “I love to travel — I will go anywhere,” says Karen emphatically. They frequently vacation at her “favorite place on the planet,” what she calls “a funky beach house” on a small Caribbean island where they scuba and free dive. “My wife can free dive to a 100 feet,” Bob says proudly. Adds Karen: “So can you!”
Both of Scottish ancestry (each has a family tartan), they fell in love with Scotland on their honeymoon. They visit every year to hike, bike, kayak, fish, hunt — and shoot humorous TV commercials for Hoehn Motors, with Bob as the star and their Scottish friends as extras. Bob, who has thoroughly enjoyed his time in front of the camera (and is very funny) now says it’s time to step into the wings. He plans to shoot one more commercial in which he’ll pass the baton to the 4th generation of car dealers, daughters Jo Hannah and Susanah, the first Hoehn women to work in the family business.
The entire Hoehn clan is committed to helping others. Karen is chair of The Country Friends’ 57th annual Art of Fashion on September 20, taking place in partnership with South Coast Plaza, at The Inn at Rancho Santa Fe. Co-chaired by Suzanne Newman, the event honors Jean Newman and Connie McNally. Karen is also co-chair, with longtime friend Stefani Zable, of Project Concern International’s annual gala Hands Across Borders, on October 20, at La Costa Resort & Spa. The Hoehns’ two daughters, along with the Zables’ three, are helping their mothers, making the gala, truly, a family affair. Andrea Narvesen