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At Home With Sheryl & Harvey White

Posted July 24, 2013

“It’s like a piece of sculpture,” says Sheryl White, gazing at the Torrey Pine just outside her dining room window. “We’re nestled in between all these trees. It’s very special.”

The metaphor is so apropos because Sheryl, a founding board member of Torrey Pines Bank, and her husband, Harvey, one of the Qualcomm founders, are longtime patrons of the arts, from the Old Globe Theatre to the San Diego Museum of Art. No wonder that their Del Mar home, a glass “tree house” overlooking Torrey Pines State Beach, is not only filled with the art they love, but is an artwork in itself.

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Above the dining room table is a wood light fixture, designed by Sheryl herself, which drew inspiration from the home’s curved roofline

The Whites worked closely with Del Mar architect A. Lewis Dominy and his firm domusstudio (“domus” is Latin for house) on the home’s unique design. Built into a steep sandstone canyon, amid four protected Torrey Pines, the house had to meet strict regulations — no grading, no impacting the canyon base, no infringing on neighbors’ privacy or views. The result is a home that is beautiful and functional, while sensitive to its environment. The house has three levels, with curved roofs and deep decks that maximize outdoor living and dazzling ocean views. Its design blurs the line between the indoors and out, with glass walls that welcome the light.

The house incorporates a half-dozen kinds of wood, giving a feeling of warmth to the contemporary space. There’s flooring of white maple and in the library, wormy chestnut ripped from the attic in an Ohio farmhouse once owned by Harvey’s late mother. Siding is redwood; trim is Jarrah from Australia.

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The White’s house incorporates a half-dozen kinds of wood, including redwood, Jarrah from Australia, and wood from the attic of an Ohio farmhouse once owned by Harvey’s late mother

The design also combines wood with a variety of textures, stone, granite, and metal. “Because it’s all natural,” says Sheryl, “it all works.” A case in point is the kitchen with its custom maple cabinets, and a curved stainless steel counter topped with granite. Kitchen stools are higher than normal, specially designed to accommodate Harvey’s 6-foot-7 frame.

In the dining room, Sheryl designed the wood light fixture over the table, inspired by the home’s curved roofline. Harvey insisted on a large wall in the room, rather than glass block, in order to display a bold painting by Donald Sultan. The couple also chose a bright abstract by Adolph Gottlieb because, says Harvey, “It makes me smile.”

In the Whites’ living room, a terracotta ceramic from Picasso’s personal collection, entitled Tete d’Homme au Nez Rouge (“Man’s Head with a Red Nose”), hangs above the fireplace. There are also works by Anselm Kiefer, Milton Avery, Willem de Kooning, Helen Frankenthaler, the California artist Roland Petersen, Judith Rothschild, and David Hockney. An organic, whimsical sculpture by Nancy Graves contrasts with a 12th century stone statue of the Cambodian goddess Uma, especially rare because, after all these years, her head remains intact.

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Hanging above the Whites’ fireplace is a terracotta ceramic from Picasso’s personal collection entitled Tete d’Homme au Nez Rogue (“Man’s Head with a Red Nose”)

To break up the space, Sheryl designed a freestanding cabinet, crafted by Carlsbad furniture maker Paul Henry, to display a collection of Indian pottery, both traditional and more modern, and kachina figures fashioned by the Hopi tribe.

The couple says they have no favorites when it comes to their art collection.

“We talk about them and agree to buy them, not so much because of whom the artists are, but because we really enjoy them,” says Sheryl. Adds Harvey, “The trick is to make sure you’ll like it in six months.”

The Whites met years ago while serving on the board of the Old Globe, and were even married on stage, with the set of How the Grinch Stole Christmas as the backdrop. Their support for the arts, however, is anything but “Grinchy.” The Globe’s intimate theatre in the round bears their names in recognition of their generosity. Harvey serves on the board, while Sheryl was an advisor for the recent “Celebrating Couture” fashion show featuring Naeem Khan (her favorite designer). She will once again co-chair the Globe Gala (with Nina Doede) on September 21, and is on the board of the San Diego Opera.

Supporters of many other arts organizations, Sheryl is also on the boards of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, as well as the City of San Diego’s Commission for Arts and Culture.

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The Whites’ glass “tree house” has views overlooking Torrey Pines State Beach

Harvey sits on the board of the San Diego Museum of Art, and is passionate about what he calls STEAM — for science, technology, engineering, arts, and math. He firmly believes that taking arts out of the U.S. education system has led to less innovation, with severe economic consequences for society. Innovation, he says, requires both sides of the brain.“It is that skill set, that includes the left and the right brain, which includes all the arts, that I think is missing from the education system.”

Sheryl, something of an innovator herself, has invented the patent-pending “Grasswalkers,” transparent strips of plastic that prevent high heels from sinking into the grass at outdoor events. She is donating a percentage of sales of this “made in America” product to arts education programs throughout America.

Their home, and those dazzling views, drew the Whites to Del Mar a dozen years ago. But they also appreciate the community itself, often walking the beach, shopping at Del Mar Plaza, or dining at such local spots as L’Auberge Del Mar, Del Mar Rendezvous, Prepkitchen, and Zel’s. “It’s a cohesive little town. It’s not spread out at all,” says Harvey. “It doesn’t feel quite as commercial. And yet there’s enough commerce to support the town.” Says Sheryl: “It’s just a fun place. It’s a little more laid back than La Jolla. It’s not so touristy.”

After 28 years in the banking industry, Sheryl has finally found time to paint once again, taking classes at the Athenaeum’s School of the Arts. Her sister is the artist Vicki Walsh; Harvey’s mother was a painter as well. Exposed to art as children, the Whites have pursued their love of art as a couple. It is a passion so evident in their art-filled glass aerie, tucked amid the Torrey Pines of Del Mar.   Andrea Naversen

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Sheryl & Harvey White

Photography by Vincent Knakal