At Home With Robert Cotton
Nesu, a regal feline, prowls about Robert Cotton’s Pointe Del Mar home as if he owns the place. That’s just fine with Cotton, an entrepreneur, adventurer, and animal lover, who is a committed volunteer at the Helen Woodward Animal Center.
Cotton’s successful career began with a hammock. In the late ’70s, Cotton and a friend began selling the hand-woven slings on Prospect in La Jolla, later opening Swings & Things and two other stores in Seaport Village. Since then, he has forged a career manufacturing, packaging, and selling inventive products and technology, including the first portable speakers for CD and MP3 players (later licensed by Apple). He subsequently joined LifeProof, the developer and manufacturer of waterproof cases for the iPhone and other mobile electronics.
Cotton’s well-appointed home, overlooking Torrey Pines State Reserve, is the perfect base for this phase of his career, as a consultant for start-ups and early stage companies, and for his active lifestyle — hiking the nearby bluffs, surfing, practicing yoga, and walking dogs at the animal center. “I’m trying to build work around my personal life,” he reflects, “not the other way around.”
Like Cotton’s life, his house has a colorful history. Once owned by builder Bill Davidson, who developed Pointe Del Mar, the home passed to Steve Chase, an internationally recognized interior designer and philanthropist, based in Palm Springs, who decorated homes for the world’s wealthy, including Hollywood celebrities and San Diego’s Joan Kroc. Chase, who once described his desert home as “spare and serious,” loved the cluttered contrast of his Del Mar seaside retreat. “If I’d been a rich kid, I would have had a playhouse like this,” he told Architectural Digest, which featured the home in a spread headlined “Capricious Collections by the Shore.” Indeed, Chase filled it with every “toy,” imaginable — an eclectic collection of southwest crafts, animals, and ships — hundreds of ships — detailed wooden models dating from the early 1900s that he had amassed since childhood.
After Chase died in 1994, Cotton and his wife Anna bought the 3,000-square-foot house with many of the designer’s original furnishings, luxurious fabrics, and fixtures. In the living room, for example, artist Leza Lidow’s Summer Rain still hangs over the plush, down-filled sofa, upholstered in designer chintz. In the eclectic dining room, Danish and Chinese armchairs surround the table, while a 19th century oil painting of sheep by famed Belgian artist Cornelius van Leemputten hangs above the settee. French doors, added by the Cottons, open onto a terrace, capitalizing on the ocean view. The couple also updated the kitchen, adding Moroccan-style fixtures and high-end appliances, and knocking out a wall to expand the adjoining family room. “We made the house more usable and contemporary,” says Cotton who describes the house as “Modern Old World.” The couple also added their own treasures, from a symphony-quality gong to paintings by Peruvian artist Amilcar Solomon and a watercolor by the Spanish artist Guillermo Sureda.
Sadly, Cotton’s wife is no longer here to share the house that they lovingly made their own. Anna Cotton died of leukemia last November. Over the years, the couple was involved with such charities as the Boys and Girls Clubs of San Dieguito. But it was Anna who, knowing how much her husband loved animals, suggested that they volunteer at Helen Woodward. “When she passed, I carried on the tradition,” he says. Since her death, he has found solace in “the joy of helping” — working with abused and neglected dogs — for five hours a day, three days a week. The goal is to help the dogs socialize — “learn how to be dogs again” — in the hope they can become adoptable pets. “You learn a lot from animals, that old ‘be in the moment’ type of thing,” he reflects, “and also, moving on through crisis.” By helping animals to heal, Cotton has found, he is healing himself. Andrea Naversen
Photography by Vincent Knakal