At Home With Deborah & Claude-Anthony Marengo
Published May 13, 2012
When Deborah and Claude-Anthony Marengo bought their beach bungalow in La Jolla nearly 20 years ago, it didn’t even have a front door. (They entered from a side door or through the garage.) The modest 1,200-square foot house had no curb appeal, and for that matter, little else. But it was located less than a block from Windansea Beach, and the couple liked design challenges. (Claude-Anthony, at the time, headed up his own firm.) Now, a 3-bedroom, 3.5-bath Craftsman Revival, the house has more than tripled in size. The couple added a second floor, a rooftop terrace with a 360-degree view of La Jolla, a basement that will soon be Claude-Anthony’s “man cave,” a Pilates studio for Deborah. And, yes, it has a front door — painted a welcoming red.
The Marengos are partners, both at home and at work — the La Jolla-based Marengo Morton Architects is the firm they own with Michael Morton. The couple met years ago when Deborah was Claude-Anthony’s landlord. (He needed to break the lease. She gave him a better deal. He stayed.) The California-born Claude-Anthony is a first-generation American whose parents emigrated from France, opening a hair salon as well as two restaurants across from each other on Prospect: The Happy Frenchman, now Alfonso’s, and The Mad Greek, above what is now Azul’s. His mom still has her own salon, Seta’s, in the village. Deborah, a Brooklyn, New York native, came to La Jolla to visit friends 30 years ago and never left.
Deborah is the yin to Claude-Anthony’s yang, opposites who complement and balance each other. “He has an idea a moment,” Deborah says. “He’s constantly creating.” The more practical of the two, Deborah handles the business side and keeps him focused. “I’m definitely the joker, the creative wild-set person,” he admits. “She keeps me on track and reins me in a lot, which is probably true for a lot of relationships.
Throughout the house, the couple pays homage to the sea with inventive, and often whimsical, touches: a powder room wall tiled with Maya Romanoff’s hand-inlaid capiz shells; a wave-shaped ceiling above the master bathtub covered in a crushed glass mosaic to reflect the morning light; a surfboard (bought at a fundraiser) propped casually against a wall. In the intimate backyard, fish fashioned from glittering Bisazza glass by artist Roberto Chojniak “swim” at the bottom of a hot tub that has the look of a lagoon. (Four plush robes for the Marengos and friends hang nearby.) “Dancing Dolphins,” a light sculpture made of bent wood and resin by artist William Leslie floats in the stairwell, and is visible from outside.
The couple’s kitchen features a large granite island, a herringbone-patterned backsplash made from travertine, and a professional stove where Deborah cooks up Italian specialties. What she calls a “James Bond door,” cleverly concealed by wood paneling, connects the garage to the kitchen, opening with the push of a button.
Claude-Anthony’s favorite “room” is the open-air rooftop lounge with a built-in sitting area by a fire complete with a television, barbecue, and wet bar. Illuminated iridescent glass tiles form the backsplash, and continue along the lounge’s parapet wall, casting a glow that signals friends that the party is going strong. Deborah’s favorite space is a bit more intimate — her custom-designed cherry wood closet.
Longtime La Jollans, the couple is committed to community. Deborah led a grassroots effort to save the annual La Jolla fireworks display. “I had people coming in to my office with $5 or $5,000,” she recalls. “There was a real sense of community.” She is now president of the nonprofit La Jolla Community Fireworks Foundation, which will soon begin fundraising for the 2012 fireworks show. A longtime member and past president of the La Jolla Business Improvement District, Deborah also is involved with Promises2Kids, as vice chair of its board of directors.
Because of her close links to local businesses, Deborah is reluctant to single out any one La Jolla hotspot as her favorite. “We’re all friends,” she says. But the list includes Azul, Barbarella, Eddie V’s, the Goldfish Point Café; (which the Marengos co-own), George’s, Hennessey’s, Lupi’s, Nine-Ten, and the soon-to-open Herringbone on Herschel Avenue, the latest James Brennan/Brian Malarkey collaboration. (The couple’s firm is doing the architectural work.)
Marengo Morton Architects is also designing the Catalina Island Museum in conjunction with Hamilton-Pacific, Inc., what Claude-Anthony calls “a once-in-a-lifetime” project. Of modular design, the structure will be built in San Diego, barged over in segments, and assembled on site.
Whether designing commercial or residential spaces, the firm doesn’t have a singular design philosophy. “We’re not like a one-style shop,” says Claude-Anthony. “If you look at our portfolio, we represent who you are more than a signature style. It has more to do with listening to the client and their dreams and wishes.” It’s clear the Marengos listened carefully to their own dreams in creating their comfortable and innovative casa near the sea. Andrea Naversen
Photography by Vincent Knakal