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Commission Statement

Christian Gulliksen

A few years ago, when Elizabeth Segerstrom first met the man who is now her husband, Henry Segerstrom, she knew nothing about Orange County, the sun-kissed region between Los Angeles and San Diego that is his home. “I lived in New York and thought he was talking about Orange in New Jersey,” recalls Elizabeth, a psychologist who was born in Poland. But she quickly learned about the area and how much of its commercial and cultural growth could be attributed to Henry, a prominent real estate developer and extravagant patron of the arts.

The Newport Beach, Calif., residence of Henry and Elizabeth Segerstrom reflects the couple’s reverence for the arts. Behind the entry’s curved staircase is a Helen Frankenthaler work. Sculptures by Zofia Wolska grace a table in the living room. (Click image to enlarge)
In the 1960s, Henry transformed his family’s farm in the town of Costa Mesa, Calif., into South Coast Plaza, a vast collection of upscale shops that now includes Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Tiffany. In the decades that followed, the surrounding South Coast Metro area became the county’s de facto commercial center. While Henry built hotels, restaurants, and office buildings, he commissioned works by Henry Moore, Joan Miró, Jean Dubuffet, and other artists for display at his projects. His most recent acquisition, for the grounds of the Orange County Performing Arts Center in Costa Mesa, is a 6 6-foot-high abstract sculpture by Richard Serra titled Connector. “It might be Serra’s largest vertical work,” says Henry. Among Costa Mesa’s most dramatic installations is California Scenario, a 1.6-acre garden by Isamu Noguchi. Although the artist was reluctant to work with a developer, he accepted the commission when Henry guaranteed him complete creative freedom. “My husband loves to commission,” says Elizabeth.

The Segerstrom family has employed their considerable financial resources to help establish South Coast Metro as the county’s cultural seat. They donated more than 12 acres of land that became the site of a performing arts campus, which includes the aforementioned Orange County Performing Arts Center, the South Coast Repertory, and a newly completed concert hall named for Henry and his late wife, Renée. In addition, they pledged $50 million toward the construction of the project (see “Orange Aid,” ). (Click image to enlarge)

In the mid-1980s, Henry began planning a waterfront residence on a double lot facing the picturesque harbor of Newport Beach, Calif. “I was hopeful for distinctive architecture that related to the site and provided access to water,” says Henry, noting that his property has one of the few private sandy beaches in California. Across a narrow, tile-paved lane from the parcel are four more lots—also owned by Henry—which contain an orchard, a pool, and a cabana. Before turning his attention to the house, Henry designed the cabana himself, modeling it after architect Luis Barragán’s work.

Taking a cue from the architecture, which was influenced by Mexico’s renowned architect Luis Barragán, Elizabeth placed an 18th-century Italian gilt wood angel against a reflective gold panel on a wall in the dining room. (Click image to enlarge)
Henry wanted the architecture of the house to match the style of the cabana, so he traveled to Mexico City to visit the aging Barragán, who was too frail to accept a new project but did offer some guidance. Henry then commissioned the Newport Beach firm Architects Pacifica to draft the design for a 7,000-square-foot, three-bedroom residence in the Barragán style. “I had a lot of input in the design,” says Henry, who has been living in the house since its completion in 1986. “I drew the plans for the first floor, for instance. But I like to [employ] a skilled professional.”

The house is set on a double lot overlooking Newport Beach harbor and has its own stretch of beach. (Click image to enlarge)

The house, as well as the cabana, has a defining blank wall that appears to cut through the structure. “Slicing a space with an element is very Barragán,” says Henry. “We wanted to match, marry, and unify the property with these walls.” To underscore the relationship between the two structures, two square wood gates mirror each other across the lane: One leads to the cabana and pool, and the other to the residence’s courtyard. Opening both gates creates the appearance of an enfilade that begins with the house’s entry hall and concludes with the deep end of the pool.

In Typical Barragán fashion, a wall bisects the buildings and provides a visual connection between the main house. (Click image to enlarge)

The spacious courtyard features a rock-lined pond and Sun Glitter, a sculpture of a mermaid atop a dolphin, by Swedish artist Carl Milles. “There is an unexpected joy of coming into this area,” says Henry, adding that Sun Glitter is one of three pieces cast for him by Milles’ estate in the 1980s. “My first inquiry was rejected out of hand,” he says. “But I got to know Milles’ nephew, and he eventually prevailed on the estate to pull the forms out of the warehouse. They’re the only Carl Milles pieces in California of which I’m aware.”


The pool cabana. (Click image to enlarge)

An Albuquerque, N.M., artist carved the 12-foot-high front door of the residence from Brazilian mahogany. “It probably weighs between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds,” says Henry. “Sometimes people want to slam it shut, but doing that just might send it flying off the hinges.” The door opens effortlessly to a two-story entry hall with a circular staircase and large-scale abstract paintings by Helen Frankenthaler and other artists.

Playing off the geometry of the kitchen, Elizabeth placed small boxes of silk grasses a top the cabinetry. Natural light floods the space through concealed skylights. (Click image to enlarge)
Beyond the hall is a grand salon that overlooks Newport Harbor and a patio, which is paved with the same stone found in the Noguchi installation. A screen and a glass wall once divided the room into living and dining areas on either side of a central hall. “Elizabeth had the imagination to use the area as one space, to open it up,” says Henry. “The change captures the magnitude of the view; the bay here is so beautiful.”

In the entry, a large Regency mirror hangs above a Chinese lacquered table showcasing Oval with Two Forms by Barbara Hepworth. Outside stands Jerome Abel Seguin’s sculpture Dance of Llianna. (Click image to enlarge)
In keeping with the Barragán style, Elizabeth had the interior walls repainted with a slightly rough finish. She chose a gold panel, on which she mounted an 18th-century carved angel, for the wall behind the dining table, which was acquired in Mexico. Additional furnishings include enormous soft wool rugs woven in Tibet and a Pucci sofa—contemporary counterpoints to the 300-year-old Savonnerie rug in the couple’s expansive second-floor bedroom. Four years ago, at Elizabeth’s suggestion, they added a bayfront balcony to the master bedroom.

Henry says he is still delighted with the house after 20 years. “There’s always a great satisfaction,” he says, “in seeing a creative design—something that was in your mind—come into substance.”

Photo by Jim Fets
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