Coastal Real Estate Guide - September 3, 2010

Mark Abel, An Architect With Vision

Jill Fales 0000-00-00 00:00:00

“My mother was an artist and musician; I inherited her creative and musical mojo. My father grew up on a farm, with a tremendous work ethic; he taught me how things work.” When Mark Bense, CFO of Stussy decided it was time to renovate and add on to his South Laguna Beach 1931 bungalow, the first architect he met with was Mark Abel. After their initial meeting, Bense didn’t feel the need to look any further. “Abel immediately seemed to understand what I was trying to shoot for.” He recalls their second meeting as well: “(Abel’s) design was so dead on.” Working closely with Bense, Abel found a balance between preserving the Craftsmanstyle architecture, while allowing his client to Put his own contemporary spin on the design. Abel believes listening is a huge factor in his success as an architect. “I appreciate the years my clients spend saving and dreaming of a home that embodies their lifestyle and aspirations.It takes a lot of listening, getting to know each client, their journey and destination, and then translate it into their home. It is a privilege to make a dream reality and I enjoy storming the castle every time,” Abel explains.In addition to the Bense home, Abel has designed homes for many other giants in the surf wear industry including executives at Roxy,Paul Frank, Toes on the Nose, O’Neill and DC. His recent clients include Mondo and Dana Marron, who are both clothing designers, (Mondo, VP of apparel for Troy Lee design and Dana, former head designer for Roxy, now the co-owner of Laguna Supply, a clothing boutique in Laguna). “From one designer to another,” Mondo felt Abel “understood how to make his creativity into our creativity.” Adding, “he is really open to what the client actually wants.” And what the Marrons wanted was a tall order: a New York City loft meets Laguna Beach cottage. Not Only did the collaboration process pay off, the house was the only contemporary of five chosen to be on this year’s 38th annual Laguna Beach Charm House Tour. Another feather in Abel’s architectural cap came when the home he designed for the Clemence Family on Galaxy Drive in Newport’s Dover Shores was one of only six homes in the nation to be showcased in American Bungalow Magazine in 2008.The national bi-monthly The Clemence home is striking. Imagine the most beautiful Japanese tea house blended with the best of Craftsman-style architecture. The attention to detail with teak cabinets and doors crafted in Thailand, mahogany trim work and custom artisan stained glass throughout gives a serene yet sophisticated feel. Abel’s Newport Beach and Laguna Beach clients have taken him from the OC coast to build additional homes for them in Hawaii, the San Ynez Valley and New Zealand. Abel recalls how one job on Maui’s North Shore near Paia began, “My client and I, strapped into a four-seat doorless helicopter were taking photos of the project site, hovering between the Ho’okipa and Jaws surf breaks. Windsurfers congregated below, assuming we were surf photographers.” The Santa Ynez Valley project, a handsome country house with stables on 122 acres, began with an inspiration-seeking photo safari to England with his client and a shopping spree on King’s Road in London to buy rugs. This all took place before any plans were drawn and Abel literally worked backwards from there, knowing the size of the rugs must be considered when drawing the rooms of the house. Abel takes on all scales of projects and budgets, and treats every job, regardless of the scope with the same amount of passion.“Every project is unique, the client, the location, the site’s possibilities and the chance to create something that enriches lives, adds to the community and respects the planet,” he said. Perhaps the reason Abel is so adept at seamlessly blending different styles, designs and concepts is because his personal life has also personified the blending of diverse landscapes, people and experiences. Abel was born in Wisconsin. “My mother was an artist and musician; I inherited her creative and musical mojo. My father grew up on a farm, with a tremendous work ethic; he taught me how things work.I was weaned in his workshop designing and building. I sprang from the fields and forests of Wisconsin as did Frank Lloyd Wright from Spring Green, Wisconsin.” With Frank Lloyd Wright’s work practically in Abel’s backyard, it really struck a chord with him and “the soulful play of natural materials resonated and fueled my ambition,” Abel recalls. From Milwaukee, the Abel family moved 40 miles north to Jackson, Wis., population 458 in 1968. Abel describes his childhood as Huck Finn-like. The oldest of four boys, he and his brothers “explored the endless woods, creeks and lakes, and in the tough rural winters spent hours skiing, sledding or digging snow caves,” he recalls.Those adventurous early years forged a wanderlust that has not weakened. Abel continues to be an avid outdoor enthusiast. In high school, Abel took his first drafting class and at 16 knew it was his calling.One of his school assignments of designing a home earned him a small scholarship.“It wasn’t so much the money, Abel explains, “it was my first class, the first assignment ever and it was the recognition.A shot in the arm. It led me to believe I had something here.” He attended the University of Minnesota and finished at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. While a student there, professor Bob Greenstreet, now dean of the Dept. of Architecture, published a book on graphic techniques and used several of Abel’s renderings. Another proverbial shot in the arm. Out of college, Abel accepted his first job in Dallas working for the acclaimed architectural firm HKS. In 1987, Abel and a bunch of his co-workers found a midnight cargo flight to Orange County.None of them had ever been to California.In an e-mail Abel describes his first day in California, “As we drove over the bridge to Balboa Island, the forest of bobbing sailboat masts flanking each side, over the pronounced arching bridge, I landed on the other side already deciding I would move here.” Sure enough, everyone got back on the return flight except Abel, who went to his Uncle’s in LA, borrowed a suit and within a week was hired by Leason Pomeroy (now LPA), the largest architectural firm working on John Wayne Airport. The adventures of his youth in Wisconsin, a strong ethic from a hardworking dad, and a creative spirit from an artistic mom merged with Abel’s classical education in architecture. Resulting, like one of his signature projects – a blend of the best – Abel is a Midwestern guy with a tremendous amount of talent and creativity, who always gives 100%. He finds inspiration for his work in surprising places. “I get inspiration from many sources: indigenous architecture – African camps, the Adirondacks, the wood joinery of Japanese temples, as well as from innovative projects in Australia to the soaring wings of Santiago Calatrava’s (internationally renowned Spanish architect) work. My son, with his creative bone and passion for architecture, also inspires me. I relish the opportunity to pass the torch on to him.” Editor’s Note: For more examples of Mark Abel’s work, visit ABELarchitecture.Com. Contact him at 949.813.8058.

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