By Brian Wiersema, Contributing Writer, The San Diego Union

[First in a Series]

Dr. Don Buser hasn't lived in California long. But his experience settling down into custom residential retirement here comes with a refreshing perspective - and some solid advice on building your dream home.

Buser and his wife, Wylene, moved into their new high-end Spanish-style home on Muirlands Inspiration Drive in 1990 with high expectations. After all, their last custom home sat on 300 forested acres in Colorado and looked to the dramatic beauty of Rocky Mountain National Park, with a living room view of 12 snow-capped mountain peaks. And Buser, a former dentist, knew the ends and outs of custom residential. Since the mid 1960s, he worked as a residential home developer in exclusive areas like Estes Park. The couple had lived in eight of their new homes, designed by some of Colorado's best architects. What Buser sought - and got - on his one-acre lot was space, view, and livability."We wanted to retire into this home for the rest of our lives", he said. "An we didn't want to feel like we had 'stepped down' from the gracious living we enjoyed in Colorado".

After a preliminary start with what Buser calls "one of San Diego's premier architects", he switched to Don Edson Architect, A.I.A. & Associates. "I wanted more spark and a better working relationship", said Buser "You have to truly work together. And it's like a marriage. You have to make adjustments". A critical early adjustment was to increase the home size to 5,000 square-feet - bigger that Buser had initially planned. From a long-term investment consideration, a larger home best "fit" the lot.

Another Edson-advised modification was to bring in fill dirt and raise the lot elevation by three feet. "That three feet almost doubled the ocean view enhancement", said Buser. New home design concepts began with the old house which had originally occupied the site. Buser like the layout , and he and Edson took it from there.

The couple sought mass, spaciousness, and the sense of indoor-outdoor living they had grown used to in the Rockies. Here, that dictated a Spanish architectural style - not exactly what Buser was used to in Colorado. The living room dominates, with heavy distressed ceiling beam trusses fixed 18 feet above the floor. Buser offered a walk-through, pointing out the architectural "releases" or the way a house seems to go beyond its wall and structure.

One obvious example is the large-scale use of glass which brings both view and exterior gardens "into" the home. Another is Edson's octagonal skylight kitchen cupola which pushed the ceiling into the sky. Six feet high and eight fee across, the warm and airy cupola looks and feels larger. It gives the kitchen a sunny glow. A sense of low extends through the home. Archways, not doorways, tie the interior together. Corners have been angled off or rounded to accentuate a mood of freedom.
The floor plan is open, not boxy or rigid.

In one long glance, Buser can sit at this office desk and look past the rose-colored Adoquin cut-stone floor entry portal and through the living room to the patio, terraced landscape, and the distant surf line that defines the Point Loma peninsula. Rooms connect informally to the living room. "They are", says Buser, "like spokes from a hub."

The effect is very centralized and privately personalized. Each bedroom is well separated and yet within just steps of the living room, with its floor-to-ceiling, mountain-home-like fireplace. Design is for the future as well as the present.

Tucked out of sight are quarters for live-in help that may be needed as the couple grow elderly.
The quest powder room near the library comes with a stylishly tiled shower. Together, library and powder room could function as the fourth bedroom and bath - should a future resident so desire.

Buser took a hand in the construction. "It's nice to have a system that allows participation", said Edson. Edson is traditional and practical in surprising ways. For example, balancing the tall cathedral-effect living room ceiling is an eight-foot "Santa Fe" half wall that curves from portal to dining room. Behind it, in space-use efficiency is a double-insulated laundry room. "It took guts to do that", said Buser, "But it's one of our favorite features".

The patio comes with its own big, tapered fireplace and cut-stone flooring. The Busers spend a lot of time in it, cranking up the fireplace or an overhead Sunpak gas in fared heater as needed. Since the patio has a southerly exposure, it's free from chilly westerly ocean winds - and still catches vibrant sunset colors. Heavy twin stone pillars and main beam support a sloping Mexican tile patio roof and complement the living room's heft. "The main thing", said Buser, "is that everything works together. That's the goal you strive for".

Experienced custom developer Buser offers these dream home pointers: - Build larger than you think you need. "You've got to open up the space inside. My past experience is that many buyers end up enlarging their home. - Listen to your architect. "He or she is the person who maximizes your site opportunities. - Build long-term and big picture. "This house is our home and an investment for my children. If you do it right, it's worth a lot more".

Edson, in practice locally since 1973 and with custom residential projects in four states and Saudi Arabia advises: "Expect total service from your architect. The scope of services today range from assistance in lot selection to choosing the right artist and consultants". "Have high expectations. San Diego homes are among the finest in the world, partly because of land-price pressure and climate opportunities. You really can have it all, from imagination to the very latest in building materials and techniques". Budget realistically and comprehensively. "Begin with a complete budget that includes everything - land, financing, home, and exterior site improvements and interior furnishings."