Down a long, twisting lane shadowed by towering pines, the Payne family’s home appears across a vast emerald lawn. While the house’s mocha stucco exterior blends with the rest of the nicely-appointed homes in Palencia, the front-facing facade breaks from suburban tradition with a pair of enormous wooden doors that were originally built for a walled city in China during the early 1800s. Latched with a heavy, rusted iron slide, the castle-like doors create an intimidating entrance for what seems to be a foreboding fortress.
But the minute Amber Payne swings open the door, a teacup Chihuahua named Uggs in one hand and her stepdaughter, Ayla, at her side, the cold fortress feel evaporates, replaced with the glow of a happy family in a beautiful home.
Part Mediterranean, with white walls and wood accents, and part contemporary, with unfinished concrete countertops and stainless appliances, the Paynes’ house is a welcoming blend of comfort and warmth – just like the family who calls it home.
When Amber, Vice President of Direct Marketing for Rytech, and her husband Larry, Executive Director of Specialty Products for Clipper Magazine, married five years ago, they knew they wanted to make their new home together in the house Larry built in 2006. It was important to the couple to stay in the home where Ayla, now ten, grew up.
Although Amber appreciated the home’s unique style, most of which was inspired by Larry’s west coast roots and love for California and Arizona architecture, she still found places to add her own touches. From the fresh flowers she selects and arranges each week to curated displays of precious family photos, Amber brings a lot of color to the family’s home.
“My favorite space is definitely the kitchen,” she says. “When I first moved into this house the kitchen was almost completely untouched. Now there are a few dents and scratches, maybe some stains from splatters here and there, but it’s all out of love. I just love cooking for my family.”
Another addition to the home came just a few months after Larry and Amber were married when a lucky stop at a local home improvement store landed the Payne family on “Pond Stars,” a home makeover TV show that transformed their wooded backyard into a waterfront oasis. Bookended by a pair of peacefully trickling waterfalls, an enormous koi pond spans the full width of the Paynes’ back porch and curls around an island gravel seating area complete with a much-used firepit.
“I came home on the first day they were shooting the show and there were thirty-four tons of rocks in the front yard,” says Amber. “I started to get really excited then because I realized how big and amazing this project was going to be.”
In all, the pond is about 3500 gallons and runs just over three feet deep – just enough for Ayla and her friends to snorkel with the collection of koi fish within it. Another unique feature added by the show’s creative team is an underwater camera that the Paynes can access from their computer so they can enjoy the tranquility of their backyard oasis even when they’re not at home.
Inside the open-concept living, dining, and kitchen space, large windows showcase the courtyard and pool on one side and the koi pond on the other, seamlessly melding the outdoors with the natural elements of the home’s interior.
Much of the gorgeous woodwork, which stands out in contrast to the white walls and tiled floors, was handcrafted by Larry. From the dining room table to the mantlepiece, Larry’s custom carpentry is a big part of the family’s unique space.
“I love the open design and the gathering space we have here,” says Larry. “The house is definitely unique, but it’s very livable.”
Off the living room, a gorgeous cylindrical foyer (that sometimes pulls double-duty as a dance floor when the couple hosts parties) opens into Larry and Amber’s master suite. As his wedding present to Amber, Larry designed and built the gorgeous, rough-edged wooden bedframe, the showpiece of the entire room. He also built the custom closet racks, made from rustic, industrial piping, in the couple’s walk-in closet.
Upstairs, Ayla has the run of four spaces she’s molded into her own. In addition to her bedroom – which still features the same whimsical mural her mother and grandmother painted for her nursery walls – Ayla also has a small TV room perfect for movie nights and sleepovers. Down the hall, Ayla’s playroom features a raised and curtained stage for performances with friends. A handful of props crafted by her dad (including a bevy of swords and an incredible replica of Harry Potter’s Nimbus 2000) help make the creative space even more magical. Just outside the three rooms, a built-in hallway desk showcases Ayla’s soccer trophies, pumpkin contest ribbons, and also gets used for a little homework here and there.
From top to bottom, the Paynes’ 4300 square-foot house features a little slice of paradise for each member of the family, but still blends together into a perfect home that they are grateful to share.
Photography by Brian Miller and Heather Vreeland