Passion Play

Instinct and imagination transform a rundown ranch-style house in Palos Verdes into an elegant, multi-level Spanish revival dream home.

When South Bay residents and California natives Don and Deb Terrell found their Palos Verdes Estates property, they looked beyond its deplorable condition with an optimistic vision and purchased it. Deb’s professional interior design expertise, Don’s business savvy and their shared affinity for Spanish architecture were key to the major undertaking—one that would send most couples running.

“A real estate agent showed us the house in 2002. It was a 1949 ranch-style dump with shag carpeting, mold in the bathrooms, dead grass and a dirt bike course for a backyard. But Don and I both knew what it could be, and we just wanted the great bones it had to work from. We made an offer to buy it the same day,” says Deb.

The Terrells were residing with their young son, Cameron, in the Hollywood Riviera at the time, when they opted to give up an ocean view for the nearly double-sized lot.  During a two-week cleanup they stayed in a motorhome while making their new residence livable.

“We always try to work to some degree with what is existing while also working closely with the clients on the desired feel of the home.”

They moved in and over the course of four years built an extensive library of Spanish architecture books while developing a plan to build their dream home. The missing link to the transformation was the perfect architect. “We interviewed several architects. No one understood our vision until we met Miles Pritzkat, who was the last one we met with,” explains Deb. “He listened, and he got it right away. He is a true collaborator. Don rolled up his sleeves with him on the floor planning, and they had such great harmony.”

Key to their successful client/architect partnership was not only collaboration but also a mutual appreciation for authentic, Spanish revival-style architecture with European roots (distinctly different from New World Spanish architecture) and the importance of neighborhood compatibility.  

“Don and Deb did not want a ‘McMansion’ that would make a huge statement, even though they certainly could have built one with the large lot frontage we had to work with,” says Miles. “Instead we designed what looks like a single-story home from the street that descends down into the back of the property.”




During the 18-month building project, the family moved into a rental house two blocks away to easily be hands-on throughout the comprehensive remodel.

Perhaps the most enchanting architectural feature in the redesign is the perceived grand tree house ambience. Expansive foldaway doors on two floors perched atop the basement level open to the backyard and a private forest of statuesque trees, as the property seemingly falls away from the structure.

“We always try to work to some degree with what is existing while also working closely with the clients on the desired feel of the home. It was important that the house stepped down the lot while creating an inviting visual flow between levels without feeling compartmentalized,” says Miles. “We also tried to create a sense of indoor and outdoor spaces and a flow that pulled you into other rooms to explore. The double staircase on one side pulls you to the patio, and the other pulls you to the kitchen.”

Other notable architectural elements included handmade roof tiles, the addition of wire-brushed Douglas fir ceiling trusses and retaining the original fireplace. Two interior fireplaces were added. One, which is tapered, was inspired by the historic Adamson house in Malibu. A third fireplace, adjacent to the indoor/outdoor bar, was designed for outdoor living enjoyment.






The inviting and beautifully appointed kitchen is so much the heart of the Terrells’ lifestyle that the entire house was designed around it. “We entertain a lot and often have weddings, school and charity events in our home. Our next fundraiser is in May for Torrance Memorial hospital’s Ambassadors Program,” says Deb with a smile.

Evident throughout the home is Deb’s design talent and discerning appreciation for details. All of the inter-ior and exterior walls were hand-plastered by El Segundo-based Steptoe & Son Plastering.


Eclectic, 200-year-old courtyard doors from Egypt were converted to interior doors. The exterior, old-growth cedar doors with 1920s-influenced, oversized, divided light glass were custom-made by a family business in Oregon. New rustic hardware from One Stop Windows & Doors in Torrance was mixed with original vintage hardware.

To complement the centuries-old craftsmanship of the antique interior doors, Deb worked closely with a local cabinetmaker blending old doors and other relics with new wood on all of the cabinetry. In keeping with the Spanish revival design, narrow-planked, dark oak floors; concrete, arabesque-shaped floor tiles; and handmade decorative tiles finished the floors.

The furnishings are a sophisticated array of new, custom-upholstered pieces blended with exquisite antiques, including a 1920s dining table from Argentina with hand-carved trusses. A server made from reclaimed wood from the Baltic Sea is paired with the table.

We also tried to create a sense of indoor and outdoor spaces and a flow that pulled you into other rooms to explore.

Dark woods, black granite and the brilliant colors of hand-painted tiles crisply contrast the fresh white and soft neutral wall and marble colors. Warm, earth-toned leathers and lush textiles balance the contrasting dark and light.

The finishing touches include an eye-stopping collection of early 1900s original light fixtures, such as the pair of crystal chandeliers above the kitchen island that originally adorned one of the first homes built in Palos Verdes. Antique replicas from Lighting Zone in Torrance complement the collectible treasures. Julie Lehman made the custom bedding and window treatments of richly textured fabrics, and accessories from Fringe in Riviera Village were added to complete the interior design masterpiece.

Artists always attach a piece of their soul to their work, which is apparent in every room of the home. But paramount is Deb’s prideful tribute to her Italian Catholic heritage and her love of family. In honor of her roots and her loved ones, she made a donation to a church. A nun named Sister Marie in the Inland Empire handcrafted three old-style stained glass windows: one of her family crest, one of Don’s family crest, and the third is a coat of arms for Cameron.  

Though they don’t have their own coat of arms yet, the family dogs Cody and Snoop Dogg are also a beloved part of the Terrell family. They all enjoy life in a very special home that rivals the finest Spanish architecture on the peninsula. 



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