Nature Meets City

By Kathleen Seaman

A district judge builds a custom home in Cameron Park

Susan Kelly said it’s taken her a lifetime of living to learn exactly what she needed her home to be — a sanctuary. Kelly was previously in private practice as an attorney and currently serves as judge of the 54th State District Court.

“I deal with the law and a lot of criminal elements. What I do for a living is so different from this environment. It’s not just therapy; it’s a balance,” she said. “That helps me be a better lawyer and judge. I’m more grounded. Some people, they’re like, ‘I have to work, work, work, work.’ You’ll short-circuit, or it will just be so dark because I live in a very dark world, so I have to have light and beauty, animals, color.”

Her former home, named Villa Turquesa, was a spec home located in Riverside. Affectionately referred to as a compound by Kelly, Villa Turquesa included a 5,000-square-foot main house, garage space for six vehicles, a pool, two-story cabana and a guest house.

“I thought I was in my forever home,” she said. “In 2001, I bought that with my former husband and law partner, and we blended families and raised our children out there. That home was very large, so as the children got older and my life took a turn, it was time to downsize.”

The Riverside community was developed by Sorrells & Co., and Steve Sorrells is one of Kelly’s personal friends. When she first thought about downsizing, she thought she would purchase one of the Cottages at Cameron Heights, a small neighborhood of condominiums also developed by Sorrells.

“I’ve been working to try to be a judge for the last three years, so I wanted to be closer to downtown, close to the courthouse,” Kelly said. “I love Cameron Park. I was going to just get one of the condos, but then over the last few years as things developed, I asked [Sorrells] if he knew of any tiny lot in Cameron Park where we could just build a tiny version of Villa Turquesa, and he said, ‘I might know a place.’”

Nestled in the heart of Cameron Park, Kelly’s new sanctuary is a 2,700-square-foot home she calls Casablanca. Sorrells & Co. built the home, and Kelly worked with Yuliana Alvarez, owner of Construction Chic, on the architectural and interior design of the home.

“When I talked to Yuli, I [asked for] a weird cross between Frank Lloyd Wright and Frida Kahlo,” Kelly said. “Very eclectic, but still, not chaos. Not afraid to use color and not afraid to take risks.”

Kelly loves the outdoors and is an avid mountain biker and rock climber. She’s an empty nester but shares her home with her cat, Plum, and Afghan hound, Omar. She’s also active in local theater and an art collector. A former attorney and now a state district judge, her life is a balance of nature and civilization, and the convergence of the two is an overarching theme throughout the home.

“I like curves, and I like hard edges,” Kelly said. “I like the idea of things that are kind of like you poured something, and it’s just flowing. But then, [I like] very sharp edges, civilized. Humanity comes in with nature.”

The focal point of the kitchen is its large quartz island. It has a waterfall edge on two of its sides, but on the bar side, it features a curved, wavy edge, an element Kelly and Alvarez worked with Design Superstore on to get just right.

The kitchen also has a spa green glass subway tile backsplash, sleek stainless steel Thermador appliances, a gas range, a walk-in pantry, a bubble-like globe chandelier from Dealers Electrical and modern flat-front cabinets in white oak. The custom cabinetry throughout the kitchen and the rest of the home was designed by Dunlap’s Custom Cabinets. A sliding window glides open horizontally so Kelly can easily pass drinks to guests out on her back patio. What might be noticeably missing from the kitchen is a table. The dining room permanently houses Kelly’s pool table.

“The truth of the matter is we had a beautiful formal dining room at the other house,” she said. “The only time we used the dining room was Thanksgiving and Christmas, so we’re just going to get a top made, put a tablecloth on it for those occasions, and otherwise, we’re going to play.”

The home’s open staircase leads to Kelly’s master retreat, which includes the master bedroom, a large en suite, a balcony perfect for bird-watching and stargazing, and a walk-in closet with another small balcony.

Eschewing the modern tradition of shared bathroom space, Kelly’s master bathroom is divided into his and hers.

“I don’t really believe that women and men should share the sink area, the getting dressed area,” she said. “I think it’s hard on relationships. I had it in the other house. Spec homes have the boy’s sink and the girl’s sink, and they share a potty most of the times these days, and I don’t like it. When I take a bubble bath, I’m somewhere in dream world, and they come in to wash, and it ruins it.”

On her side, there’s a large wet room that houses the walk-in shower and free-standing tub. The walls of the shower feature porcelain wave tiles and iridescent glass tiles. Its clean modern lines and chrome fixtures are a metaphor for the city, while the round river rock pebbles on the wet room floor, the floral tile accent wall and the quartz on the exterior walls incorporate elements of nature. Under the window outside the wet space is a lounge area.

“I live in the bathroom. That’s why I have the bench there,” Kelly said. “Men think you’re done with the bathroom. [They say,] ‘Tell me when you’re done.’ I’m never done. I’ve done a lot of performing, so we can think of showtime. You want that last minute to check everything, make sure it’s ready, and you’re out. Five minutes until showtime, which is driveaway time, I’m going to go put my lipstick on. You’re never done with your dressing room.”

The men’s side is accessed from the alcove off the master bedroom or through the shower itself. It’s smaller and simply functional with a floating vanity and a microwave and coffee station.

The home’s plumbing fixtures were purchased from Ferguson, and all the home’s flooring was done by Design Superstore. The upstairs has light hardwood floors in the bedroom and a large-format porcelain tile in the bathroom, but downstairs, Kelly went with a whitewashed polished concrete, which she likes for her animals.

Beyond the home’s interior, Kelly still has plans for the outdoor space, which includes an existing foot bridge, but she’s already started with the front entrance. Its walkway was stamped by Tex-Mex Concrete Construction to mimic the back of the property’s existing pavers. She also hopes to give the back patio the same stamped treatment, cut large steps into the hill that runs from the patio to the bridge and possibly install a small lap pool.

“We’re not done. We have lots of ideas. Phase one, phase two. You’re definitely getting the first look.”

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