Island Dreams come True with Couple's Custom Westridge Home
September, 2006 - Issue #23
What do you get when you marry a self-described home-improvement magazine junkie to a general/electrical contractor? In the case of Jeri and Ray Latka, the result is both a romantic and practical match made in heaven.

After 20 years of dreaming and saving, the pair came together to create their 5,109 square foot island retreat not in the Bahamas, but in Westridge. The two-story home, which contains three bedrooms, a media room, a home office, a morning room, four-and-a-half bathrooms, a martini room, a formal dining room and more, is positioned on a view lot overlooking Santa Clarita's mountains and oak trees.

And while six months might not be enough time for many families to unpack, Jeri has already completed an extensive list of decorating projects since they moved in half a year ago. Jeri, a former model and currently a real estate agent with Vintage Sotheby's, also provides design/decorating services and works as a professional photographer. Still, her eye for artistry and love of costal living inspires her to dedicate any spare time to creating a truly island-inspired home for her family and friends.

"I had a whole idea of what I wanted to do," she says. "I wanted to feel like we were in the tropics. When we were designing the home, we made sure that there were no boundaries between the indoors and outdoors, which is why we have 14 sets of French doors in the house that open up to our outdoor environment. There's lots of rattan, lots of Tommy Bahama, lots of things from Africa, Hawaii and the Caribbean. There's a stone turret when you walk in, complete with a Romeo and Juliet balcony. There are open beams on the ceilings... It's not a normal home; I feel like we are on vacation here!"

Accents like sea shells, bamboo, a faux-zebra ottoman, dark wood, light fabrics and lots of plants all flow together to create the Latka family's tropical escape. Shades of white, cream, gold, sage and lime green provide stark contrast to Jeri's selection of dark wood that can be found in every room of the home.

Even though Jeri has been creating home designs and decor since she was a child, and even considering that her husband is the owner of Latka Engineering, developing their own house wasn't always easy. "We did absolutely everything without help from a single designer. Every decision, from the height of the ceilings to ridiculous things like where to put the floor plugs had to be made by us," says Jeri.

One decision that the couple is particularly proud of is actually the absence of a traditional home feature: walls. The couple enjoys entertaining; large open space ensures that regardless of the size of the party, socialization is made easier by not segregating groups from room to room. "We wanted big, wide open spaces. The living room, morning room, kitchen and dining room - none have walls separating the spaces. It has a very see-through feeling. We had to structurally fortify the home with huge steel beams - it looked like we were building another Empire State Building - but in the end the effort and cost (nearly $80,000) was worth it. The special engineering allowed for lots of gorgeous archways, and we love it," says Jeri.

Seven vault ceilings that turn hallways into galleries were also included, and, leaving nothing to chance, the pair also incorporated computer-controlled lighting. "Over 90 percent of our home has lighting that can be operated from anywhere else in the house. Touch pads in the rooms can turn on a light downstairs," she says.

And then there is the foyer. "When you first walk through our big wrought iron doors, you can't help but notice our turret covered in El Dorado stone. We also have a stone tile medallion on the floor, but your eyes can't help but climb up to the Romeo and Juliet balcony perched inside the space, set by cut out vistas. The whole feeling is very unique and cool, almost like a castle, but with notes of Spanish architecture and hints of the islands. It's one of our favorite things about the home and really sets the vacation tone as soon as you enter," says Jeri.

Even the Latka children - Nikki's enrolled at Oak Hills Elementary and Lacey has just graduated from Hart High - get to make their escape, figuratively at least, once they enter their bedrooms. "I wanted something more coastal living for them, but they were like, 'Hey, we're kids and we want bright colors!' It turned out well, although the rooms aren't yet complete," says Jeri.

Nikki's Hawaiian-themed room features a recreation of the Maui sunset on the ceiling, a rattan bed and two whimsical parasols posted on either side of her sleeping space. Lacey's Moroccan-inspired room boasts shimmering pinks and purples, along with a glamorous touch of "bling," as her mother refers to it.

A home this large with such a detail-minded presentation cannot fully be experienced through words and pictures. Lucky for local home enthusiasts, then, that the Latka house will soon be open to the public.

Jeri is very proud that her house was selected for inclusion in Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital's annual Holiday Home Tour. By partnering with friend and business owner Tarrie Lane of Plantation Home & Garden, Jeri has ensured that guests will be wowed by her tropically-themed show home. Expect to see lots of white lights, fresh greens, big sea shells, orchids and plenty of surprises incorporated in the large estate. The pair expects to dedicate two weeks to the process of holiday decorating, which should result in an elegant tropical display.

The Holiday Home Tour, which also features a boutique hosted by Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Newhall, will include multiple Westridge homes. The event benefits the local community hospital and will be held on Saturday, December 2. A Home Tour black-tie preview gala will be held the evening of Friday, December 1.

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