Auld Lang Syne

A magnificent Scottish-inspired landmark continues to charm interior designer Annsley Strong with its ever-unfolding history and character.
Photo Credits: Peter Christiansen Valli

If walls could talk, then the sprawling castle—yes, castle—that rests atop a knoll in La Cañada Flintridge would have quite a story to tell. Designed by architect Arthur B. Benton—who took inspiration from the 19th-century Skibo Castle in the Scottish Highlands—the storied property was originally built in 1911 as a summer house for California Lieutenant Gov. Albert J. Wallace and his wife, Alice. Its former nickname, “The Pink Castle,” came from the unmissable shade of bubble-gum pink exterior paint that Alice insisted on as an act of rebellion against her husband; it’s now painted gray. Over the next century, the estate passed through many hands and was abandoned numerous times before interior designer Annsley Strong and her husband, George G. Strong Jr., purchased it in 1992. With a passionate dedication to honoring its history and charm, the couple has carefully preserved, restored, and reconstructed the 10,000-square-foot home over the last 30 years, reinstating its reign as the grande dame of La Cañada.

The wooden front door of the grand entryway is original, as are the rectangular windows straight ahead, which feature German bottle glass. Because the home was deserted a few times in its history, a lot of pieces were stolen or vandalized, and later replaced, like the sidelights seen here.

The infamous pink façade of the four-story home was repainted by the previous owners, John and Wendy Anderson. Before they took ownership, Annsley and George would stop by the estate with their four kids on Sunday nights after dinner to peek through the gates when it was still pink. The now gray home sits on a single acre (the Strongs own the surrounding 69), but it was once on a plot of 225 acres, which were originally going to be developed into a village of castles in the early 1900s.

Photo Credits: Peter Christiansen Valli

The pool was added in 1987 by the Andersons, who tapped landscape architect Paul Berry for the build. Today, the Strongs’ goal is to make the property entirely sustainable; all of the water except for the lawn has now gone to drip.

Annsley retrofitted the home with unique and rare pieces from auctions, including this antique decorative mirror. The German quarter-sawn oak wood paneling is seen throughout the home.

Photo Credits: Peter Christiansen Valli

In the dining room, checkered Carrara marble floors set the stage for one-of-a-kind pieces that Annsley has collected, including the dining table she purchased with her mother, an avid antiquarian, at an auction in San Francisco. “Once we got this house it was really more about what went well with what I was doing design-wise and what the space would accommodate,” Annsley says. The secretary on the back wall is from the Los Angeles home of publishing executive Harry Chandler. Annsley purchased the buffet on the right for $15 at Goodwill when she was “a poor student,” and refinished it with her mother, making the total cost $19. The artwork hanging above is one Annsley painted herself. “Pretty much everything in here comes with a story,” she says.

Photo Credits: Peter Christiansen Valli

The plaster carved ceiling in the living room was there when the Strongs arrived. “Because it is of Scottish heritage, it is replete with references in the carvings—the thistle, the acorn, the rampant lion, knots,” explains Annsley. “That became a jumping-off point for design in order to stay true to the architecture.” The intricate carving—which Annsley had painted green as a nod to the Scottish thistle—watches over more pieces acquired at auction, including the Henredon sofas (reupholstered) and Korean side chests. The planter is from the Copley estate in La Jolla, and the Daniel Kelly painting on the right wall was purchased in Kyoto, where the expat artist lives and works. According to lore, the house was a secret haunt of a USC fraternity, and the center of the living room is believed to have been set ablaze once during a raging frat party.

 After a trip to Montreal during which she took a tour of the Notre-Dame Basilica, Annsley was struck with inspiration and commissioned artist Michael Sullivan to transform the ceiling above the grand staircase into an ode to the church. The ribbing was stained the color of the wood, and the plaster surface was painted with a design based on the basilica’s ethereal blue ceiling, the repeat of the arched windows, and Scottish motifs.

Photo Credits: Peter Christiansen Valli

“That bathroom was a disaster,” says Annsley of the primary, which was lavender and had piping that ran along the surface of the floor. With the renovation, they incorporated an homage to the green vine in the home’s garden-themed grand window (seen above).

The fireplace in the primary bedroom was covered when the Strongs bought the home. “We didn’t know it was there,” says Annsley. “I was planning to put a fireplace in the room anyway, so we pulled the paneling away, and there it was.” They also uncovered a blocked-off window, which Annsley noticed as she walked the grounds making plans. “I couldn’t figure out where it went to on the inside of the house,” says Annsley. They opened it up, and it now looks into a concealed closet, located behind the yellow chair in the corner. One secret that the Strongs have not yet unearthed is a hidden passageway. “We have found one, but there’s supposed to be another,” she says. “We know where it should be, but we can’t push anything to get it to open.” It’s yet another intriguing part of this magnificent castle’s story.

INTERIOR DESIGN Annsley Strong of Strong Studio Designs

ARCHITECTURE Arthur B. Benton; Alexander Tan of ML Architecture

CONTRACTOR Joseph M. Dobson