Claudette Wirkkula has brought a little bit of old Hollywood to the High Desert.
Entering the front porch on her 3,300-square-foot home in Eagle Crest, you must first turn a handle on a beautiful black wrought-iron gate that is crafted to resemble a feather.
Wirkkula's gate was designed and built by her father, John Selak, in the 1930s. He designed wrought-iron gates in Southern California.
According to Wirkkula, 78, he wasn't just any gate designer. Back in the day, he was the master artist who designed the iconic East Bel Air gate that stands on Sunset Boulevard. This Bel Air enclave is home to some of the wealthiest Hollywood celebrities.
“He designed and built the gates on Conrad Hilton's home, Bing Crosby's home and on Claudette Colbert's home,” said Wirkkula, who brought all her personal antique gates built by her father from her home in California. “I'm named after Claudette Colbert because my father and her became friends after he designed the gates on her Beverly Hills mansion.”
Once you pass through the gates that front Wirkkula's peach-colored home, you must push down on another ornate knob on the front of her entry door. Anything in her home made from metal or iron, odds are Wirkkula says her father probably made it.
Wirkkula says she left Southern California after her children were grown and made her first Oregon home in Astoria 15 years ago. She bought a small bungalow that she remodeled, and during that renovation she met her husband, Jim Wirkkula. She says they've been happily married now for almost 13 years, but she had to leave Astoria for her health.
“It rains so much there, and I was getting sick all the time,” said Wirkkula, who has severe asthma. “I needed dry air, and a doctor friend mentioned Central Oregon.”
Wirkkula eventually bought a lot in Eagle Crest and had architectural plans drawn up, but the economy tanked, and the couple decided to hold off on building their dream home.
But as fate would have it, an Eagle Crest home that had been sitting on the market for years caught Wirkkula's eye late last year. The price of the home had dropped considerably over the years, and Wirkkula realized she could move right in and not have to wait for something to be built.
“It's a beautiful home; it has vaulted ceilings, even in the kitchen, and there's all this wood paneling,” said Wirkkula. “The story I heard when this home was built, the wife was allowed to have whatever she wanted in the kitchen, and the husband could have whatever he wanted in the master bathroom. So she put in this giant kitchen island made of all butcher block, and he got a marble claw-foot tub. But something happened, and this couple never moved into this house.”
The only hitch in the plan for the house was the tall countertops in the kitchen,
Wirkkula, a petite blonde, must use a small step to comfortably reach the stove and sink area.
“It's a chef's kitchen, and I love to cook, but these counters are not your standard 36 inches; they're 38 1/2 inches tall, and for me, I'd really prefer 33 inches, but to get this kind of kitchen, I can stand on a step,” said Wirkkula.
This Eagle Crest home has many custom touches, and Wirkkula points out the varnished pole logs that stand as supporting columns inside and outside the home.
The millwork in the home is evident even in the powder room, where the floors have wood inlaid with slate tiles in geometric patterns.
“What I love about this home is that in every room there are views of the mountains,” said Wirkkula. The four-bedroom home backs up to the golf course. “If we had built a home on our lot, it would've cost a lot more, and we wouldn't be able to afford all the extra things they put into this home.”
The tri-level home has its three guest bedrooms on the lower level. A central family room on this level houses Wirkkula's husband's prized pool table.
One of the guest bedrooms has another antique gate designed by her father. The gate now serves as a unique iron headboard.
In a hallway adjacent to this bedroom is a large sepia-toned photograph of John Selak as a young man in uniform from when he fought in the Austro-Hungarian army.
“My father fought in World War I and was mustard gassed, but he survived. He immigrated to this country with almost nothing. He stowed away on a boat and came to New York where he met my mother,” said Wirkkula. “He learned his art on his own, self-taught, and he eventually came out to Los Angeles and got financial backing to start his wrought-iron company.”
It was the Golden Age of Hollywood, and movie stars were building mansions, and those mansions needed gates, says Wirkkula, and her father was there to build and design them.
Right off the downstairs family room is the backyard, where Wirkkula has several more garden gates made by her father.
“I brought these ranch and garden gates from my home in Malibu. But because I've just moved here (Eagle Crest), I still need to figure out where to put them,” said Wirkkula.
Finding a home for her father's other ironwork art pieces was easier because they were made for the interior of a home.
“My father made that candelabra and that lamp and those iron tables over there,” said Wirkkula. “When I was a little girl, I was kind of embarrassed because we had all these ironwork pieces everywhere in our house, and they seemed a little heavy and dark, but now I really appreciate the artistry in them.”
Wirkkula's appreciation of art is evident by the art pieces she has collected from all over the world. As a world traveler, she collects art that speaks to her. In her master bedroom, she has a special collection of bird paintings.
“I was in Nepal and saw these students painting in an art studio, and I loved these birds this student was painting, so I asked if I could buy them,” said Wirkkula.
Upstairs, Wirkkula stepped onto her 67-foot mahogany deck that wraps around the entire back area of the home. The views are magnificent.
Large pole logs are used as supporting columns along the deck. Her large German shepherd, Thor, is at home on this deck.
Wirkkula looked out at the mountain views from her deck and seemed quite content here, too.
Editor's note: The At Home section features a profile of a local home each month. To suggest a home, email firstname.lastname@example.org.