Story by Ernie Slone
Photography By Nick Koon
The massive stainless-steel door swings open, and after just a few steps, an enormous round room envelops you.
Before you, through a circular wall of floor-to-ceiling windows, unfolds one of the most breathtaking views in all of Southern California. To the far left on the horizon looms Saddleback mountain. As your gaze turns, you spot the faraway hills above Laguna. The sweeping coast along Newport. Beyond is the glint of the ocean, and, through the afternoon haze, Santa Catalina Island. Then your eyes travel up the coast, toward San Pedro.
The view stuns so thoroughly that it takes a few moments before you begin to notice your surroundings. The elevated dining room with its leopard-skin chairs. Within the immense 2,100-square-foot living room your eye picks up a plush velvet purple living-room ensemble. Off to the right sits a cocktail bar, a one-of-a-kind suite crafted out of lustrous steel.
It's only the beginning.
Within the 19,600-square-foot hilltop castle there is a full-blown gaming casino, discotheque and the garage holds some of the most exotic vehicles ever made - a classic fully restored woody, a vintage Ford Cobra, next to a stretch motorcycle, parked by a low-rider with a $ 100,000 paint job.
We are in a palace, but not one made for a king. This home is made by a king, the king of the stretch limousine, Vini Bergeman.
Don't know the name? He's a legend in the custom-auto world, the first to put a jacuzzi in a stretch limo. He's broken Guinness World Records for the world's longest limo. He's built limos so big they sport their own putting greens. He bought Humvees from the Army and turned them into stretch limos, even before there was a commercial Hummer on the market. And, just to show he could do it, he even built the world's shortest limo - a 7-foot-long limousine driven by a 27-inch-tall man.
Soon, millions of television viewers will know him by the king's more popular title: Big Daddy. The man who for decades has built sweet rides for generations of celebrities, from the Doobie Brothers to Suge Knight, will become a celebrity himself this summer when he drives his exotic vehicles into millions of living rooms each week on the Discovery Channel with his new show, "Big Daddy's Toys."
It's a fitting title for a man living an oversized life: biggest, fastest, sexiest, coolest, longest, hottest.
And fun. Vini's toys are always fun.
So is Vini's home. Like his stretch limos, it is chic and elegant, but with an over-the-top dash of spice. A stretch Caddie with a jacuzzi twist.
Vini leans back in a leopard-skin chair at his dining table and remembers driving up the hill above Santa Ana that day, eight years ago, when he first saw the house.
"It had this amazing view; it was just what I wanted. And at night, it's really something."
But like a stodgy, somewhat rusty old Chevy, it needed to be chopped and channeled, smoother lines, and some pizazz.
"It had a wooden ceiling, and this awful green tile," Vini remembers with a grimace that says ugly. It was '70s ugly and dark beige. Vini doesn't do beige.
"I gutted it. Tore out the ceiling, tore out walls, opened everything up. It took a year just to get it functional, to live in, and I am still working on it."
As Big Daddy describes how he redesigned the home, opened up the space and made it unique, he pauses and looks across the table: "You know, I dropped out of school after the sixth grade. I didn't go to design school. I learned all this on my own."
Where does he get his inspiration, for the exotic cars, the flowing lines, the 600 stretch limos, tricked-out golf carts, exotic racing boats and other vehicles he draws up every year at his Corona factory, Ultra Coachbuilders?
"I'm a visual person. I don't make blue-prints. I know what I like."
It comes from a lifetime of hands-on design. From his earliest childhood days he recalls building model cars, and sketching hot rods, like many kids. But when he went to work in a body shop back in the Bronx, he got a real-world education. All those years of sculpting sleek hoods and sweptback cycles came in handy when he "stretched" the house.
He didn't chop it in half, of course. He simply excavated, and added entertainment areas, including the casino. Next to the wrap-around deck there is a second kitchen.
He tore all the walls out of the circular master bedroom, built a see-through fireplace that extends from a lacuzzi to "the second-largest bed anywhere. Only Shaq has one bigger; his is longer."
He built alcoves to showcase his favorite art, and scattered about the home are his design creations that can only be described as unique. Take, for example, his lamps.
"I found some mannequins, just the tops, and made the bottoms like mermaids. I had some of my airbrush artists paint them."
The craftsmen and artists at the factory did much of the work on the home, which explains the distinctive look, from burnished steel to customized sofas.
What's next for the king of exotic creations?
"I'm gonna do a stretch limo mini-Cooper," Big Daddy says with a smile.
With a lacuzzi, of course.
International Revival Style
Architectural styles occur at various times in history for a reason and knowing the reason gives you a better understanding of the style.
After World War I a style referred to as Modernistic or Art Moderne and then International Style (already flourishing in Europe) appeared on the American scene. The International Style started as simple, unadorned wall surfaces (often white stucco), flat roofs without overhangs, large areas of glass, and surfaces lacking ornamentation. The mantra of the proponents was "Less is More." The Lovell home designed by Architect Rudolph Schindler and built in Newport Beach in 1926 was the first International Style home built in America. The International Style faded during World War It. However, it was kept alivc in Southern California by Schindler and Richard Neutra.
One of the most prominent proponents of the pure International Style early in the 1960s was Richard Meier, who was the architect of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Meier is a strong proponent of the all-white or monochromatic appearance.
After World War 11 a new group of modern styles started to appear. One of these styles can be called International Revival. In the 1950s through the 1970s this style borrowed freely from the Prairie Style, the International Style and the Post & Beam Style. It used broad roof overhangs, exposed beams, and textured wall materials of the Prairie Style, and it did not have to be all white or mono-chromatic as in the International Style. The starkness of the original International Style was softened and less pure and has continued to evolve.
The International Revival Style became very popular in Orange County, but began to wane by the 1970s.
As always, avant-garde architects were searching for an alternative to constricting design rules set down by the International and other styles. Unimaginative development housing, as well as the "Modern" glass box, were in their perspective "establishment architecture" and too restrictive and uninteresting, thus the name "Post Modern." This style epitomized the elimination of design rules. So we find the International Revival being replaced by Post Modern.
This article appears in the June 2004 issue of Orange County Home Magazine. To find out more about Orange County Home Magazine, log onto their website at: www.orangecountyhomemagazine.com