Artistic tile sets the style for Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch in Carmel Valley

The signature piece is a mural that depicts the San Salvador ship that sailed into San Diego Harbor in 1542, which pays homage to San Diego’s Spanish past. Courtesy photo

The Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch is buzzing with activity as vendors and customers are enjoying the shopping along with the ambiance and the artistry of the newly completed center at Carmel Valley Road and Village Center Loop Road, across from Canyon Crest Academy High School.

The center’s architecture is designed by SGPA Architecture and Planning, and the landscape architecture firm is MW Peltz and Associates, which brought in local artist Christie Beniston to design decorative tile murals to beautify the buildings.

There are 12 mural pieces, which range in size from about 15 feet across to those decorating entry columns and measure about 2 feet across. Two big archway murals, depicting roosters and a peacock, have been installed on the upper level.

Sunflower tiles decorate a wall at the Village at Pacific Highland Ranch. Courtesy photo

Coast Income Properties, Inc. (CIP) — the developer of the shopping center — took its architectural inspiration from State Street in Santa Barbara, which “blends the early California look into a modern shopping district,” according to Dan Curran, CIP vice president.

This style reflects the Spanish-influenced style, so prevalent in all of southern California, that followed Balboa Park’s Panama-California Exposition in 1915. The exposition ushered in a regional building type that was conducive with the climate and consequently one that has endured.

“I wanted the illustrated tile to be bright and fresh and visually interesting, while staying in the spirit of the overall architectural design,” Beniston explained.

She worked with a third party — California Pottery and Tile in Los Angeles — that fabricated the tile from her renderings.

Beniston made these original drawings based on designs used by artisans who crafted traditional cuerda seca tiles produced many centuries ago in the Near and Middle East, North Africa, and Southern Spain.

Producing tile in the cuerda seca tradition is a time-honored technique that requires the right climate.

“The process involves using a red clay body, then laying down a white under-paint and applying a black line resist. The glazes are then applied and resisted against the line drawing, creating a nice separation of color,” explained Beniston.

The tiles are fired at a temperature that is native to hot, arid climates and not impeded by colder temperatures.

“Because we don’t have the fluctuations in temperature, we can use these vibrant, rich glazes to get a lot more color in our exterior tile, which brings it back to San Diego,” Beniston said.

The design approach came from working closely with CIP, said Beniston who directed her artistic vision toward San Diego’s past. She conducted research that focused on the zenith of decorative tile making during the first two decades of the 20th century.

Designs then were greatly influenced by the Art Nouveau movement, which looked to nature for its inspiration.

“I put a California twist on them, so there are California poppies, sunflowers, and some of the birds are mourning doves,” Beniston explained.

The signature piece is a mural that depicts the San Salvador, the ship that sailed into San Diego Harbor in 1542, which pays tribute to San Diego’s Spanish past.

“We wanted to establish something that was unique to San Diego and unique to the site,” said Beniston.

“Christie’s work is beautiful,” Curran commented, adding that he hopes the decorative murals will create the feel of a special place for customers rather than being a prosaic shopping center.

“They are artistic pieces to be enjoyed and are an important part of the whole experience the Village has to offer,” Curran said.

To see more of Beniston’s work, visit