An empty nest often means an opportunity to downsize, but one Manhattan Beach couple chose to take a completely different tack. “We decided to build our dream house after the kids grew up,” says the wife. “They have a large and growing extended family,” explains interior designer Chris Barrett of her clients, “and they wanted to build a house that was more responsive to their needs right now.”
A new house, yes, but in the same much-loved spot where they had lived for 26 years. So the couple carefully deconstructed their shingled two-story home (donating any reusable materials to nonprofit groups) and incorporated the empty lot next door, which they previously used as a yard, to build a thoughtfully designed new structure. This “vertical village,” as architect Grant Kirkpatrick calls it, would expand to host visiting family and shrink back when the homeowners were alone.
A single expanse with a combined kitchen, dining and family room makes up the main floor. “It’s really all one big giant great room,” says Barrett. On the second level, the owners occupy a large master suite with a library and an office. The two areas are connected by a steel bridge, an element inspired by Japanese teahouse design. “The experience of walking across transitions you from a structured environment to one that’s more relaxed,” explains Kirkpatrick.
When family members come to call, they utilize the lower level of the house—which contains a gym, a game room and a guest suite—and the third floor, which holds a trio of suites. These were designed primarily for the children and grandchildren (six so far), but also consider the couple’s own parents, who may one day take up permanent residence. “The home has the potential to comfortably house all four generations at once,” says builder Shawn Nelson.
The areas outside the L-shaped house, which hovers around a courtyard with a pool and an outdoor fireplace, read California contemporary with a layer of warmth. “We added flashes of green, like containers of fishhook plants and yucca, both for the view and to provide a little privacy,” says Jerry Williams, a landscape architect formerly with KAA Design and now with EPT Design.
An indoor-outdoor experience was paramount, and throughout every space, natural light was maximized wherever possible with clerestory windows and sliding glass doors. In keeping with the homeowners’ sustainability goals, windows are covered with scrims that filter light and reduce the need for air conditioning. Maximizing daylighting and limiting the need for electric lighting were also part of the homeowners’ earth-friendly approach: The house is a paragon of green building, more energy than it uses. “The house maintains a huge environmental agenda,” says Kirkpatrick. “Yet, at its core, it lives quite simply: All the systems are zoned to operate just for the floors being used.”
The systems may be futuristic, but the look is more subdued. “She wanted something that was Hamptons-traditional; the husband wanted something more modern,” says Barrett. So, a palette of neutral colors interrupted by pops of raspberry evokes sandy shores, while rooms painted in dreamy hues of blue and green recall the ocean at different times of day.
With 72 photovoltaic solar panels and geothermal heating that creates To fill the rooms, the couple—who kept almost nothing from their old house—gave Barrett and her project manager, Jenika Kurtz, the green light to scour both coasts for a mixture of retro, vintage and new furnishings ranging from Anthropologie to antiques. “Our biggest challenge was integrating a patinated feeling that would give the rooms warmth, yet still keep everything fresh and chic,” says the designer.
And that chicness will age gracefully along with the house. The one word bandied about the most during the project: timeless. Indeed, it is the clients’ hope that their children, as well as their grandchildren, will someday live here themselves. “They want this house to stay in their family,” says Nelson. “Forever.”