We tend to adapt to our houses rather than the other way around, learning to live with their quirks and idiosyncrasies. But for designers Brett Woods and Joseph Dangaran, building a custom home is a singular opportunity to consider how we interact with our living environments and craft them to suit us. “We always say it’s probably more important for you to unlearn all the years of living,” says Woods. “We’re challenging you to think about how you want to relate to your space.” Their design process, undertaken in tandem with their clients, is rigorous. “We’re asking you to consider, operationally, how you want to live,” explains Dangaran, “Yes, this is the way it’s always been, and this is how you’ve always seen it—but that’s not how it has to be done.”
For Danelle Lavin and her husband, a couple looking to build a home of their own on a Santa Monica site after living in a West Hollywood bungalow, Woods and Dangaran’s approach held tremendous appeal. “The experience of building the house was a study in how we wanted to raise our family and how we wanted to live,” says the husband. For the couple, the home they envisioned would suit both their three young children and their love of entertaining. It would also, says Danelle, be something bright that moved beyond a typical white box.
The first hint that the home shifts past the expected begins at the off-center front entry, which yields a clear boundary against the outside world. “It creates this moment to decompress from the experience of the street,” says Dangaran. Setting the upper level back from the front elevation also acknowledges the scale of the neighborhood. “We are very conscious of the context of our homes,” he adds. “When you’re on the sidewalk, it shouldn’t feel overwhelming.”
Landscape architect Chris Sosa’s work strengthens this impression. Boxwood, grown both as hedges and clipped into globes, vertical Mexican fence post cactus and twisted, multi-trunk old-growth olive trees form a sculptural, otherworldly tableau. “The idea was to really make a space with its own sense of place,” Sosa explains. “There’s almost something magical about it.”
Inside, a central courtyard with floor-to-ceiling windows and doors floods the home with light. Eliminating the need for a bank of street-facing windows shifts the home’s focus to the interior and maximizes the first floor’s sight lines, bestowing a feeling of expansiveness on the slender dwelling. “You can see from the formal living room through the courtyard, through the family room and all the way to the backyard,” notes Dangaran. “You’ve now introduced this pretty amazing spatial experience.” As parents, the husband points out, it’s a particularly great layout: “We can be having a conversation, and the kids can just be transparently running through the house and playing in different areas.” Danelle agrees, “It separates the adults and kids, yet we’re still all together and can keep an eye on them.”
“Even though there’s an elegance and a simplicity to the design, it’s not conventional,” general contractor Dana Benson emphasizes. “Everything had to be thought through.” Rich materials employed in oversize formats—walnut veneer wall panels that stretch to the ceiling, European oak across the floor, unbroken expanses of Calacatta Negro marble for the kitchen’s countertops and backsplash, walls of brick veneer inside and out—are at once dramatic and welcoming. Paired with the architecture’s meticulous planning, Benson’s immaculate construction not only supports the home’s show-stopping moments (witness the primary bathroom’s book-matched marble vanity and shower walls, for instance) but contributes to its feeling of approachable luxury.
The interior furnishings and accessories that the firm chose sustain that chic yet comfortable aura. “There is a synergy between our interiors and the architecture,” Woods notes. The home’s natural tones and materials, picked for how they’ll weather, carry through in the custom furniture and bespoke accessories, further accentuating the home’s ideals of classical elegance and unparalleled comfort. “We find excitement in order, in being rational with our architecture,” Woods confesses. “It’s the little things—the layering and the materiality—that really give it meaning, so it feels solid,” Dangaran underscores. “We’ve intentionally tried to consider the patina of the structure over time.” The result is a home that lives as well as it looks for now and for years to come.