At first glance, a Manhattan Beach residence by architect Grant C. Kirkpatrick appears to be all straight lines and right angles. And then you reach the foyer. There, a curving steel-and-wood stair sweeps around a ficus tree as if reaching to the skylight above. It’s a detail that’s both unexpected and wholly in keeping with his firm’s approach to residential design. “The house is very orthogonal, but, as with a lot of our homes, we’ve introduced a sinuous touch,” he explains. “Here, we wanted the most natural way to come up and around the tree. It’s these contrasts and juxtapositions that make these projects exciting.”
The California property gave Kirkpatrick—working with a team that included associates Meghan Beckmann and Todd Paolillo and landscape architect Michael McGowan, along with general contractor Shawn Nelson—the chance to revisit a house he’d worked on previously. When their client originally purchased the lot, his firm undertook a remodel of the existing home. When he acquired a neighboring property some years later, they had the opportunity to consider the site anew, and that meant starting with a clean slate.
In keeping with the scale of the neighborhood, Kirkpatrick and his colleagues laid out the house, the guesthouse/office and the pool house as a kind of village across the L-shaped site so that moving from place to place is a journey all its own, through gardens, along pathways and beside water features. Notes McGowan, “We were creating a series of garden rooms, and we used different mechanisms to orient your view, whether that’s to the landscape immediately in front of you, the architecture or to the ocean and the Palos Verdes Peninsula.”
The client had requested a soothing, Zen-like setting, and the team obliged with a property that feels like a retreat as soon as you turn into the driveway. Once inside the entrance courtyard, a finished stone walkway floats above a pond filled with koi. To one side is a full-length green wall, and to the other is a sunken seating area and fire pit surrounded by water. Off the living room, an outdoor seating area hovers above a rectangular spa, and beyond that, an infinity pool extends toward the ocean just before the property drops down to the guesthouse and office. “Everything, from that green wall to the tree inside, was an effort to intertwine nature both around and inside the home,” says Kirkpatrick. “We wanted to blur the transition from outside to inside and inside to outside at every opportunity.”
Interior designer Terry Hunziker brought his own sense of calm to the interiors, where the rough-hewn Anamosa limestone on the exterior has been honed to a silken finish. Taking his cues from the architecture as well as the landscape, he created a neutral palette for both the hard and soft materials, which range from a luxurious mohair and textured linens to marble, Brazilian quartzite, walnut and blackened steel. “It’s a very moody, contemplative house,” he says. “Everything was done in beautiful, natural colors.”
Hunziker brought a dramatic contrast to the second-floor main bedroom, which opens to a terrace that faces west. “One part of the room is very light and airy and open,” the interior designer explains, “but the bed is set into a dark, yacht-like alcove.”
The library, which displays the owner’s collection of African masks, is a quiet space with concrete walls and a ceiling that seems to float above the clerestory windows. “It’s like a pavilion in the garden,” says Kirkpatrick. “It’s not a large space, but it’s a special one. There’s a balance between intimacy and connection to the outdoors.”
The same could be said for the property as a whole. Though it’s set in the middle of Manhattan Beach, it feels as if it’s a million miles from anywhere. And while the house can easily accommodate large gatherings, the rooms are just as comfortable for one. “There’s a transformation when you drive up to the property, and you step through that gate and onto the bridge over the water,” Kirkpatrick says. “We used architecture, nature and materials as a way to transform your mindset as you come from a busier, more frenetic place to a place of calm and repose.”