On paper, the overhaul of Steve and Colleen Nusinow’s 2,000-square-foot Craftsman-style bungalow in Redondo Beach, California, is a classic empty-nest story: The kids move out, the parents treat themselves to a master suite. But their tale isn’t typical. Like many remodelers, the couple wanted to ditch their cramped bedroom, which faced the street and lacked adequate closet space. In their quest for more room and privacy, the Nusinows turned the house inside out, opening it to the outdoors for entertaining and everyday living.
Robert Sweet of the local design-build studio Ras-a Inc. created a modern and spacious design and landscape that reorients daily life toward the backyard. One goal was to update a renovation that the couple undertook more than a decade ago to accommodate the needs of the family and their then-young boys. Today, however, one adult son lives in Los Angeles, and the other will soon leave home. Preserving the footprint of the existing house, Sweet stripped the walls to their studs, keeping the garage and the foundations in place, then added a 1,000-square-foot second story for the expanded master suite and guest bedroom.
"More space was the main motivation to tear down late in life and go through a dramatic remodel," Steve explains as he casts an eye over his airy residence. A 22-foot-wide sliding glass door manufactured by Fleetwood is pushed open, and ocean breezes drift in from the beach a few blocks away, while late-afternoon sunshine warms the white walls. His job in the apparel business gave him a taste for contemporary design that he says his wife doesn’t always share. He pauses for a moment before adding sheepishly, "A modern home was a bit of a negotiation."
Colleen says her perception was that a modern house "would be very cold: stark with straight edges. I wanted something that was inviting, comfortable, and friendly." Although she needed some coaxing at first, the couple collaborated on the interior furnishings; working with Room & Board, they made decisions about fabrics and colors together.
The Nusinows’ home is one of the few modern facades on a quiet, tree-lined street, but Sweet ensured a welcoming feel—he calls it "warm-and-fuzzy modern"—by keeping the proportions modest and using a mix of materials. There’s nothing severe about the composition of stucco, blue-gray James Hardie lap siding, and ipe hardwood. He rethought the standard-issue concrete driveway and softened up the approach with Turf Block permeable pavers planted with grass. A small, porch-like seating area outside the front door is outfitted with a simple bench and loads of succulents.
Capitalizing on an opportunity for outdoor lounging, Sweet transformed the garage roof into a patio by laying down an inexpensive layer of pebble resin—generally used on pool decks—over the rooftop waterproofing and adding an access door from the stair landing. He made sure to include an electrical outlet so the Nusinows could set up a television for their legendary Super Bowl parties.
At roughly 1,800 square feet, the backyard is nearly as large as the first floor and perfectly illustrates the ideal of indoor-outdoor living made famous by Southern California’s modernist movement. The Nusinows, however, didn’t initially see the potential of their old backyard, which featured a shallow, uninviting concrete patio and a sloped lawn. That changed when the couple visited Sweet’s home and office in a renovated house with a generous deck and pool area. "We could really see how integrated it was into his way of living," Steve recalls. "It was really an extension of the house. We loved the transition from living room to deck and patio."
An ipe deck extends into the yard from the family room—a thoughtful design gesture that makes the threshold between inside and outside virtually disappear, especially when the glass doors are open. Beyond this, Sweet leveled the yard and used different materials and plantings to define distinct spaces. A poured-concrete slab is the surface for an outdoor dining area, for instance, while a short plastered-concrete wall, set a couple of feet in from an existing property wall, creates a raised planting area. At night, carefully placed lights transform this into a striking backdrop.
The shorter wall supports a long, cantilevered ipe bench that serves as seating for the outdoor dining table before winding its way around a corner, providing the family with a place to sit as they roast s’mores over a raised concrete fire pit. The Mexican beach stones that surround the pit give way elsewhere to creeping red fescue, a drought-tolerant grass that requires little maintenance and even less water.
The Nusinows have completely embraced the ease of indoor-outdoor living. And even though they’ll soon be living there alone, there’s nothing empty about their beach-town nest. On weekends, they leisurely eat breakfast in a garden full of kangaroo paw plants and multicolored succulents. Colleen, who works with elementary school students, comes home every afternoon and slides the glass doors open, even when it’s raining. "It is really calming after working with kids all day and to come home to the house," she says. "It’s a sanctuary."
An active freelancer, Zeiger's writing on art, architecture and design is found in variety of publications including articles for Architect, Azure and Metropolis magazines. She has taught at the California College of the Arts (CCA) and at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc.) Her cross-disciplinary seminars explore the relationships between architecture, art, urban space, and popular culture. She holds a Master of Architecture degree from SCI-Arc and a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell University.