Lalita and Fabio Koehler had been looking for the perfect property for years. Residents of Manhattan Beach, California, a coastal suburb of Los Angeles, Lalita hoped for an address that would allow their two children, Chloe and Lucas, to walk to school, and would feel like a retreat from her and her husband’s C-suite positions at an advertising agency. After three rental properties and years of house hunting, she came across a place that finally showed potential.
"I found this group of people who flip houses, and I began to track their work," she says. "I introduced myself, and one of them is a real estate agent. He found this house off the market."
All of her patience had paid off. The house was built in the 1950s on a corner lot in a family-oriented neighborhood near a school and park. Once the home was theirs, Lalita began the second phase of her plan, which was to renovate. She hired an architect and got to work, but the resulting design didn’t feel right.
"We went through the exercise of designing the space, but then I held back before submitting permits," she remembers. "I had always dreamed of designing my own house, [but] it was not what I wanted to end up with."
So, she practiced patience once again. And while Lalita was touring a nearby home of lead designer Robert Sweet of ras-a studio, who had been part of Dwell on Design in 2015, she realized that he could help her build the property she envisioned. "We started fresh," Sweet says. "They wanted a house with indoor/outdoor living, and they wanted to take advantage of their unique corner lot."
Sweet devised an L-shaped layout with an open kitchen, living, and dining room that connects seamlessly to an outdoor area by way of disappearing sliding doors. On one side, the great room flows into a courtyard, and on the other, it opens to a patio and pool. The outdoor area is entirely enclosed by a concrete masonry wall to shield it from public view. "The L-shape makes it so everything points outdoors," Lalita says. "When the sliding doors are open, it makes the room feel much larger than it is. It's a lot of glass, but at the same time, it's a very private house."
Lalita also requested that the residence be efficient and warm. "We lived in São Paulo, San Francisco, and Paris, which are dense cities. So we're used to making the most of small spaces. I didn’t want to have a space for the sake of having a space," she says. "And even though I wanted a modern house, I didn’t want it to feel sterile. I know it’s a stereotype, but as a Brazilian, we’re warm people. It was super important to me that the home felt welcoming—so we needed to bring in some color."
Sweet solved the need for efficiency on the ground floor by lining the entrance with cacti as a natural barrier between the courtyard and the front door. "You can enter the courtyard without being in the interior of the house, as a way to welcome guests and the mailman alike while still having some privacy," he says.
Shop the Look
A wall of cabinetry in the kitchen eliminates the need for a separate pantry, and a den off the kitchen acts as the home’s sole TV room and a potential guest space. As for warmth and color, Western red cedar lines the ceilings, and pink brightens the front door and patio wall. Finally, drought-tolerant greenery beneath the staircase and alongside the masonry wall contrasts each structure with an abundance of texture.
"We debated a lot about the pink color and the wood ceiling," Latita says. "I was concerned about the color being an eyesore, and the cost of the wood. But the color really complements the house. And as for the wood, I still remember telling Fabio and Robert that they were right."
It’s been seven years since the Koehlers moved to Manhattan Beach, but this address was worth all that patience. "We looked for a house where we would spend a lot of time as a family, and where the kitchen would be the hub that keeps us together," she says. "Robert understood that, and I also became very interested in his vision. For everything that we wanted, this house is on point."
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