Dwell Escapes is supported by Genesis. We selected this escape because its integrated auto lift shows how advanced engineering can improve quality of life—and its streamlined, wood-clad spaces echo the interior of the Genesis GV80.
In his 20 years as a car photographer, Anton Watts has come to especially love one thing about his job: "I really enjoy creating a narrative when I’m shooting cars. And, funnily enough, it’s often done alongside great architecture."
When the Australian photographer and his wife, Mardi, found a lot two blocks from Hermosa Beach, he was excited to take the experience and eye he’s gained from shooting cars like the Genesis GV80, and create a design-forward space that speaks to all the things he loves—details, lighting, the outdoors, and his family of four.
Anton turned to Robert Sweet, founder and principal at Ras-a Studio, for help in designing a home that would connect the family with the outdoors—on a small 30-by-70-foot lot.
"The challenges were the small lot and the city’s requirement to provide a two-car garage—and fitting all of that on the ground floor," explains Sweet.
Since he didn’t have a lot of space to work with, Sweet built up. The 2,100-square-foot home stands two stories tall, and the public spaces, which include a living room, den, and kitchen, take up the first floor.
"The bedrooms and the private spaces are on the second floor. Balconies and large, operable windows provide views and breezes," says Sweet. "Above the second floor is the roof terrace. It provides a private outdoor living space and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean."
Fitting in a two-car garage presented a challenge, but Sweet asked the question: "Instead of setting it horizontally, why not stack it vertically and use a mechanical lift?"
The garage fits two cars, with one above the other. "It’s not like James Bond—like the car is disappearing into a floor," Says Anton. "It really is quite practical, if you think about how it works."
Practicality aside, Sweet brought some creativity into the garage design: "We did want to have a little fun and introduce some natural light, so we placed a picture window at the top of the lift, which frames the vehicle from the outside."
To maximize the home’s limited square footage, Sweet added built-in cabinets that house everything from a 30-foot sliding glass door to a record player, coats and shoes, and an entertainment system. A deck on the second floor, and another on the roof, expand the usable footprint and pull the family outdoors. The first-floor deck brings the family together to play ping-pong, barbecue, and interact with a tight-knit community of neighbors.
Sweet fleshed out the design with elements that matter to the Watts family, like a warm and inviting atmosphere, midcentury-modern furniture, and a family heirloom—a concert grand piano that belonged to Anton’s late father.
Materials like concrete floors, a white cinder block wall, and western red cedar (on the exterior and interior ceiling) created a cozy atmosphere, as did the trendy, low-to-the-ground fireplace.
"The fireplace is open on three sides—it serves the dining area, the living room, and the outdoor patio, tying them all together," explains Sweet.
Sweet designed the staircase with open treads and banister, to allow "the light to come through and give a sense of openness," and wrapped it in a way that would section off a special area for the piano. This layout created an unexpected effect.
"The acoustics of the stairs and the piano are surprisingly pretty good. When Anton plays on the piano, it sounds really great. That wasn’t anticipated—it was more of a function of ‘this is the only place we could fit the piano’—but it sounds really nice," Sweet says.
Most homeowners like natural light in their homes, but for a photographer like Anton, it was a far more integral design request.
"I’m constantly like, ‘Oh, look at the light. Look at the light here.’ Most people will think I’m probably a bit mad because I’m excited by light. But that is my job," says Anton.
In addition to the garage window, Sweet installed a skylight above the dining table, operable glazing to let in the ocean breeze (as the home has no air-conditioning), and placed a sliding glass wall along the living room that stays open most of the year.
"Whether the slider is open or closed, the natural light filters through the bamboo garden, creating beautiful shadow patterns throughout the day and elevating the area with light," Sweet says.
Despite having a 30-by-70-foot lot to work with, Sweet managed to create a home that accurately captures the essence of the Watts family, who are entranced by every square foot inside and outside their Hermosa Beach home.
At least, that’s the case for Anton: "The thing I find really cool is that when I return from a project I’m shooting in Germany or Barcelona or wherever I am, I come back here to this little oasis and it feels like I’m on vacation."
Interior Design: Robert Sweet, Ras-a Studio
This content was created by Dwell Creative Studio, the brand marketing arm of Dwell.
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