Christy Hobart -- Interior Design, 7/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
When it gets a little warm in her new kitchen in Manhattan Beach, California, Carol Madonna, an ad agency office director, cranks open two small corner windows above the sink and lets the Pacific Ocean breeze cool things off. "Those windows embrace the wind," she says.
Their placement is one of few vestiges of the original house, a dark 1970's beach shack. She fixed it up a bit when she bought, two decades ago, but it wasn't until now that she hired Make Architecture principals William Beauter and Jess Mullen-Carey for a renovation and expansion. With neighbors on both sides, the narrow structure had its constraints. "We treated it town-house style," Beauter says. He and Mullen-Carey renovated the two existing levels and built a third one on top.
A roomy, well equipped kitchen was a priority for Madonna, and the architects literally made that the centerpiece of the 1,800-square-foot house. Her kitchen and an informal dining area occupy the middle level, along with a pair of back bedrooms. The two-car garage is below, while above are the living area, with its view of the Pacific, and open sleeping quarters.
Madonna, who loves to entertain, didn't care to be slaving at the stove alone while friends sipped cocktails and watched the sun set, one flight up, so the architects left part of the kitchen ceiling open. "I can still be part of the conversation," she says. Besides, like many people, her friends often congregate in the kitchen. "I like people being near—but not underfoot," she says. A square island with a raised bar counter keeps visitors where she wants them as well as separating the kitchen from the dining area. Since the cooktop is on the island, the hostess can cook while talking with her guests.
"Some islands are just too small," Beauter says. This oversize square, he continues, "allows Carol to use all sides, giving her 360 degrees of prep space." Plus, there's plenty of convenient storage below. To keep the large dimensions from feeling too heavy, the architects installed LED lighting at the base of the island, making it appear to float. Madonna chose clean-looking, durable white quartz composite for the counter. "I would do a whole house in it if I could," she says.
"We had the opportunity to create openness in the kitchen," Mullen-Carey says, noting the open shelving system that doubles as a support for the stairway behind. Constructed of teak for its rich color and strength, Mullen-Carey continues, the built-in "can be used to display vases or cookbooks." Or not. "I take after my dad," Madonna says. "We're both minimalists." Practically empty, the shelving provides simple, geometric elegance.
When designing a house flanked so closely by other buildings, capturing natural light becomes a challenge. The architects removed standard sliding glass doors and replaced them with larger glass pocket doors, allowing the entire space between the kitchen island and the dining table to open up to the exterior. Ditto for the living area, where the exterior's fiber-cement siding wraps inside to strengthen the indoor-outdoor connection.
Just as the opening between the living area and kitchen allows Madonna to cook while chatting with her guests, the aperture also helps illuminate the lower space during the day. "The windows on the third floor act as a giant clerestory for the second floor," Beauter says. An actual skylight in the master bathroom is situated above the glass-tiled, glass-walled shower. "You feel like you're showering outdoors," Madonna says. The only window in the room is frosted glass. "It was either that or I'd have to paint a trompe l'oeil of the ocean on the neighbor's wall," she adds.
Instead, she simply wanders to the front of the house to see real crashing waves.