HOW DO YOU transform a warren of dark rooms into a light and airy house for an expanding family? That was the challenge facing Culver City-based architect Melinda Gray Payne when she began to remodel an oceanfront home on The Strand in Manhattan Beach. The house--actually a three-story building plus an apartment over the garage in back--had a matchless view, but it had been poorly planned and divided in two by its previous owners. Payne's task was to create a few spacious living areas and seven bedrooms for her client, a venture capitalist with three small children and live-in help. "I want to know I'm at the beach," the owner told her, "and I need to keep track of my family." So in her renovation, Payne grouped the rooms coherently--and allowed each to share the view.
Payne began by stripping the exterior of its fake Spanish trim and removing the tiled roof. That allowed her to raise the ceilings in the upper-story rooms without changing the restricted height of the building. Then she remodeled the facade, setting big oceanfront windows back behind the structural frame to shield them from direct sunlight. That formed deeply recessed balconies, which Payne enclosed with glass parapets to shelter them from coastal breezes.
To open up the rest of the house, Payne gutted the interior to fashion a 6,000-square-foot living space, which she pierced with two wells of light. The circular core of the house embraces the entrance hall and a courtyard that contains a pool and hot tub. The core is echoed in a circular light well that rises from the living room through the master bedroom suite above. The two cylinders suffuse every corner with light, contribute to the cross ventilation that keeps the house cool and allow almost every room a glimpse of the ocean.
The children's bedrooms are separated from the master suite by both the courtyard and a family room and are designed to delight the youngest members of the household. The children's bathtub is in a lofty circular room tiled in their favorite colors, and a hatch and slide link the rooms of the two older children.
The master suite is a free-flowing space, with bed, bathroom, dressing room and balcony occupying the four corners of a tiny interior courtyard.
This previously awkward house now has a pleasing sense of intimacy inside and out, making this remodel an inspiration for the design of smaller structures as well.