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Castle In The Sand

A Seaside Malibu Setting and an Interior That's Elegantly Asian Are a Beach Dream Come True

February 11, 2001|BARBARA THORNBURG

"I always wanted to live by the beach," says 29-year-old Natasha Esch, "but I thought you had to be very old and very rich."

After a thirtysomething friend invited her to spend a day at his beach-side apartment in Malibu, Esch, an interior designer and transplanted New Yorker, revised her thinking. A year later, when her friend said he was moving to New York, the first question out of Esch's mouth was: "What's happening to your place?" One week later, she had signed a rental agreement and begun to decorate. Now she and her husband, Matt Coffin, founder of LowerMyBills.com, are spending weekends in Malibu living out a fantasy the couple once thought was beyond their grasp.

Their weekend haven is the ground floor of a two-story 1970s Cape Cod-style home on a curving stretch of sand near Las Flores Canyon, known to locals as Dog Beach. It's not cheap--rent is $3,950 a month. But renting is far more affordable than buying in an area where house prices routinely start at $1.5 million. The 1,575-square-foot apartment features a small kitchen and three bedrooms, one of which functions as a guest room and another as a home office. A combined living and dining room with a double set of French doors opens onto a deck that has a breathtaking view of the ocean.

"The water is so close at high tide, it looks like you can dive off the deck," says Coffin, 32. "Stormy nights we hear water splashing against the living room windows."

The couple's Malibu apartment, which they've had since last June, and their main residence, a 1920s Mediterranean in the Hollywood Hills, are filled with Asian furnishings. "There is a calmness and quietness about Asian pieces that I love," Esch says. "They also adapt to any kind of setting."

But the homes' interiors are as different as their locations. While the designer describes her town home as "decadent and very luxe," decorated with Fortuny lamps, chinoiserie cabinets, silk taffeta drapes and furnishings upholstered in jewel-toned mohair and velvet, the beach house reflects a subtle, serene aesthetic. Natural fabrics such as linens, suedes and washed silks cover sofas and chairs in hues of sand and driftwood that come straight from the seaside. Pillows and lampshades in terra cotta and persimmon were inspired by ocean sunsets. Esch wanted no objects or colors that would distract from the view.

"At the same time, I like elegance," says the designer. "Just because you live at the beach doesn't mean everything has to be covered in white denim shabby-chic slipcovers."

Typically the pair arrive Friday after work (a 30- or 45-minute drive, depending on traffic) and grab a casual dinner at Zuma Sushi or the Reel Inn. The next day, friends stop by to swim, kayak, play backgammon and hang out. Saturday nights in the summer, they feast on lobster dinners and Coffin's homemade pina coladas. Sundays are spent reading newspapers, lunching al fresco and taking long walks along the beach with their 3-year-old pug, Dudley. Sunday evenings find the couple watching an old film or a Lakers game on TV.

"The best thing about the beach house," says Coffin, "is that every weekend feels like a vacation-- with no jet lag."

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