There are so many factors that go into building a home: finding the right location, choosing the team you want to work with, committing to a design you’ll love as much a decade from now as you do today. It’s a lot.
For Lalita Koehler and Fabio Costa, it was a process with ups and downs and even a little serendipity. But they stayed true to what they wanted until the vision of their dream home became a reality.
“We had been tracking Manhattan Beach real estate for a while,” Lalita says. So when a well-connected, longtime local brought an off- market corner lot to their attention, they jumped at the opportunity. “We fell in love with the location,” Lalita says.
They purchased the lot in September 2014 and quickly began working with an architect on the design. Before submitting for permits, however, Lalita and Fabio pulled back. “I said, ‘This is not the house I love,’” she notes. And just like that, they were back to square one.
“I didn’t want to build anything that after 10 years would look like an eyesore.”
But not for long. Something caught Lalita’s eye at a Dwell magazine home tour in the South Bay. She fell in love with two designs, and they led her to the founder, creative director and general contractor of ras-a studio, Robert Sweet.
“Fabio was traveling, and I said, ‘We have to meet this guy. I think he’s our guy.’” And so the collaboration began.
“Lali and Fabio are creative types, and we valued their insight during the process,” Robert shares. “They have a design savvy, and we often saw eye to eye on matters. That made the process an enjoyable one.”
Lalita had a clear vision—her own creative process—and wanted to be involved every step of the way. “I would spend till 2 a.m. creating mood boards on Pinterest,” she says. “All of my life I wanted to build a house. This is it.”
The goal was to create a space that integrated the indoor and outdoor areas and was filled with natural light but still had privacy. “We created outdoor spaces that are connected to the interiors but shielded from the public by way of the masonry wall that frames the courtyard, and tucking the pool area between the hillside of the house,” explains Robert. High ceilings and windows at every opportunity lend to the bright, airy ambience of the home.
Lalita and Fabio were also looking for a modern design—one that could stand the test of time. “I didn’t want to build anything that after 10 years would look like an eyesore,” Lalita says.
Creating a space that was both modern and intimate took careful consideration and a little compromise on Lalita’s part. “I think that’s the only argument Fabio and I had,” Lalita says with a smile when asked about the inspiration behind the wood ceilings on the main level of the house.
“The main floor is concrete, the walls are white drywall, so the ceilings became the logical place to introduce some warmth and texture to the material palette,” Robert says. “Fabio was pretty convinced we should do it,” Lalita adds. “When we finished, I sent an email to [everyone] and said, ‘You guys were right, 100%.’”
The introduction of the wood ceiling is only one facet contributing to the magnetic appeal of the home. “There’s an honesty about the design,” Robert says. “Combined with its connection to the outdoors and all of the natural light, the experience is warm and inviting.”
The drought-tolerant landscaping surrounding the home was curated by landscape architect Robert Jones of Jones Landscapes. “I never wanted grass, and Robert said, ‘I haven’t used grass in a project in over 10 years,’” says Lalita.
The day-to-day functionality of the house caters to the family’s unique needs. The kitchen is the hub of the home. “We cook every day,” Fabio says of his family of four. Two large sliding pocket doors open from the main living area to the courtyard and lap pool. “Fabio exercises quite a lot,” Lalita inserts. “He’s a triathlete.”
The garage doubles as a cycling studio for the avid cyclists, and there’s a mother-in-law suite on the first floor. To avoid having a television consume the focus of the main living space, a hidden family room sits behind a 200-pound door designed for maximum sound reduction. “This is the only room I could say anything about,” Fabio jokingly points out. “This and the garage.”
Separating a large interior plant box and the oak stairway leading to the second level of the home is a metal mesh screen—a small touch that leaves a big impression. Subtle pops of pattern come from the thoughtfully placed tile throughout the home, all purchased from Clé Tile.
Everything had to line up perfectly for this project to come together. There were hurdles to overcome, including a uniquely shaped lot with building restrictions and an exceptionally wet rainy season that threatened to take out the frame during construction. But walking into the home, you would never know anything about those obstacles. It is bright and lovely and truly one-of-a-kind.