A Light Touch

Natural radiance shines through a minimalist Manhattan Beach home reimagined by a local designer.

Written by Eliza Krpoyan | Photographed by Lauren Pressey

Fashion designer Mireille Dermer and husband Shane Mengel stood in the kitchen of their Manhattan Beach home wondering how it could capture more natural light. “Maybe we should get a skylight,” suggested Shane.

If this were a Nancy Meyers movie, the next scene would cut to their architect Michael Eserts drawing a blueprint of a cupola in a home brought down to its studs. With the help of Wendy Word Design, this happened three years later.

“It took on a much more important role in the house,” says Wendy Word of what started out as a skylight. “Suddenly it was dressed with lights and clad with finished carpentry.” The cupola is not only an architectural feature; it beams with sunlight.

“On both sides of our house we have neighbors that are very close,” explains Mireille. “Adding more windows would peer into their yard or inside their home. We wanted to allow them privacy, as well as create privacy for ourselves.”

The solution was fewer windows, a cupola and a living area on the second floor with folding doors that open to an outdoor deck replete with sectional seating, a wooden soaking tub and a grill. “The indoor-outdoor flow was a big focus,” says Shane, who recently left a career at a global alternative asset management firm and is currently focusing on evaluating private investments.

“I love the way the outdoor space relates to the inside of the house,” shares Wendy. “It creates the sanctuary they were looking for but still feels connected to their surroundings.”

The space has a retractable awning system for shade and operable louvered shutters. “Because it is on the second floor, it feels private,” adds Mireille.

Another thing the couple wanted to create in their home was a distinction between public space and private. “When we first moved into the house, our master bedroom was where the den is now .”

Now when you enter the front door, you could either go downstairs to the bedrooms—including their 5-year-old daughter Morgan’s room where a sign reads “No monsters allowed”—or you could go upstairs into the communal areas.

“There’s only so much you can do with a 30 x 90 rectangle,” explains Mireille. “We knew we wanted to create different spaces within this main room.”

Here there is a space to sit and read; living area where they watch TV; den where Morgan plays; powder room with a barn door; unobstructed kitchen with Calacatta marble slabs contrasted against cabinets in a rich blue-black with undertones of grey; dining area; and breakfast nook that gets used often by the family of three and their 1-year-old wheaten terrier, Zoey. When there are more people, they dine around the French farm table made of salvaged pine timbers, or they
eat outside.

“When we first toured the home that was previously here, I had no sense of how it belonged to them,” confesses Wendy, referring to her visit of the home with Megan Acuna, a designer on the WWD team. “It didn’t make sense to me. The way that I saw their lifestyle, their needs, their wants—everything they were describing was disjointed.”

It’s hard to believe this open and airy home layered with neutrals once had dark cabinets, stucco walls and pillars. “The house feels inviting,” says Wendy of the casual but sophisticated, timeless, minimalist home. “Mireille and Shane were open and amenable to using beautiful finishes and metals, natural woods and all those layers. Nothing is ornate or heavy-handed.”

White, horizontal wood planking adorns the walls throughout the second story, which is covered with wide European oak floors in a custom grey color wash. “Horizontal planking doesn’t require a lot of art because it is the art,” says Mireille of the two pieces of artwork in white frames that are stacked near the stairway.

“It’s similar to a gallery wall,” adds Wendy. “You can adorn it or leave it minimal. It doesn’t demand art to be finished.”

The artwork was purchased from Santa Monica Museum of Art’s Incognito event. At Incognito every work is priced the same, and though there are original works donated by artists including John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger and Ed Ruscha, the names of the artists are not revealed until after you purchase it.

“I got two pieces that I love,” says Mireille,
admiring the works from the pale stonewashed denim sofa in the living room. “It becomes not about the cost of the piece but what speaks to you,” adds Wendy.

There are also two pieces of art in the den—one by local artist Bo Bridges. In Mireille’s office is a photograph of Muhammad Ali that once lived in Shane’s office at the firm. “Muhammad Ali’s training camp used to be in Pennsylvania,” shares Shane, who is from Pennsylvania and has always admired the championship boxer.

Shane also pays homage to his hometown in his wine cellar, which is constructed of reclaimed Pennsylvania barn wood and Pennsylvania bluestone. “This is a little slice of Pennsylvania that I wanted to bring to California,” he shares, “even though I’ve been out here for 20 years now.”

Despite the home’s sharpness, it is livable, Wendy explains. Like the cupola, “this home achieves both form and function.”