A Manhattan Beach Designer Puts Her Heart and Soul Into a Stunning, Ground-up Renovation

The happy home.

  • Category
    Homes, People
  • Written by
    Tanya Monaghan
  • Photographed by
    Lauren Pressey

When Jill Johnson, co-owner and designer at Waterleaf, first saw the 1960s home, she joked that it was the quintessential “Brady Bunch” house. It had a funky layout, low popcorn ceilings and a small, skinny galley kitchen. But Jill could see the potential of a very special home.

She felt so firmly in that vision that she partnered with a friend to finance and buy the house so she could redesign it. It would be a total remodel, down to the studs. This would not be another spec home project; Jill’s goal was to create a home she would want to live in herself. “It was definitely a labor of love,” she shares.

“You can buy a pretty house anywhere, but it’s very difficult to find a really soulful home.”

And true to her reputation, no detail was overlooked. She thoughtfully hand-selected all the beautiful fixtures, wallpaper and fittings for the entire home. “It was hard to let go,” she shares. “There was a huge part of me that wanted to keep it for myself.”

Jill and her partner put the home up for sale. On the first day the home hit the market, her agent said they had found the perfect buyers. The interested party was feeling underwhelmed by other spec houses. But when they walked through the doors of the John Street house, they both immediately knew they had found their home. The lucky young couple, Hannah Schley and Will Passavia, were over the moon as they were approved for one of the fastest sales in the South Bay.

“You can buy a pretty house anywhere, but it’s very difficult to find a really soulful home,” Hannah says. “When we walked in we could feel how much love was behind making it. We had my dad come ’round because he is usually a voice of reason. He walked around once and sat in that chair [pointing to the chair in the living room]. He looked out with tears in his eyes and said, ‘This is the happiest house.’ And now we all call it ‘the happy house.’” The couple even had a plaque made proclaiming it so, which is displayed in their kitchen.

“The home has character,” adds Jill. “We could have made it bigger, but to us it’s the perfect size.” It’s indeed one you can grow into with an ideal setup for all of life’s stages.

The upstairs is streaming with light and includes a dining room, a gorgeous pristine kitchen open to the living area, a powder room, two bedrooms including a master bedroom with walk-in closet and bathroom. Future teenagers can have their own domain downstairs, with three bedrooms and a den.

The old house had low ceilings and was quite dark, so the first priority was to let light spill in. Jill raised the roof and re-did the layout to allow more light and add functionality to the home. Upstairs she opened up the living room by adding pocket doors and a deck outside overlooking the garden below.

As most of the house had been decorated in shades of brown, the paint selection and color palette of the decor was integral to its current serene yet cheerful feel. The kitchen boasts beautiful brass hardware and porcelain tiles that mimic the brick on the exterior on the backsplash. A stunning island with a neolith countertop takes center stage. Beautiful French white oak floors, wainscoting and sea grass wallpaper are carried throughout.

The abundance of light over the kitchen is no accident. Jill installed an A-frame ceiling with a skylight to let it all in. An A-frame was also installed in the master bedroom, allowing light to pour into the exquisitely designed room.

The powder room upstairs, although small, is a favorite of the house. It has a vintage feel with a small, dark blue graphic patterned wallpaper. Will says, “I built for 10 years in the Hamptons and other areas. What I noticed were these tiny yet exceptional details like ‘brassing out’ the exposed fixtures of the plumbing in the bathroom. I know how costly and painstaking that is, but we were fully aware and appreciative of these details.”

The den downstairs opens to the yard bordered with bold, encaustic black tiles. Instead of painting the den bright white, Jill chose to go rich and warm with the color and texture. That palette gives it a cozy yet masculine feel. The aesthetic carries through to the “mudroom” and into the hall.

The couple sprinkled their own personal touches throughout the home with art and personal effects. Much of the artwork comes from artists they know personally, including Hannah’s godfather, John Alexander, who has been giving her pieces her whole life.

Although an American theme shines through, the adventurous couple loves to travel, and the home reflects this passion. Hannah asked her mother to decorate the guest room, which she describes as “Out of Africa.” Her parents and many other friends are regular occupants of the room, and she wanted them to feel right at home.

With perfect square footage, an abundance of light and a peaceful neighborhood a short walk from town, Will says, “This home is the perfect mix between California and back East. We have spent a lot of time in Martha’s Vineyard and the Hamptons, and this house has design elements of that style.”

The home exudes peace and quiet—a perfect refuge the newly expecting parents will cherish. When Hannah and Will welcome their baby boy in December, this already happy house will become even happier.

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