When searching for a house in the South Bay, Ray and Chika Kato couldn’t pass up the view from the four-bedroom, three-bath home they found in Rolling Hills Estates. “On a clear day, you can see the Hollywood sign,” says Chika, originally from Hiroshima, Japan. “And we have a Queen’s Necklace view on one side and a view of the harbor on the other.”
But the existing ranch-style house didn’t fit their modern aesthetic. To make it their own with cherished family heirlooms and vintage textiles from Japan, the couple turned to general contractor Steve Den Besten of CMS Construction, Inc., who recommended interior designer Megan Dufresne, principal designer of MC Design in Palos Verdes Estates. The two have worked together previously on several projects.
“Our directive for Megan was that we wanted a modern, warm and comfortable space where we could host our family and friends,” adds Chika of the home, which is now 2,393 square feet. “We have several pieces of art that I brought from Japan, and it was important that we incorporated them into our design. It helped warm up the modern finishes and created the warmth that you feel the minute you step through the front door.”
By reconfiguring the layout specifically for their needs, Megan created a neutral palette with pops of blue (one of Chika’s favorite colors) and design elements such as a mudroom with porcelain tile and walnut built-ins for shoes; two living rooms; a designated sewing and craft room; and at least three dozen family obis and Japanese textiles framed as artwork.
During design meetings and frequent shopping trips with long talks in the car, Megan and Chika formed a close friendship and devised a clear design plan. “We spoke about her style, colors she liked, and how she wanted to weave in a lot of decor pieces passed down from her mother and aunt,” says Megan. “Inherently, that meant integrating Japanese textiles and ceramic wares. From there, we spoke about how they envisioned using their new home (no shoes in the house, importance of sewing space), which informed the choices we made. I think one of the reasons they chose to work with me was that I took to heart what they were asking for, and I had a great time incorporating their culture into my design.”
Taking on a modern project along with a culture different from her own was admittedly a first for Megan. “Growing up, one of my best friends was Japanese (born here), and I developed an appreciation for the Japanese culture,” she explains. “It brought me into this with some knowledge, and that knowledge was expanded by working with Ray and Chika. I think what I love most is that it pushed me outside my comfort zone. The love that they have for the culture rubbed off on me.”
Throughout the space, Japanese textiles passed on from Chika’s relatives and unique design features include the guest room lined with a Brio bed and bedside tables by Sacha Lakic from Roche Bobois; and a custom-draped kimono art installation with walnut wooden pegs by MC Design. More stretched and framed artwork resides in the living room, such as a vintage Japanese indigo tie-dyed tapestry gifted to Chika by her aunt that hangs above a Scenario sofa and ottoman from Roche Bobois; a vintage Japanese table runner reimagined as wall art; and vintage Japanese Bizen ware vases from Chika’s mother.
In the sewing room (once an underutilized, open-air courtyard), pieces range from a custom walnut desk, cabinetry and a convertible sewing table/wall mirror by MC Design to artwork hand-embroidered by Chika’s mother and framed by Gilt Edge in Rolling Hills Estates. “We made a craft room with tons of storage and hidden features, which brings me joy,” says Chika. “I love to sew, so this is my happy place in the home.”
Another example of carefully executed design is the kitchen, appointed with semi-custom, Shaker-style cabinets from Builders Surplus in Orange County; textile art in katazome, a stencil dyeing technique designed by Living National Treasure of Japan Keisuke Serizawa and framed by Gilt Edge; and Rimadesio glass-and-iron sliding doors with a hidden ceiling track from Dom Interiors in Chicago.
“One of the things I love about Chika is she’s extremely organized, and she definitely knew what she wanted—especially in the kitchen with a custom pantry, knife drawers and hidden storage everywhere,” says Megan. “The goal with the sliding doors was twofold: When closed, it creates a barrier to not show the mess in the kitchen while cooking, but when open, it almost acts as art on the wall.”
The finished design is modern but personal and layered with significant pieces that accurately reflect Ray’s and Chika’s lives. “Just trying to warm up modern is a difficult thing to achieve, and I feel like we definitely accomplished it,” remarks Megan, who confesses she misses the one-on-one time with the couple. “When I work with someone almost daily for a significant amount of time, there is a friendship that develops beyond the traditional designer-client relationship. It’s one of my favorites of my job.”