A Path to Serenity

A sophisticated palate of materials, open spaces and an adept use of light combine to create a minimalist masterpiece for Doris and Jackie Yu.

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    Suzanna Cullen

Whether bathed in brilliant sunlight or encased in a marine layer cocoon, this Hermosa beachfront home is a study of serenity wrapped in sophisticated simplicity. Recently designed by renowned architect Dean Nota, the house appears to be a modern concrete, glass and cedar-stained structure of modest size perched on The Strand. However, upon closer inspection, every detail has been carefully considered, particularly the extraordinary use of natural light that makes the 3,400-square-foot house feel significantly larger. With the use of exquisite materials, such as Italian porcelain tiles that have been applied in a masterful manner, the home is elevated to a very refined level of design. 

After living in a small Manhattan Beach home for 25 years among a collection of antique Chinese furniture, Doris and Jackie Yu were convinced by their grown daughter, Kathy Brown, to build a home representing the next phase of their lives. The Yus have grandchildren in both North Carolina and Tokyo, and they are committed to spending time with their family. 

With the promise from Kathy and her husband, Nate, that they would oversee the project from conception through completion, the decision was made to tear down an apartment building the Yus owned on The Strand in favor of a beachfront home that could accommodate everyone for family visits. An amazing aspect of this agreement is that the Browns reside in North Carolina. Through a remarkable level of communication, the Browns and Dean Nota were able to maintain a very collaborative working relationship.  

Although Doris Yu first resisted the idea of purging all their possessions, she soon understood that to live in a Nota home is to subscribe to a simpler, more understated vernacular. Kathy recommended that “they each pack one suitcase and leave everything else behind.” With that challenge, the Yus placed complete trust in their daughter and Nota as the architectural process began.    

As a native of Southern California, Dean is well-versed in the effect that light plays in beachside living. A 30-year career has permitted him opportunities to hone his skills in creative solutions for the narrow lots of the South Bay, as well as to determine ways to enhance the remarkable shifts of light throughout the day and seasons. Noting that his work is “a purposefully orchestrated spatial experience,” Dean subscribes to a few simple but highly effective architectural elements that maximize space and light in each project.  

He is particularly attuned to the sculptural role of the staircase in a home, and as the son of a steel worker, he likes to integrate steel into that structural element. Because the Yus have young grandchildren and safety was a concern, Dean’s solution to their three-story staircase was to use clear glass panels secured between steel supports. By using a consistent floor plan of floating clear glass, combined with the strategic placement of windows on the third floor ceiling, he achieved a remarkable balance of light and space in what could otherwise have been a tight, dark corridor.  



Additional design elements that define Dean’s architecture include the use of sophisticated finishes in a subdued color range and clerestory windows. He prefers that the client “view finishes within the context of the entire palate, and when presented that way, the entire palate sells itself.” The result is evident in the seamless and fluid design of the Hermosa Beach home. From the light oak used on floors and cabinetry to the putty-colored paint, there is continuity throughout each of the three floors. Clerestory windows ensure that natural light filters into each room, thereby giving the feeling of incredible space. While Dean had not previously used variegated marble, it was a perfect solution for both the living room fireplace surround and in the master bedroom suite. The slight undulating pattern in the marble “mimics the sand patterns on the beach,” says Kathy.  

The kitchen and bathrooms are a study in understatement: their restrained design is refreshing. Sophisticated materials applied with a high level of craftsmanship replace the need for overly decorative objects and flashy finishes. As stunning as those utilitarian spaces are, it is the views from the living room and master bedroom that are truly breathtaking. Like an ever-changing canvas, the expansive views from the walls, windows and ceilings provide a constant silent symphony from the sea and sky. Nota most deftly sited the house so the main living floor is slightly above The Strand, ensuring that the house has pure views of the ocean while bypassing all of the traffic below. 

Dean Nota remarked that “it is this critical element of harnessing the third dimension of light and a view to the framework for the overall composition” that defines his work. It is precisely this third dimension that makes his work so spectacular. 

While Dean held review meetings at the house every week with builder Andy Madans of Madans Construction, Kathy stayed in contact with both of them and designer Marina Mizruh of Chimera Interiors to oversee the project through each phase. After a year and one-half of construction, the house was completed. When the Browns and Yus walked in for the first time, Kathy said that they were “blown away by a project of that complexity combined with such beauty.” As Nota commented, “It was a true collaboration in every sense of the word.” Clearly, collaboration was the path to serenity for this Hermosa Beach family. 

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