All in the Family

As the needs of Phyllis and Steve Spierer’s growing brood evolved, so did their Palos Verdes home.

  • Category
    Homes
  • Written by
    Amber Klinck
  • Photographed by
    Lauren Pressey

The Spierers’ family home is busy, with that kind of energetic buzz that only comes from a house full of family members who are incredibly at ease with one another. The entryway fills as people start to trickle in, each person greeted with open arms and friendly banter.

After everyone is settled, Phyllis and Steve Spierer introduce themselves as the home’s owners, with more than three decades of living on the Palos Verdes property. “It’ll be 31 years in April,” Steve notes.

The roughly 5,000-square-foot home—resting on a 1/2-acre lot—served the Spierers well when they were a young family. “When we moved into this house there were five of us: [Phyllis] and me, Joe, Melanie and their brother Mitch,” Steve says. But as time went on and the family grew, the format of the home’s main living space needed a major overhaul.

“The genesis of all this was really July of 2015 when we had about 28 or 29 people here for a family gathering,” Steve explains. “All of those people were in the kitchen table area and the family room, but the living room and dining room were empty. People were crawling all over each other. I said to Joe, ‘Is it possible for you to do something where I can sit [at the table] and see everything?’”

Steve wanted an open area where his growing family could congregate comfortably and where he could see the entirety of the space. So Joe Spierer, owner of Joseph Spierer Architects, started visualizing ways to make that happen for his father.

“Here’s the story,” Joe says. “This was a family affair getting this together. I’m the architect; I’m Steve’s son. Ben is the general contractor; he’s my brother-in-law. My sister, Melanie, is his partner.”

With a main living area of roughly 2,500 square feet divided into a living room, dining room, kitchen and family room, the primary goal of the project was to open the space for a more communal feel without losing the integrity of each room … while maintaining a high aesthetic standard. “One of the criteria my mom had was that she wanted a beautiful living space. My dad said he wanted the biggest television known to man,” Joe adds, only half kidding.

“This was actually the most difficult part of the project for us when building it,” notes Ben Archer, president of Archer Building. At the push of a button, a massive 150-inch screen glides down in front of an elegant built-in, the projector turns on and the shades automatically close. In an instant the airy, sun-drenched sitting area is now converted into an impromptu home theatre.

Understanding the needs of their clients and finding common-ground solutions when those needs are in contrast with one another is imperative for the trio. This project would be no different. But contrasting views on how to best utilize the main sitting area of the home would only be one of the challenges Joe, Ben and Melanie would face during this project. “This was much more difficult than building a brand new house,” Ben says.

For starters, the main wall they needed to remove to open the space was a supporting wall. “The fireplace used to support the roof,” Steve explains. “So they had to do all kinds of concrete and steel inside these two pillars right here. Apparently if an earthquake shook the place apart, those would still be standing.”

Once the wall was removed, the next challenge was making all the ceilings work seamlessly together. “When we opened up the wall and opened up the ceilings, which were originally dropped, we had to figure out how to make the transition between the new dining room, living room and kitchen look seamless. It took a lot of cooperation between design and construction,” Melanie explains.

“It was also difficult to hide all of the guts of the building, like the HVAC unit, the plumbing and the electrical,” Ben adds. “[The new dining room] is the only section of dropped ceiling we have to hide anything. Everything else is vaulted to the roofline. We actually did a roof hatch in order to access the heating components, because there’s really no other way to get up there.”

To maximize the view of the spacious backyard and to keep eyes on the grandkids often playing outside, the kitchen was moved from where the family room once was. “The kitchen is the center of the home,” Joe says.

With natural light flooding in from the large windows and surrounding French doors and two massive islands with ample seating, the kitchen easily doubles as a functional work space and added area to entertain guests … though you’d never see any evidence of food prep at one of Phyllis’s dinner parties. “You know, I’m old school,” says Phyllis. “When you cook in the kitchen, you want to have everything out of the way when you entertain.” So Joe designed and Ben built a hutch in the kitchen where everything can be neatly tucked away.

Taking the place of the original kitchen is a more casual, kid-friendly sitting area with glass doors that soften the sounds of little ones at play while allowing the parents to keep a watchful eye.

In addition to the reconfiguration of the space, the entire exterior of the home has been refinished with a smooth coat of stucco where a rougher texture once was. The windows and doors are all new, and the trim has been removed for a cleaner look.

Contributing to the home’s final finishes was Kate Lester of Kate Lester Interiors. “Kate was integral in making the finishes look right,” says Joe.

“She spent a great deal of time with my mom and me [to better] understand my mom’s vision and make it happen,” Melanie adds. “As Kate put it, my mom wanted ‘functional elegance.’ She came up with fabrics, drapery, colors and concepts that fit my mom’s vision perfectly and tied into the design of the overall home. She gave it warmth and style.”

With a design process that took roughly nine months and nearly a year of construction, the Spierers have a living space that truly caters to their family’s needs. It is beautiful and functional with a family-friendly element that doesn’t take away from the aesthetic elegance Phyllis hoped to maintain.

With both businesses based in the South Bay, Joe, Ben and Melanie have worked on joint projects before. “It’s fun because we know each other so well,” Melanie says. Still, the vast majority of their work is with other builders or architects, so coming together to work on a project their family will enjoy for years to come was quite the collaboration.

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