Going With The Flow


Oceans ebb and flow, but sometimes houses do too. In a masterful stroke of deftness, Dean Nota created a house that is perfectly pitched on a walk street in Manhattan Beach and flows gently toward the great ocean it faces. Carolyn and Neal Robb had lived in the original house on the Manhattan Beach walk street lot. Looking at their crisp Nota home today, it’s not easy to envision them in the original pink house with black Berber carpet, but perhaps it was that exact combination that drove them to tear it down and build a new home that is sculptural, balanced and sublimely sophisticated.

“Neal and Dean were cut from the same swath of architectural drafting paper,” laughs Carolyn. The semblance of their relationship is evident in every facet of the new house. Light and views dance throughout the house, creating an ethereal sense, yet it is grounded in the foundation and solidity of stone, concrete, wood and terrazzo.

The front of the house is 12 feet below the rear of the house, so significant building considerations were required. Nota took the opportunity to create a floor plan on the main level that literally steps down from the backyard into the kitchen and family room, then down to the dining area, and then to the living room. The steps physically divide the spaces as well as replicate the motion of soft waves rolling toward the beach: there is a flow within the house toward the coast.

The beautiful terrazzo floors that greet visitors on the exterior steps continue through the house. In wrapping them around the exterior and then bringing them in through the patio, family room and kitchen, Nota seamlessly merges living areas. When the retractable doors are open and there are no architectural boundaries between indoor and outdoor living, the terrazzo floor further unites the spaces as if they are one huge space.

The furnishings are minimal, because like all Nota homes, there is plenty of built-in storage that eliminates the need for excess furnishings. “Look at my pantry!” exclaims Carolyn.

However, it’s not a pantry; it’s an entire room devoted to everything any mom needs. It has a desk, cubbies for storage, extra refrigerators and dishwashers, and the ubiquitous pantry. While it’s neatly tucked behind a door, there is space for all the items that typically clutter daily lives.
In the public rooms, Knoll tables and chairs create a clean, 20th-century vibe throughout the home. Stainless chairs by Bertoia surround a marble Saarinen table in the breakfast area, while a Wassily leather chair in chestnut leather floats in the upstairs library.

On each floor there is a room with a view, but on the top floor off the master bedroom is a wonderful, private retreat. Just large enough for a few chairs, the rooftop porch provides the perfect place to watch the sun set over the ocean.

Off the backside of the master bedroom is another porch that leads to the long staircase into the yard below. At first, the Robbs were not certain they wanted a staircase from the master bedroom to the garden. However, “it provides a nice architectural and sculptural statement,” says Nota.

The Robbs had a yard in their original house, and with two sons, it was important to them to keep some sort of backyard area. Their park-like setting in the backyard is enchanting. Two-story trees frame a grassy plot that is elevated above the family room and fully opens to the walk street for easy entertaining.

While the house appears to be contemporary from the outside, it is rich with warm tones inside. Flowing gently down the walk street, the house truly imitates the movement of the ocean. When it is filled with the laughter of neighbors for walk street entertaining, the house turns into a party at the beach.

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