In The Trees

The architect behind MB Post, the South Bay’s hottest new eatery, conceives a contemporary Craftsman in Manhattan Beach for his family.

It began as a non-descript little bungalow. Architect Stephen Francis Jones turned it into a work of art, and more importantly, into a home.

“We kept a lot of the soul of the original house,” says Stephen, the principal of renowned architectural firm SFJ. “When I first saw the house, I thought, ‘I can fix this,’ but the original house had no shape or character to it at all.”

Stephen and his wife, Stephanie, were looking for a new home for their growing family when they found the original house on this lot in the Tree Section of Manhattan Beach. They had been living near the Strand and now wanted a little more privacy and space for their children and Golden Retriever to play. “We traded a view for a yard,“ he laughs.

The original house was a modest–and inadequate–840 square feet, originally built in 1950 as no-frills, post-war housing. There were only two bedrooms, and the entire lot was 40 x 112. Stephen wanted to preserve as much of the original home’s footprint as possible while expanding and modernizing it into a fresh, contemporary design.

He undertook the re-design and the construction on his own, without the help of a general contractor. The architect of the chic, new MB Post and other stylish restaurants conceived his family’s new home as a “contemporary Craftsman,” combining the sleek lines of modernism with an artisan’s reverence for fine materials and meticulous workmanship. Using a simple architectural palette of Santa Fe flagstone, copper, glass and cultured stone, Stephen created a home that is literally incandescent: by artfully manipulating both natural and artificial light, he designed a house that shines like a lantern.

“Dramatic use of lighting is one of my design signatures in my restaurant projects,” the architect explains. “I wanted to reflect that in my home. My philosophy is to use materials and textures and colors, based on the materials themselves, and to use their natural colors as a part of the décor.”

Stephen conceived four disparate living areas: a living room/entertainment room, the family room/kitchen, a guest bedroom/office and sleeping areas. His floor plan is simple, open and fluid. Graduated stone steps lead into the main living room, a soaring space with a ceiling that rises to 21 feet and slopes down to 13 feet. Clerestory windows, set high in the walls, channel abundant natural light into the space. The floors are danu-danu, an exotic Indonesian hardwood, and a wall of stone, the same material used on the exterior, runs the length of the gallery.

“That became the area where we toss balls for the dog to fetch,” the architect says modestly. The house has good bone structure, and it is on display in the form of open beams and visible trusses connecting the separate living spaces. Stephen has built a house with little to hide.

He and Stephanie, a professional urban planner (“She works on much bigger projects than I do,” he says), undertook the clean and simple interior design themselves as well, selecting highly functional, minimalist furniture and bold contemporary art. Stephen made the dining room table and chairs himself. “I enjoy doing wood work,” says the architect. “It’s very relaxing. I have a table saw and power tools in the garage.”

The kitchen features a large window that opens onto a back patio, and you can easily see through the entire first floor from the living room to the outdoors.

In the kitchen, Stephen designed cabinets and a center island made of peduk, an African redwood. The countertops are sea foam granite. “I was lucky to find a slab that color; it’s usually much lighter, but there was a small corner of the quarry that produced the darker shade, so I bought all of it and used it sparingly.”

The kitchen features a large window that opens onto a back patio, and you can easily see through the entire first floor from the living room to the outdoors. The openness and simplicity of the design creates a well-ordered serenity that speaks eloquently to Stephen. “I don’t like clutter,” he says.

Manhattan Beach, with its relaxed seaside lifestyle, has long appealed to him. “When I was in grad school at UCLA, I would ride my bike down to the South Bay, and I would always think ‘What a great town. It must be great to live here.’” Today, that bike ride is often in reverse: an avid rower, Stephen likes to ride his bike to the UCLA boathouse to get some time on the water before work at his office in Marina Del Rey. Closer to home, Manhattan Beach offers the perfect opportunity for healthy living and informal socializing. “I play beach volleyball, so on the weekends, we go down to the courts and meet with other families there. Sometimes some of the local pro athletes will be down there playing too: Luke Walton could be on the next court!”

The leafy, tree-shaded streets of the Tree Section of the city provide the perfect backdrop for nurturing the lifestyle that the Jones family loves. “The community is dense, and you live close to your neighbors, but you get to know your neighbors,” says Stephen. “There are a lot of families who have been here a long time. It’s an amazing community.”

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