Inside Out

The busy schedule of one Manhattan Beach family inspires them to build an outdoor space that brings everyone together.

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  • Written by
    Amber Klinck

When Larisa and John Plaga purchased their Manhattan Beach home in 2006, they asked their neighbor to keep them in mind if she ever wanted to sell. In 2013 she did, and the couple got to work creating the perfect outdoor space for their busy family of four.

“When the opportunity presented itself, we jumped on it,” Larisa says. “We really didn’t do too much to the house itself, but we merged the properties together.”

As the parents of two boys—both of whom play hockey, weekends are filled with travel and games, and weekdays with practice and schoolwork. “I have a junior King and a junior Duck right now,” Larisa notes, “so our weekends are totally crazy. We basically wanted to have a place where, when we had the free time, the kids could have friends over and hang out.”

With a full-size heated pool, hot tub, basketball court (with a hockey net off to the side) and an outdoor shower for post-Junior Guard afternoons, the yard is kid-friendly to the max.

“The shower was key,” Larisa explains. “They would get done at the beach but still want to hang out, so we’d have everyone over here, eat lunch and they’d swim some more. But first they could rinse the sand off.”







The long dining table for dinner parties alfresco, the outdoor gas fireplace surrounded with lounge seating and the fully functional grill station, however, make for prime adult entertainment as well. “We have people over a lot, and many times it’s impromptu,” says Larisa. “Everyone just brings something over.”

Equally beneficial for all the age groups in the home is the pool house. Lined with doors and windows that, when opened, blur the line between inside and out, the pool house boasts a kitchen that faces the grill station for easy meal prep, refrigerator drawers stocked with cold drinks and a wine cabinet. The vaulted ceilings are high, the seating is ample and there’s even a full bathroom designed by Larisa and tiled by Rick Hutson.

The architectural design and the construction of the outdoor space as a whole took about a year and was headed by Louie Tomaro and Rick Tomaro of Tomaro Design Group. The collaboration between the team and family was seamless. “We’re really happy with the way it all came out,” Larisa says.

With a relatively low-maintenance level, the yard is truly meant to be enjoyed rather than fussed over. Other than a lime tree and a lemon tree and a few simple plants, not much gardening or watering are required. The pool equipment is all enclosed in the pool house, minimizing the noise for the Plagas and their neighbors.

With people constantly in and out of the yard, not everyone enters through the front door of the house to get to the back. A large, reclaimed wooden gate serves as the main entrance to the space. “When you walk up to the house, it’s such a focal point,” Larisa explains. “So I wanted to put in something pretty to look at.”






With all the energy put into the yard, little work has been done to the main house—other than the addition of a few new doors in the main family room, as well as the installation of dark, cherry wood floors. The home has a classic Mediterranean style with five bedrooms and four bathrooms (not including the one in the pool house).

The kitchen opens to the family room with added seating around the island and a large breakfast nook in the corner … though Larisa says the family usually opts to eat outside, adding that her husband’s “great on the BBQ.” The formal dining room mirrors the formal living room, with each space used less frequently than their more casual counterparts.

Sharing the first level is a playroom for the boys. “This room’s in transition,” Larisa notes. “We’re eventually turning this into a  study room.”

The second level of the home has a large office for John, with a Jack-and-Jill bathroom that connects to the guestroom. The boys also have a bathroom connecting their rooms.
Both of the boys’ bedrooms are covered from floor to ceiling with their respective hockey team’s collectibles, as well as a tribute to the Los Angeles Kings. “We’re kind of  a Kings family,” Larisa points out.   “My husband grew up watching them. His dad had season tickets on the glass.”

One of the many fireplaces found throughout the home can be found in the master bedroom. In the master bath there are his-and-hers sinks, as well as an added vanity area. Living in a house with three boys, the master suite doubles as a getaway for Mom, with subtle feminine touches including a chandelier hanging above the tub. “I had to have a little girlie in a house with three boys.”

With the kids growing up so quickly around them and life, in general, moving at a nonstop pace, it’s easy to see why the Plagas would want to create a space that everyone could enjoy together in the limited free time they have. Living in Southern California, where the weather is about as good as it gets, it only makes sense that they would opt to create that space outside.