A modern masterpiece in Manhattan Beach sets a new scale for South Bay living.
Most South Bay homes are not grand in scale due to the tiny lot sizes found in the Beach Cities, but the newly constructed home of Mimi and Philipp Stephanus shatters that truth and sets a new expectation for size.
Located in a specific area of Manhattan Beach where lot sizes are typically larger, the house sprawls across the land in a series of compartments that unfold onto the expansive outdoor living area. Rather than build from lot line to lot line as most South Bay homes are constructed, Mimi and Philipp chose to use the entire property—but in creative ways that incorporate numerous types of living spaces.
After living in the South Bay for 20 years, including most recently in a Mediterranean-style house, Mimi and Philipp wanted to completely change direction and build a modern home. Whereas too many South Bay homes gravitate toward the safe and nebulous description of “warm contemporary,” the Stephanus house boldly embraces a gutsy scale created with an abundance of texture and light.
“We knew we wanted a modern house, so we chose architect Carol Cozen to create it for us,” says Mimi. Carol is an acclaimed architect whose portfolio contains both residential and commercial work, and her focus is on clean lines and cohesive scale.
“It was important to use the entire site, even though the lot posed significant challenges with the sloping grade,” says Carol. The carefully edited landscape and discrete entrance belie the grand size of the house, though the massive exterior steps set the tone for what waits behind the front door.
Upon entering the house, every visible wall is open to the huge outdoor living area. Soaring ceilings combined with the sliding doors opening to the outside create not only visible space but also a completely fluid floor plan. The visual line pulls the eye through the entire house to reveal numerous outdoor seating areas, as well as the unexpected additional structure of an office pavilion.
“I spent a lot of time with the Stephanus family, and I really listened to their needs in order to create this very unique design,” says Carol.
Philipp frequently works from his home office when he’s not traveling, and he needed a quiet space to take phone calls. Because his former home office had been in the master bedroom, it was imperative to create a better solution in the new property. While Philipp wanted a separate office on the property, he wanted it to be integrated into the overall design of the house.
To that end, Carol created a masterful solution in the form of an office pavilion that’s a very creative use of space, both physically and psychologically. Although it appears to be a separate structure for an office on the ground floor, the second floor of the tower contains the master bathroom and closets, and it’s linked to the master bedroom via a second floor bridge made of frosted glass panels that let in light but permit privacy.
Now Philipp can get dressed without waking Mimi and head down to his office yet remain in the confines of house. “While we have a home office on the ground floor, it’s in another structure, so it’s literally a
separate office—and that’s been great,” says Mimi.
Texture abounds in the Stephanus house. Concrete, zinc, wood, glass and stone create subtle but powerful statements. Solid elements used throughout the house provide strong juxtaposition to the open negative space and abundant windows.
Additionally, multiple floor surfaces exist throughout the house. “At first I was concerned about the poured concrete floors, but they’ve been one of my favorite elements due to ease of use and the neutral aesthetic,” says Mimi. People are used to seeing these materials in commercial spaces, but the Stephanus house proves that they’re just as applicable in residential applications.
Even though the floor plan is open, each space is well designated. While the chef’s kitchen is open to the living and dining areas, the architecture gives definition to the space so it doesn’t feel like most open concept floor plans where the kitchen mess is visible when entertaining or dining. The large mudroom is a colorful, organized space tucked away from view but immediately accessible from the entrances.
In total, the house functions beautifully due to the architectural planning and building execution. “Jeff Wilson is an excellent contractor, and he and I work together frequently,” says Carol.
Longtime family friend Valerie Sartini was brought in as the interior designer. “Valerie is a very close friend, and she designed our Mediterranean-style home with lots of color. So this was a complete departure from that look,” says Mimi.
Simple forms in neutral tones are the overarching theme of the interior design, with bursts of color infused from the artwork, wallpapered bedrooms and bathroom tiles. “When Mimi said she wanted modern, I was a bit nervous because it’s so different from her past two homes. So I needed to create a warm environment for them in a modern shell, and I think we were a huge success,” says Valerie.
Almost every feature and furnishing of the house was custom-designed. From the graphic black shelves in the upstairs landing to the furniture to the outdoor, square fire pit, everything was either altered from its original design or created for the Stephanus house. “The goal was to make this a fun, classy, modern home, so we custom-designed about 95% of everything in the house,” says Valerie.
Whereas most homes have one outdoor living area, the Stephanus home has multiple areas. Immediately outside the dining room and kitchen is a large fire pit with ample
seating where the family gathers almost every night. Beyond the office and living room is another outdoor area where a massive infinity pool the color of the ocean drops off one side of the lot, while an outdoor kitchen and dining area balance the other side of the backyard.
At the very rear of the Stephanus property is one nugget that might be the envy of every South Bay resident: a private sand volleyball court. “Because our kids play collegiate volleyball, a court was imperative for family gatherings,” says Mimi. While the Stephanus house might not be on The Strand, there’s plenty of space for all of the activities associated with living at the beach.
Landscaping is a critical component of any home, and frequently modern homes require more thought to create the carefully edited but appropriately proportioned landscapes around them. Connie Heitzman installed olive trees, gravel and various plantings that will continue to balance the house as they mature on the property.
Whether inside or outside, Mimi and Philipp have many places to gather with friends and family. By strategically thinking about how they wanted to live and how to best utilize the large property, they created a grand home that feels perfectly sized for this close, active and modern family.