A Manhattan Beach couple builds the ultimate house for their growing family and enlists expertise from a local interior designer for just the right amount of personality, color and sophistication.
WRITTEN BY JENNIE NUNN | PHOTOGRAPHED BY AMY BARTLAM & LAUREN PRESSEY
For Paul and Marie Murphy, the search for an interior designer for their Cape Cod-style residence in the Tree Section of Manhattan Beach began with an everyday internet search. The search resulted in a kismet design match with interior designer Kate Lester, founder of Kate Lester Interiors in Hermosa Beach.
“I found Kate on Houzz.com,” says Marie, a South Bay native who, after meeting with Kate just once, knew she was the perfect fit. “She had everything we were looking for and more, and we loved her style, her design aesthetic, her ability to understand the day-to-day needs of a family with three kids and pets. And she had this genuine enthusiasm for making our vision of our home a reality.”
But the connection between Marie and Kate wasn’t merely a chance encounter. “When Marie called me, it turns out that I knew her builder and we had a ton of mutual friends,” explains Kate. “She came to us because she had built the custom home and had hired a designer. Things didn’t quite work out as planned with the designer, so rather than try to do it themselves they had decided to hold off on furnishing about 65% of the house for almost two years.”
The 3,600-square-foot home, built from the ground up with the help of local Matt Morris Development and architect Doug Leach, didn’t evolve from a longtime dream. “We never imagined we would build our own home,” says Marie, who first met husband Paul, an attorney, in college at University of California, Santa Barbara. They began dating in 1992. “The idea was to find a lot within our budget that was big enough to build a comfortable home with a fully-functional background, which is not always an easy thing to do in Manhattan Beach.”
The two hired Matt Morris Development and Doug Leach, known for a Cape Cod aesthetic—a style Paul had always admired. “We lightly harassed Matt, Doug and our foreman at the time, RJ Smith, until we got the design and build just right.”
And they also had a specific wish list. Indoors, the Murphys wanted their two boys to have a shared bathroom and to maximize the space downstairs. Outside, the checklist included a pool and jacuzzi, an outdoor dining area, a built-in barbecue and bar island, as well as an outdoor TV, fireplace and lounge area.
“The key then was to have a family room that blended into the backyard area,” adds Paul. “A large set of folding doors made that happen, allowing us to entertain inside and out with ease and simply enjoy the outdoors anytime—even from the comforts of our family room sofa. In addition to that space, we needed a zone for the kids. We decided to morph the fifth bedroom so that it doubles as both a guest room and a playroom. It’s the kids’ hangout space. Mission accomplished.”
The initial vision for the project, aptly referred to as “The Bohemian Traditionalist” by Kate and her design team, was three-fold: to keep the integrity of the design, infuse Marie’s global-inspired finds, and source rare and unique pieces that were pet-and teenager-friendly.
“Just when you think a room feels traditional and classic, we surprise you with a pop of color or abstract art or a super-unique light fixture just to keep you on your toes,” explains Kate, who admits her personal style is similar to Marie’s. This made the project that much more rewarding.
“Marie is a total design enthusiast who was constantly surprising us with her flea market finds and decor suggestions,” says Kate. “I keep telling her that if she ever gets bored raising three teenagers, she can come work for Kate Lester Interiors anytime.”
Marie and Paul initially envisioned a house that was comfortable and beachy but with an element of sophistication and personality. “At the same time, we wanted a house that could take a beating from the water being dripped in from the pool or the sand brought back from the beach,” adds Marie. “With that in mind, we had already painted in mostly neutral colors, with blue cabinets in the kitchen . We had had an all-white kitchen before, so we wanted something different. Basically, we had a good backdrop, but it lacked personality. Kate came in and tied all the colors in the house together, brought in fun patterns and textures, and even added some unexpected colors like purples and pinks, without freaking out the men in the house .”
Throughout the house, finishing touches with subtle nods to coastal references include vintage buoys in the playroom that Kate found at an antique shop and had mounted on brass boat cleats; an all-white African headdress culled from KL Home in the master bedroom; a seashell chandelier with an antique vibe by Oly Studio in the dining room; and eggplant-hued built-in cabinets, shelving and sliding doors on the first floor.
“They are a funky addition that always get people talking,” adds Kate. “The unusual color was originally part of the previous designer’s grand plan, but when Marie asked if we should repaint them I said, ‘No!’ They add such character, so I decided to work them into our design as well.”
To add to the suspense of the final design, Kate housed all newly accrued furniture, rugs and accessories in a nearby warehouse until installation day. “The most exciting part of working with Kate came in the form of the ‘Big Reveal,’” recalls Marie of each meticulous room-by-room design detail, from fresh artwork and lit candles to flowers arranged in vases.
She continues, “Kate and her team politely kicked us all out of the house one day and installed everything by 6 p.m. that evening. We arrived home with the kids and dog in tow to find Kate at our front door, welcoming us to what felt like a brand new home. There was even a bottle of Champagne on the dining room table ready to be uncorked for the celebration. Kate walked us through all the rooms, and they were perfect. We felt like we were on an episode of an HGTV show. It turned an already ‘A’ job into an ‘A+++’ and made us feel like rock stars.”
She takes it all in stride.