Take a beautiful approach to life, no matter what stage you find yourself in
Meet our Manhattan Beach muse, Ursula Beatt.
- Written byDarren Elms
- Photographed byMonica Orozco
It’s nearing 11 p.m., and the hostess has disappeared into her living room where she lights more than a dozen candles scattered among heirloom furniture and collected objects. Her dinner companions meander from the dining room, having feasted on five courses of delicious food—each prepared and introduced with genuine affection.
Of her dozen or so guests, less then half are American-born. Accents and laughter wander amongst the newly lit glow, and grappa is offered from exquisite, hand-blown bottles. If the guests are fortunate, their hostess may treat them to a Chopin piece on her ivory-colored upright, or perhaps they will just lounge by the fireplace sharing stories and creating connections.
Now it’s nearly 1 a.m., but no one notices … besides, a guest bed with rosemary sprigs awaits anyone too weary to make the journey home. This is a dinner party at Ursula’s Tree Section home. Effortless. Exuberant. Extraordinary.
An Italian invention of the 16th century, the salon flourished in France throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. Such gatherings brought cultured folks together in a handsome space to refine the taste and increase the knowledge of its participants through conversation. What is it about Ursula that makes her uniquely suited to preside over this modern manifestation of salon etiquette?
There is the natural attraction. With her stylish instincts, luminous smile and buoyant wave of silver hair, her physical presence alone captures your attention. And her exquisite home, personified with art and designed for entertaining, surely checks the venue box. But it’s what is beneath the surface that truly intoxicates: a generous and inspiring soul that draws likeminded people like a flame.
“I love the word ‘Ursified,’” she says of the term friends use to describe her mesmerizing effect on others. “Because of my nurturing side, I’m always out to see how people I know can feel better. You allow me to help you beautify your life, see the world in better ways and gain tools to improve your world.”
Ursula looks back fondly at her life of giving and the many roles she’s played: a young piano prodigy, a career woman, a dedicated wife and mother. At 58 she may be entering her best years yet, having recently navigated an unexpected life transition that opened a new world of possibility. For some, such a late change might be a devastating or debilitating occurrence. For Ursula, it presented an opportunity to evolve.
She was born in a small town outside Stuttgart, Germany—the only child of a “stylish” mother and a “workaholic” father. Surrounded by culture and music, she learned piano at 7 and violin at 12. “I had a French godmother, so I was wearing Parisian perfume and dresses by age 4,” she recalls fondly of her idyllic childhood.
Although she loved her family dearly, she knew her town was too small for what she most desired. “I wanted to go out into the world and learn new languages, to explore and meet people that stimulated me,” she says.
When she revealed to her parents that she wanted to go to Paris to study, her father told her “no,” that it was too dangerous. Her mother, on the other hand, supported her decision. “She told him ‘Yes, she is. She has wings and need to fly.’” Soon Ursula was off to the Sorbonne, where she studied French culture, languages and literature for two years.
“Mother was a horrible cook,” she confides. “In Paris I learned to cook. They don’t measure; they just throw it all together. So there I learned to do that, and it gave me great pleasure.”
At 22 she came back to her small town, where her father said he would no longer pay for Paris. Not one to stay idle, she got a business degree in Stuttgart and decided a couple years later that she wanted to work in the automobile industry—specifically for Porsche.
“I managed to convince Porsche, then an entirely male world with no women in career positions, that they needed a bossy, young German woman.” She would be only the second woman hired at this level.
In 1984 the company was at the height of its business, with an American president. Not long after she settled into her new role, they revealed plans to send Ursula to the U.S. for six months as part of a major project to improve their American market success. Alongside eight other colleagues, Ursula traveled the country training 3,000 people for Porsche.
On her first day in the States, she met her future husband. “It was love at first sight—a secret love affair,” she shares. “After the six months was over, I went back to Germany … and he chased me down. Soon we were married with two sons.”
She left Porsche to move to the U.S. permanently. “For 25 years I had a career growing a family, taking care of my community, volunteering and helping my husband grow his career,” Ursula says. “And that was fulfilling and profoundly important to me. I didn’t miss being in a career.”
When she and her husband began dating, he had purchased a three-bedroom beach bungalow in Manhattan Beach’s Tree Section—a home that would become their family’s haven. In 1999 they moved out temporarily to do a major remodel and add a second story.
“It was too small for a family of four and spouses with European parents who would come visit for three weeks at a time,” she remembers. “I did not want to gut it. I wanted to keep these original brick walls. The unusual oversized stones were made on the spot when the house was built, and no one is making them today. Why would we tear down walls within which we had been happy?”
They moved everything around within a year and, for more than a decade, filled their new space with friends and family. But in 2011 the life she had created started to crack.
Ursula’s last son moved out of the home to attend college, and within a year her marriage ended. “At this point I’m faced with a divorce, and my sons are all gone,” she says. “It’s like the empty nest syndrome. My nest was really empty. Most people just lose their kids, but my husband was also gone. It was just my dog and me.”
When people get divorced they often want to start from scratch, but Ursula did not feel that way. “I wanted to preserve the memory of my children’s childhood, and I wanted to keep this beautiful home that has welcomed so many people from all over the world and accommodated a happy marriage of 25 years,” she explains. “As a couple we were role models to others and our kids, so it was important to me that we remain that way even through the divorce.”
Over the last six years, Ursula changed a few things to make the Manhattan Beach home she loves her own. Some of the collections that belonged to her husband were replaced with books and other keepsakes that meant something to her.
But she knew all her future happiness could not be contained in a single structure. After two decades of taking care of others, she decided to go far away and see who she’d become. In 2012 at age 52, she went to Bali for six months with only a small bag—leaving all other attachments behind.
“My luxuries, high heels, jewelry and expensive shampoos—all the things we get accustomed to when we have a privileged life,” she says of the items she chose not to take. “It was a profoundly important, adventurous and beautiful time. And ever since I got home I haven’t looked back. I’m in a Renaissance. I’m reinventing myself. I’m going to figure out what my life is all about.”
For Ursula that means not taking for granted the simple joys that can fill even an ordinary day. “You have a choice when you get dressed in the morning, when you make a cup of tea or go grocery shopping,” she shares. “Everything that I do has to stir me up and create an emotion. I don’t need to have anything planned or be going to a fantastic event. I could be going out to the mailbox, and the sun might hit me just right … and there’s a little wind coming … and I go, ‘I’m so lucky to live by the ocean.’”
After marriage and children, Ursula says her world became completely and utterly different—yet completely interesting and fascinating. “It’s a world I create out of my own energy. And my energy is driven by a strong desire to live life to the fullest. How am I inspired? How am I stimulated? How am I intrigued?”
To ensure this momentum, Ursula welcomes a diverse circle of friends—people from all cultural and social backgrounds. “The #1 thing for me in life is connection,” she says. “A soul connection. It’s not what you do, what university did you go to or how much money do you make. It has nothing to do with that. I judge people simply by
how they relate to me, by how they make me feel, how we break bread together.”
And she chooses to break bread often. With a profound love of cooking, food and its preparation are tremendously important to Ursula, as are the arts, music and design—evident in her beautiful photography and collected art pieces thoughtfully hung throughout her home.
Travel opens her horizons and allows her to meet people from other cultures. “Living next to LAX, some of the people I meet all over the world may have a three-hour layover. I tell them, ‘Grab an Uber, I’ll make you tea, we’ll have a meal.’”
She is especially fond of her girlfriends—an incredible support system of women she calls her sisters. “They joke, ‘I’m one of Ursula’s seven best friends,’” she says. “Every one of those women I share everything of myself with, and they do to me.”
But she also notes that her lifestyle doesn’t always appeal to others, even those she’s known for a long period of time. “I refuse to be friends with people that no longer vibrate like I do,” she says. “I’m fiercely honest and straightforward in a loving and gracious way. If I feel like it’s worth working on that relationship, then I will try in loving ways to get through challenging times.”
Although she’s come out the other side with a positive outlook, Ursula does not diminish the difficult periods she endured. “A tragedy’s a tragedy, but it’s also an opportunity to grow,” she believes. “When my marriage ended, I felt that pain. And
I allowed myself to feel that pain. Raw and real. I just let it happen. I’d take my dog to the beach and just cry into his fur for hours.”
But that experience also gifted her a valuable perspective, one she carries with her daily. “I choose to live without fear. And whenever I go to a place of fear, I say, ‘No, not necessary,’” she says. “Where I am is exactly where I’m supposed to be. If there’s a challenge, that means I need to grow.”
At 58 Ursula can look back and say she has lived in the sunlight. “I don’t think I’ve even hit my best years yet,” she says.
She recalls a woman she met not too long ago who took notice of Ursula’s high heels and stopped to comment on them. “Oh, your shoes are so fabulous. I used to wear heels like that, but I can’t anymore,” she told her.
No more than a few years older than her, Ursula inquired, “Why can’t you wear them?” The woman told her she was too old. “You think you’re old, so of course you don’t,” Ursula thought. “I think I’m young, so I’m going to wear them for the next 30 years.”
She muses: “You have this blank piece of paper in the morning, and you write your story. Your life is many stories, and every day is a page in my life. It’s up to me to make it intriguing, make it fun, make it meaningful, make it lovely or filled with beauty. It’s up to me.”
Sculpted in meticulous detail and bright colors, the glass designs of Chris Ahalt depict visually strong animals made fragile by delicately balancing or floating above wire. His balloon-like creations of hollow glass include African and Asian elephants, black and white rhinos, giraffes, hippos, sharks and whales, just to name a few. Hours of intensive work result in […]