Through the Looking Glass

A Manhattan Beach home designed with gorgeous glass features from top to bottom won’t stop the Ettley family from taking full advantage of an amazing living space.

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    Marlene Stang

You know the adage, “People in glass houses …” At the glass-encased Manhattan Beach home of Chris and Tara Ettley, there’s no stone-throwing, only 180-degree views of the Pacific Ocean. What else would you expect from the owners of Lucky Glass, a premier source of commercial and residential glass in the South Bay since 1984? 

For this Southern California couple, home is all about letting the outdoors in. And when the time came to build the house of their dreams, they looked no further than friend and frequent collaborator Patrick Killen of Studio 9 one 2. 

A true innovator, Killen is an architect for whom the future is always now. 

Evidence of his intrepid spirit can be found in his structures throughout the U.S.,as well as in the pages of his recently released book, Modern California Beach Homes. He is also an individual with whom Chris has always enjoyed a symbiotic working relationship, and whose designs strike that delicate balance between pushing the envelope and fluid integration into the neighborhoods they reside in. 

The Ettleys’ directive for their home was that it feature glass prominently and in a thoroughly unique fashion, 

while still conveying warmth. The result is a three-story, 4,100-square-foot structure that pays homage to the elements in surprising ways. 

Like a massive seaside sculpture, an aluminum and wood lazy L-shaped roof canopies the 14-foot-high glass bays that define the home’s exterior. Tinted a deep shade of blue, they reflect the sky and resemble frozen blocks of seawater. Their ethereal luminescence is offset by bays of slatted mahogany that display a more earthy solidity. 

In classic beachfront style, the kitchen and dining areas comprise the home’s third floor. This is where the aforementioned views reveal themselves in spectacular effect. Three-fourths of this space is surrounded by glass to reveal the full drama of every sunset, thunderstorm or fog roll. Polished terrazzo flooring provides radiant heat and a seamless beauty that melds perfectly with the Ettleys’ clean, streamlined décor. 

As with the exterior, studied juxtaposition can also be found throughout the home’s interior, where Killen fashioned a staircase reminiscent of one of M.C. Escher’s famous etchings. These mahogany steps march up to a square glass landing in the sitting area adjacent to the second floor master suite and continue on the next side of the square. The result is an uncanny optical illusion that’s a hallmark of Killen’s design expertise. 

A bamboo garden encircled in glass and framed by a vertical mahogany trellis in a key corner of the home stretches from the ground to the roof and offers privacy to both the master suite and main living spaces. Killen points out that this feature exemplifies how a sculptural device can also be decidedly “cool and distracting, in the most positive way.”

This element further lends the home a sense of breath, according to landscape designer Miriam Rainville, principal of Rainville Design Associates in Redondo Beach. In this void, the bamboo moves and rustles in the wind, casting shadows that also shape the home’s overall ambiance. And since it stretches up the entire length of the house, it offers a view of nature on every level. 

Tara emphatically expressed her need for greenery “and earth, air, fire and water.” And Rainville delivered, working closely with all parties from the earliest days of the project. The challenge of creating a modern landscape in an intimate beachfront space also afforded Rainville unique opportunities for innovative design. 

A pond on the ground level collects water from a waterfall that begins on the top floor. Surrounding the full perimeter of the patio, it is tiled in an iridescent ocean blue glass that also runs up the side of a wall. Further pulling a sense of the ocean and sky into the project, this landscaping element punctuates the vision that Killen expressed structurally. Rainville also created a quiet personal space on the balcony just outside the master bedroom. Here, a fire pit made of crushed glass sparkles in the light of a fire yet also reflects light when unlit. 

 Rainville selected a variety of tall grasses that would change with the seasons while also highlighting the arresting lines of the house. One of these is fresh and green in the springtime, then sprouts feathery plumes in the fall when it reproduces. Aesthetically, the grasses she selected add excitement, catching the wind and accenting the sense of movement provided by the water features and bamboo garden. 

Earthy to her core, Tara also wanted a garden the Ettleys could share with their daughters. Here, tucked away in the back of the house, Rainville introduced espaliered apples that grow against the yard’s fence. Blueberry bushes and citrus trees attract an assortment of butterflies and hummingbirds, which share their lives with a family whose home both contains—and is surrounded by—natural beauty that’s plain to see.