Manhattan Beach resident creates a beachfront oasis for himself and his daughter

Written by Jennie Nunn

Photographed by Claudio Santini

When Manhattan Beach homeowner Jason Cole initially bought his 1,950-square-foot townhouse in the Sand Section eight years ago, he didn’t change a thing. “It was basically move-in condition, but my dream was always to live in the downtown area—close to the water,” says Jason, a financial advisor in El Segundo. “What attracted me was the location, and it was just the right size. It wasn’t too big, but it was a nice size for my daughter and me and for out-of-town guests. The view is spectacular, and it’s nice for entertaining.”

But Jason, who describes the finished design as “beach contemporary,” knew he needed extra design help to make the house his own, as well as a space for his daughter and visiting guests including his parents. “There was no rhyme or reason,” he explains of the existing design. “It was just your standard house with not much character that was built in the mid-‘90s.”

Initially Jason hired a contractor to help with the remodel and was fairly deep in the process, but unexpected challenges and overall design differences prevented the project from being completed. Enter Switzerland–born interior designer Sybille Zimmermann, founder of Mar Vista–based design firm Studio Zimmermann.

“She’s married to one of my oldest friends, Howard, that I’ve known since elementary school. I was talking to him, and he was like, ‘Why don’t you hire her?’” recalls Jason, who admits he initially didn’t want to mix business with friendship, so he opted for the other contractor. “I was a little gun-shy. After I got myself out, though, he said, ‘Now do you want to hire her?’ And she had some great ideas.”

“He wanted to just fix things and finish things,” says Sybille, recalling her initial walk-through of the house. “The contractor did the first and second story, and he wanted me to help him make things look better and finish the job.”

Following their first meeting, Sybille pulled together a slew of images and assembled mood boards and directed him to a more modern and light aesthetic with neutral, calming tones and slight hints of grey and blue to reflect the surroundings: the ocean, coastal fog and sand.

“He lives at the beach, and he wanted something that reflected that,” explains Sybille, who studied interior design at University of California, Los Angeles. “It was very dark and lots of dark wood. I told Jason, ‘I don’t think I can help make this look better; what’s here now is not going to reflect the rest of the house. We basically have to start over. We can’t have the house look one way and the rest of the house look totally different.’ So we literally ripped everything out, and we really started from scratch.”

To make the entire “re-do” process less daunting, Sybille enlisted contractor Craig Gore of Render and worked closely with Jason to capture his vision with new paint throughout the house; removing dated, rounded wall and ceiling corners; and structural changes including replacing an existing walled-in staircase with custom, black steel railings to allow for more light. Other major changes included the master bedroom and bath (lined with 2’x6” Heron Blue handmade tiles by Heath Ceramics), a cook’s kitchen with a Calacatta marble backsplash and a guestroom outfitted with a rustic, sliding barn door found online by Urban Barn Doors.

Furnishings and accessories include a mix of new finds and pieces culled from websites including 1stdiibs.com and original photography by artist Bo Bridges, and objects from the Santa Monica Flea Market.

“I wanted the house to be updated in a way that it looked brand new, but I wanted it to have a beach feel,” says Jason. “But it’s not my vacation home, and I didn’t want sailboats and very cliché stuff. I wanted it to be very livable for my daughter for me, and I didn’t want to be afraid to spill something on the floor and have to be careful and tiptoe around stuff. Sybille spent a tremendous amount of time with me to go over ideas and help me visualize what we could do to the house.”

In the entry, Sybille set the tone for the sophisticated, beach-inspired look with a wink to a vintage and bohemian vibe with a round jute mirror by Shades of Light, a mid-century-inspired cabinet from West Elm and hand-painted terracotta tiles in varying colors by Ann Sacks. “The tiles are one of the splurges, but we wanted to make an impact. I always like to play with graphics,” says Sybille.

Upstairs in the living room she paired a caramel-hued leather chair by Commune for West Elm with a Maxwell sofa in Belgian Linen from Restoration Hardware, topped with accent pillows made from vintage African indigo textiles found at the Santa Monica Flea Market. She also layered the space with a rug found on One Kings Lane, artwork by Naomi Hudson-Knapp, a Susila rattan chair and ottoman from Anthropologie covered with an Icelandic sheepskin from CB2, and created a built-in white oak cabinet and upholstered bench for storage, AV and extra seating.

“They definitely like to entertain, so I wanted the upstairs to be a place where people could come and sit and hang out,” says Sybille. “The chair from Anthropologie was one of those things that I felt very strongly about that he had to have, and it was probably something he wouldn’t have picked out on his own. But he actually loved it when I showed it to him.”

To maximize indoor-outdoor space for dinner parties and gatherings, accordion doors and built-in teak benches were added to two exterior patios. “Before, nobody really used the patios except maybe to walk outside and take photos and go back inside,” explains Sybille of the 5-foot-wide by 12-foot-long spaces she outfitted with custom benches. “Now there’s another outdoor space for conversation.”

In the cozy but modern master bedroom, Sybille appointed the space with grass cloth wall coverings by Astek Wallcovering, photography by Claudio Santini and a vintage Eames chair from Automaton in Culver City upholstered in a geometric Kravet fabric. “My bedroom is a nice escape for me, and my bathroom is probably my favorite. I don’t have a big space, but it’s an amazing room,” says Jason.

After the major transformation, it’s obvious the final design was well worth waiting for and doing right. “It feels very homey and comfortable, and it feels very easy. It doesn’t feel like we forced a design; it feels like it all came together naturally, with a certain style,” says Sybille. “It doesn’t feel like a designer walked in and said, ‘This is what you should have, or this is what you should do.’ It’s a long-lasting environment to entertain and hang out.”

Jason agrees. “I love everything about it. I love my kitchen and living area, and the whole house has brightened up. It’s sophisticated, and it’s easy to live in. I used to really dread coming home, and now I can’t wait to come home.” λ